The plastic bag ban gets passed.

johnboy 7 December 2010 42

Are you feeling warm and fuzzy yet?

Simon Corbell informs us that the plastic bag ban has been passed by the Legislative Assembly.

The ban applies to single use plastic shopping bags of 35 microns or less, generally the type distributed through supermarkets, grocery stores and takeaway food outlets.

The full ban will come into effect on 1 November 2011, after a four-month transition period starting on 1 July 2011.

We await the inspection and enforcement process with great interest from a government that can’t even keep kids out of the city’s brothels.

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42 Responses to The plastic bag ban gets passed.
Felix Felix 1:54 pm 14 Dec 10

Jared, you really are a sad little anorak, aren’t you? All you’ve been able to do is keep repeating the one little factoid that you’ve so proudly been able to find as if it had any real significance in the face of huge bodies of alternative evidence and the informed opinions of everyone from Clean Up Australia through to the Chinese government (who, last time I checked weren’t that interested in making me or the Greens feel warm and fuzzy).

I’ve wasted more than enough time on your pettiness.

jared jared 6:58 pm 13 Dec 10

Hah. That’s awesome. The old “i’ll quote myself” conceit! 😉 You’ve rather inelegantly and longwindedly reminded me why debating on the internet is such a waste of time. By the way, you’re not Simon Corbell moonlighting on RiotACT are you? Because your arguments, (il)logic and obstinacy in the face of not a shred of evidence seems strikingly characteristic.
Have a nice day!

Felix Felix 10:08 am 13 Dec 10

Jared, as you love aphorisms, perhaps I should remind you, in the context of the Piatt and Nettleship article, that absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence.

Anyway, you’re flogging a dead horse on this one – I observed back on 9 December that:

‘The argument about choking sea creatures was only one of many possible arguments in favour of reducing our plastic usage in any way we can. If, indeed, that one-among-many argument turns out to have been exaggerated, that would merely weaken one plank of evidence – far from disproving even this small component of the evidence.

In fact, if you check out some of the reasearch, the story with plastic bags in the oceans may be subtler but far more frightening.’

The problem, as you note yourself, is plastic – its production and ultimate escape into the environment. It’s not limited to impacts in oceans. And some of that material I referenced back on 9 December indicates that the deeper problem, in the context of marine environments, may be all kinds of plastic breaking down into small particles and both being mistaken for zooplankton and, more generally, creating environmental toxicity.

The argument doesn’t hinge on plastic bags killing larger creatures, but rather this deeper problem – and all the other problems with unneccessary plastic production.

The argument for banning plastic bags is not defeated by the fact that other forms of plastic may be both more prevalent and more damaging. If this reasoning is taken to its extreme, one could never take any action until the largest issue was targeted. Just because plastic bags constitute a modest proportion of the actual plastic stream doesn’t mean that banning them would be pointless. Just because there may well be other forms of plastic that are causing even worse problems doesn’t mean that taking immediate, available action is irrational. Any single action wil almost invariably be imperfect or incomplete – that does not invalidate it.

Any why would one need a cost benefit analysis when the only real cost is one of trivial convenience?

jared jared 7:43 pm 10 Dec 10

Where to start? The link i posted contains the following link:

Piatt, J.F. and D.N. Nettleship. 1987. Incidental catch of marine birds and mammals in fishing nets off Newfoundland, Canada. Marine Pollution Bulletin 18(6B): 344-349

It’s written in English, you don’t need to be a marine biologist to understand that nowhere in the article are the words ‘plastic’ and ‘bag’ used in conjunction. BUt here’s the abstract:

“Summer surveys of the incidental catch of marine birds and mammals in fishing nets around the east coast of Newfoundland indicated that over 100 000 animals were killed in nets during a 4-year period (1981–1984). Composition of catches depended on foraging behaviour, regional abundance, and the degree of foraging aggregation of different species. Highest incidental catches occurred in conjunction with the inshore spawning migration of capelin (Mallotus villosus), and the numbers of capelin predators caught varied with capelin abundance. Seabird by-catch was highest in the vicinity of major breeding colonies, decreasing rapidly with distance from these sites. In some years and locations, net-mortality may have constituted the greatest source of adult mortality for some species’ populations.”

It’s always baffling to me when people attack cost benefit analysis as some kind of subjective and arbitrary decision making tool. It may be that individuals and groups arbitrarily choose to input certain pieces of data while excluding others and there’s nothing anyone can do about that, but in terms of an objective decision making tool, CBA – the act of quantifying costs and benefits into a single metric – is about as good as it gets if you want to objectively investigate the merits of a certain proposal. If you know of a more effective alternative that is somehow more objective, then lay it out, you’ll be making a substantial contribution to human kind and good governance. You may think that monetising an environmental variable or outcome is somehow immoral or wrong and that for some reason the environment is priceless, but that in itself is effectively applying an infinite value at the expense of all others. If you think that’s the right value, stick it in a CBA. But you wouldn’t do that, because that’s about as arbitrary as you can get. If i told you that a ban would cost you $0.01 a year and save 1 bird, you might say “no worries”. If i told you a ban would cost you $1,000,000 and save 1 bird you’d say “no thanks”. Well, the answer is probably somewhere in between, we just need to approximate it.

Again, i’m baffled by your implicit assertion that plastic bags are inherently bad. ” after years of trying alternatives, such as voluntary reductions, absolutely nothing has been achieved in terms of real reductions in plastic bag production, use and litter”. Um, so what? Would the world be a better place without plastic bags? Or is there some optimal amount of plastic bags that you’d prefer to be in production and use at any one time? Is the problem plastic, or is it litter? Should we ban plastic bottles (which are far more prevalent in the litter stream)? Do you have some insight into the issue that tells you that plastic bags are the best target? Why not up the punishment for littering for example?

My issue is not with a ban per se, my issue is the process of getting here. What happened to evidence based policy making? The ACT government has provided scant evidence that banning plastic bags in Canberra will provide society at large with any benefits let alone pointing out what the costs are (or for example who stands to benefit from increased sales of saleable plastic bags or the perverse outcomes of forcing all supermarkets to stock Aldi type bags that take even longer to breakdown than those targetted to be banned). How many birds or fishlife or anything are currently killed by Plastic bags bought and sold in Canberra? I don’t know, do you?

Oh and by the way, here’s what else my ‘conceited’ preference for independent analysis uncovered: did you actually read the article you posted about ‘issues for the region of waterloo’? It makes the statement that “over a million birds and hundreds of thousands of marine animals die as a result of plastic bags entering our waterways and aquatic environments”. It provides the following 60 page report for that tidbit:
But do you know what the report actually says: “Pelagic longlines…may also catch hundreds of thousands of seabirds (albatrosses, fulmars and petrels), sea turtles and cetaceans, and millions of oceanic sharks and rays each year.” So not over a million birds and hundreds of thousands of marine animals. And more significantly, NOT plastic bags. Not only did they misquote the report, they even got it wrong. Who’d have thought? Could the same mistake be happening again? But it’s right there on page 23 of the report! And guess how many times the UN report actually mentions plastic bags? Just once, in the following sentence:
“Plastic bags have a particularly lethal effect on turtles and mammals, who mistake them for prey (squid and jellyfish) and eventually die of suffocation or blocked intestines”.
But no mention whatsoever of actual numbers killed!

And i didn’t need to be a marine biologist to work that one out either!

Felix Felix 2:39 pm 10 Dec 10

jared – ah the old ‘I prefer my own independent analysis’ and ‘I’ll make up my own mind’ conceit. Of course, if you were a qualified marine biologist, environmental scientist and economist all at once, you might be able to do that.

The rest of us have no option but to go to expert sources. That’s why I think it’s important to be clear on who you’re dealing with. Given the amount of astro-turfing, greenwash and general deceit that goes on, checking the quality of your sources is critical. Otherwise, you end up believing that organisations like Sense in Science or (my personal favourite)the Lavoisier Group (worth looking up if you’re in need of a bitter laugh on a Friday afternoon) are actually rational and objective:

There are no neutral sources in the real world and no such thing as ‘the relevant articles’ – there’s only the selection of material referenced by your source. Incidentally, and sadly, one of the more reliable indicators of a fringe group like the ones above is an aggressive insistence that they alone represent independent, rational thought.

‘Cost bemnefit analysis’ is merely a particular methodology that can be employed to examine some subjects, but it’s really only as good as the objectivity of the data entered. When you’re dealing with trying to fix an economic value for complex externalities like environmental impacts, the analysis quickly becomes extraordinarily arbitrary. Therefore, while cost benefit analysis can be very useful with simpler economic issies, it is very far from being the gold standard in attempting to analyse complex problems like this one.

If you want a little hard evidence via careful analysis you could try these two from the US:

You forgot to mention the UN in your listing of ‘countless jurisdictions’:

There’s no doubt that the alternative approach of establishing levies, as they did in Ireland and other places, has merits. But there’s also no doubt that, after years of trying alternatives, such as voluntary reductions, absolutely nothing has been achieved in terms of real reductions in plastic bag production, use and litter, so it is well and truly time for some direct action.

Of course it’s perfectly possible that the UN and ‘countless jurisdictions; have got it wrong and you and Martin Winer are right – just don’t expect rational people to come to the same conclusion.

jared jared 8:59 pm 09 Dec 10

I don’t know or care and neither is it relevant who Martin Winer is. I simply used his site because it contains links to the relevant article that various media sites, governments and others have misquoted and misrepresented to push their point of view. If you trust clean up Australia and Greenpeace, good luck to you. Personally, i prefer my own independent analysis and hence i’ll just go to the source and make my own mind up.

If you think that banning plastic bags provides a “modest improvement” or any improvement on net, prove it. Or at the least try and prove it with hard evidence via cost benefit analysis. I have no argument with you when you say “that taking an action that causes little if any real inconvenience and no harm whatsoever, in order to achieve a modest improvement, is worth taking.” as long as you’re talking about yourself and the psychic benefits that you presumably get from using less plastic bags, and not me (As i stated, there is nothing stopping you from doing this now). To me and many others, it is an inconvenience, it provides no improvement and hence it is not worth doing. As i’ve stated previously, show me some evidence that banning plastic bags provides society (not just you and like minded people) with a positive net benefit and i’m more than willing to listen. But to this point, the ACT Government, the SA Government, the Tasmanian Government, countless jurisdictions worldwide and countless NGOs have done no such thing.

Felix Felix 5:12 pm 09 Dec 10

Jared, you begin with a partial quote, taken out of context, in order to misrepresent what I actually said. You then put words in my mouth about massive conspiracy theories, which bears no relationship to what I actually posted (all I said was that, given their track record, Murdoch media stuff made me nervous – as in uninclined to trust it without checking which, in this case, proved to be wise).

By the way who actually is Martin C Winer? I had a bit of a look and all I was told was that he was a computer person and a mathematician. I tried to browse some of his other posts and couldn’t make much sense of any of them. On that basis, you’ll just have to forgive me if I prefer the advice of people like Clean Up Australia and Greenpeace (yes Jared – see below) to someone of completely unknown provenance. I’m willing to be shown his credentials, but neither he nor you has provided any evidence of them.

Your third paragraph would make an excelent illustration in a high school clear thinking course on one of the classic fallacies of reasoning. This one you can look up for yourself.

Oh and the ‘countless anecdotes’ are countless in the sense that there really weren’t any. There was evidence in the references offered, of vaying degrees of rigour, to the effect that plastic bags were part of a serious environmental problem that had particularly unfortunate impacts on the oceans and marine life. Some of the evidence was anecdotal in the sense that it was first person reporting of observations. I don’t recall anyone saying anything about ‘evil’ – rather just the perfectly rational concept that harm was being done. I don’t think there are very many peole who imagine there’s some kind of evil conspiracy going on here, it’s just that some people can recognise that harm can be done without malicious intent.

By the way, you can stop peddling the Greenpeace furphy while you’re at it. While they don’t see banning plastic bags as a huge achievement, they clearly recognise that these bags form part of the problem and support such bans as a matter of policy:

Incidentally, I don’t see banning plastic bags as a huge achievement any more than moving to compact flourescent bulbs. But I am rational enough to recognise that taking an action that causes little if any real inconvenience and no harm whatsoever, in order to achieve a modest improvement, is worth taking. Just because something is small doesn’t mean it’s useless. A great deal of the task of rescuing this damaged planet will consist of the cumulative effect of many small actions.

So, please don’t lecture me on being rational, if this is the best you can do.

jared jared 1:35 pm 09 Dec 10

you are citing what can only be described as ‘black’ literature (in the same sense as ‘black ops’).

Oh come on! Lets try and remain rational. If you don’t like the Times then go here: and for your reading pleasure you can find references for the very articles quoted in the Times and read them for yourself (including the Greenpeace one). There is no censorship and no massive conspiracy theory.

You can come up with hundreds or thousands of links to articles and websites that make all sorts of claims about plastic bags (including for example, the ACT government’s very own but not one of those links will back their anecdotes with hard evidence in the form of a cost benefit analysis that attempts to show that the costs imposed on society of using plastic bags outweighs the benefits. If they were so obviously bad, then presumably this wouldn’t be such a hard task.

Don’t bang on about how everyone is so lazy and that hundreds of years ago we all survived without plastic bags blah blah blah. We survived without cars, iphones, bitumen roads, skyscrapers, fridges, plasma tvs, lawnmowers, electric lighting etc etc etc yet all these items/conveniences do incredible environmental damage when they’re in use or disposed of. Do we simply ban them? Thousands of animals are killed by automobiles of every description every year. It’s obvious, everyone knows it, do we ban cars? No, because the benefits far outweigh the costs of killing wombats, kangaroos, cats and dogs, and countless other animals.

So please, quit with the countless anecdotes about how plastic bags and their users are inherently evil, reflect on the fact that the plural of anecdote isn’t evidence, remember that there is nothing stopping you from buying biodegradable plastic bags already, and at some point present me with some actual evidence that shows that banning plastic bags is, on net, good for society and not just a populist stunt. Good luck with that.

Oh and for those interested, the ACT Government’s key piece of evidence for justifying a bag ban was a telephone poll. The poll i put up earlier currently has the following stats: 34 responses, 28 (82.4%) Against a ban, 6 (17.6%) for.

Felix Felix 9:42 am 09 Dec 10

Breda – you’ve done a great job of exposing yourself, haven’t you? Housebound accused me of citing ‘grey’ literature – on that basis, you are citing what can only be described as ‘black’ literature (in the same sense as ‘black ops’).

Firstly, I always get nervous when something is pushed in the Murdoch media. Most of the sites supporting Breda’s argument are either industry groups of The Australian or The Times. these are the same newspapers that bruited Ian Plimer’s incompetent and discredited ‘Heaven and Earth’ as rational proof that climate change science is nonsense.

Then, if you then check out the apparent source of the data, the apparentli innocent and professional sounding ‘Sense about Science’, you find this:

Sense About Science

The UK lobby group Sense About Science says it is ‘A Trust to encourage a rational, evidence-based approach to scientific and technological developments’.

Its exact launch date is unknown but the domain name was registered in March 2002.

Within months it had begun to promote its point of view on GM crops to parliamentarians and the media, and had raised funding from ‘corporations and learned societies’.

An item on the Sense About Science website also refers to a ‘Sense About Science network of scientists and NGOs’. Clues to the network’s constituent members would seem to be provided by the organisation’s officers, staff, trustees, advisors, funders and project particpants.


Chairman: Lord Taverne

Vice Chairman: Dame Bridget Ogilvie

Director: Tracey Brown

Other staff: Ellen Raphael

Both Brown and Raphael worked for the London-based PR company Regester Larkin till shortly prior to joining Sense About Science. Both are also part of the extreme libertarian network behind LM, Spiked, and the Institute of Ideas, to all of which Brown and Raphael have contributed. The domain name for the Sense About Science website – – was registered by Rob Lyons, who is also web master for Spiked.

Brown and Raphael are also key players in another of the network’s front groups, Global Futures. The phone number for Global Futures is the same as that for Sense About Science.

Does everyone get it by now? This is one of those loopy right-wing thinktank front organisations, run by corporate intrerests to discredit genuine attempts to deal with serious environmental problems.

On this basis, I stand by my earlier comments absolutely.

The argument about choking sea creatures was only one of many possible arguments in favour of reducing our plastic usage in any way we can. If, indeed, that one-among-many argument turns out to have been exaggerated, that would merely weaken one plank of evidence – far from disproving even this small component of the evidence.

In fact, if you check out some of the reasearch, the story with plastic bags in the oceans may be subtler but far more frightening:

Oh and yes, Breda, I do think you are going to the wrong parties.

breda breda 9:20 pm 08 Dec 10

Sorry, a bunch of books written by people with an agenda does not qualify as ‘research material’. It qualifies as ‘propaganda’ – just like the whoopsie quoted above.

I am not advocating dumping junk in the ocean, BTW, but plastic bags are trivial in the big picture of ocean dumping. Banning them ranks with banning old fashioned light globes in the pointless and annoying symbolism stakes.

Oh, and I have a growing stash of plastic bags for post 2011 shopping. I’m getting bulk packs like the supermarkets buy. Should see me and my friends out for life. They fold up nice and small in your pocket when you go shopping – easy peasy.

teej7 teej7 7:10 pm 08 Dec 10

Before I say anything that I need to back up with solid academic research, let me just say haven’t done the research and haven’t any evidence, so I’m completely open to being proven wrong.

I read somewhere a while ago that when some initiative to reduce plastic shopping bags was introduced, the purchasing of plastic bin liners went up by a comparable amount.

Also, I am of the understanding that we are required in Canberra to have a rubbish in tied-up plastic bags (I don’t know if my garbo was just a cranky bugger, but I got a right talking to for not doing so).

I agree that it’s important to reduce our use of plastic, but I would also agree with a comment above that the huge amount of packaging that we take home from supermarkets is just as big a problem.

Just a few thoughts…

housebound housebound 4:34 pm 08 Dec 10

And I haven’t seen any academically honest evidence of your belief that it’s all an evil plot by the Greens.
Well, it’s lucky I didn’t make that accusation. What I did say was “It makes the Greens feel warm and fuzzy, and gives them a news item to try to delude everyone they are actually standing against something – in this case a symbol of our wasteful society.”

Calling them delusional doesn’t equate to accusing them of constructing an evil plot.

I apologise for the lack of supporting evidence for my orginal statement. My statement was based entirely on Caroline Le Couteur’s comments on WIN TV last night. Do I need to find the quote for you?

Jim Jones Jim Jones 1:36 pm 08 Dec 10

Go to Google Books and do a search on “plastic bag marine damage” – you’ll get about 3000 results, most of which should provide adequate research material.

breda breda 1:35 pm 08 Dec 10

There is not a lot of robust evidence supporting the ‘threat to marine life’ scare, which was based on misrepresentation of a Canadian study way back in 1987 (the study never mentioned plastic bags at all, but was misquoted:

“The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.

Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to “plastic bags”.

The figure was latched on to by conservationists as proof that the bags were killers. For four years the “typo” remained uncorrected. It was only in 2006 that the authors altered the report, replacing “plastic bags” with “plastic debris”. But they admitted: “The actual numbers of animals killed annually by plastic bag litter is nearly impossible to determine.”

In a postscript to the correction they admitted that the original Canadian study had referred to fishing tackle, not plastic debris, as the threat to the marine environment. “

But it was too late – this error (strangely, in favour of the agenda of those who perpetuated it) had taken hold as ‘fact’ and is still regurgitated regularly.

In any event, I haven’t seen a lot of sea creatures around town lately. Maybe I am going to the wrong parties?

Jim Jones Jim Jones 1:30 pm 08 Dec 10

sing this so-called ‘grey’ literature is not an academically honest way of supporting an argument.

And I haven’t seen any academically honest evidence of your belief that it’s all an evil plot by the Greens.

Lin Lin 1:03 pm 08 Dec 10

If they’re going to replace them with bio-degradable bags that may be worse for the environment. I recently saw a doco about Madagascar where they’ve cut down 99% of their native forests to cultivate some plant that is used in the West to make bio-degradable plastic bags.

Things are not always what they seem.

And I will collect heaps of those green bags because – and feel totally free to call me stupid – I have a memory like a sieve and I hardly ever remember to take it to the shop. So how environmentally friendly to produce and to discard are those green bags?

housebound housebound 12:48 pm 08 Dec 10

Felix – not one of your links was to published data/monitoring/research. Your links all led to popular articles that restated your beliefs about the evils of plastic bags, and none provided supporting evidence beyond one photo of a plastic bag on some near-shore ocean floor. This is the calibre of what we found when we tried to find actual, credible data several years ago.

I don’t really care if bags are banned or not, but you really should not be calling other people selfish when you cite a newspaper article or wikianswers, with no references, as a published source of data. Using this so-called ‘grey’ literature is not an academically honest way of supporting an argument.

cegee cegee 11:55 am 08 Dec 10

eh, not a big deal. i’ve lived in countries where they don’t give you plastic bags and it was never a worry.

Felix Felix 10:56 am 08 Dec 10

housebound asked for some references on the problem of plastic bags choking marine life. here are a few:

You make a fair point that a great deal of damage also gets done by phantom nets and other fishing gear that gets irresponsibly dumped at sea, but plastic shopping bags are a real part of the problem.

They also impact wildlife on land, waste resources to maufacture and distribute and clog up landfill.

I’m sorry for the spit before, but I’m so disappointed to hear such weak, selfish arguments against a sensible, rational piece of legislation that – while it obviously won’t fix everything – constitutes a useful, small step in the right direction.

georgesgenitals georgesgenitals 10:40 am 08 Dec 10

George said :

Shop in Queanbeyan…free parking and you can’t go to prison for peddling plastic bags!

Yep. Far nicer community, free parking, lower prices and less bogans.

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