• Glenn

"Plastic Bag BANS Terrible for the Environment": Early Contender for Dumb Argument of the Year.

Some arguments don't actually merit a response. This is most often the case when your "debate" adversary refuses to take evidence into account, almost revelling in their ignorance. Prime examples that come to mind is the Flat Earth movement (where every argument can be destroyed with even a modicum of knowledge) and "Chemtrail" conspiracy theorists. In the latter case, so the argument goes, there is a worldwide program to alter human beings via commercial aircraft spread of secret chemicals. In reality, the explanation is quite simple. These trails are simply condensation left behind by aircraft flying at high altitutde.

Our attention has been drawn to another asinine argument: plastic bags are bad for us as well as the environment (Financial Post, 2018). It is literally titled "Plastic bag bans are actually terrible for the environment and make us sicker". In this case, let's actually examine the propositions.

Figure 1: Turtle choked on plastic

Figure 2: A Sea Turtle contends with a plastic bag

The first argument made by the author (Lau, M) is that a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in Montreal, Canada will result in consumers and businesses to "suffer" inconveniences. I can only presume this was written with a straight face. Clearly using bags of any other material that lasts longer is not an unbearable burden.

A further argument made relates to cleanliness and hygiene. One example given is disposal of dog faeces. The author has a minor point here, but rapidly biodegradable solutions are not readily available, meaning that bags will rapidly disintegrate and never get to the stage where the environment is detrimentally affected. Next.

The author now laughably states "People use plastic bags to carry clothes and books and everything else from place to place in order to keep their belongings clean from the dirt on the ground." As opposed to another other (reusable) type of bag that doesn't keep belongings off the ground? This is almost comical to assert as a benefit of single-use bags.

Further, the author states that plastic bags are an excellent way to protect the individual from bacteria in the environment. Has the author ever heard of disinfectant or, say, an innovative machine now readily available called a "washing machine". It can work wonders for, you know, cleaning things.

In the next paragraph, the author simply restates the same thing in different words, not meriting a response. Next a spurious attempt is made to connect such a ban with climate-change fighting initiatives. Clearly the reduction of plastics has some benefit here, but no reasonable person would put this forward as a primary reason to ban one-off bags. It's the damage to the local environment, ecology and wastefulness of resources that is at issue here. Nevertheless, the author rides this hobby horse by quoting a study by Stephenson, E. (conveniently not linked to) that reusable cloth bags "need to be used about 130 times to be carbon equivalent with single-use plastic bags". How is this an issue? I don't know about you, dear reader, but myself (and people I'm familiar with) have been reusing the same bags for over 5 years, sometimes much longer. Conservatively, we are talking at least double the (dubious) usage benchmark (130 times) referred to above.

A further argument for plastic bags offered is that the plastic bags count for less that 0.3 of one percent of municipal waste by weight. This is a total Non sequitur in terms of assessing damage to the environment. How, on earth, is weight relevant in any way, shape or form? A curious measure to bring up, indeed.

Rather than coming to his own conclusion, the author borrows that of Stephenson once more:

Stephenson concludes that the bans “appear to be victories of symbolism over sound policy” and that “predatory politics may often be found lurking beneath the green veneer of plastic bag bans."

Figure 3. Sea Life tormented by plastic. Credit: LiveScience

Now, let's actually refer to some basic facts, as opposed to taking an ideology-driven ("anti green") view:

  • Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic are in the ocean, including plastic bags. (The Guardian, 2014). Subsequent estimates are closer to 9 trillion.

  • By 2050, it is forecast, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. (ABC, 2016)

  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year; approximately 10% minimum will end up in the oceans. They also take over 1,000 years to break down. (Static Brain, 2016)

  • Disposable bags kill over 100,000 marine animals every year. (Animals Australia, 2018). Just one example of animal mortality is that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish (a staple food). Not being able to digest them, the poor turtle chokes to death. Similar effects are sadly, abundant on whales. (One Green Planet, 2017)

The damage done by disposable plastic bags is horrendous. We owe it to our living planet to phase them out. Negative health effects on humans from such a phase-out can be completely nullified by using some good-old common sense.

The author says the proposed ban doesn't pass a cost/benefit analysis. This is not the case from an environmental, social, public health, nor economic standpoint.


ABC, 2016. "More plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, report warns" http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-21/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-oceans-by-2050-report-warns/7105936 [Accessed: 20.01.18]

Animals Australia, 2018. "Petition to Ban the Plastic Bag". http://www.animalsaustralia.org/take_action/petitions/ban-the-bag/ [Accessed: 20.01.18]

Financial Post, 2018. Lau, M. "http://business.financialpost.com/opinion/banning-plastic-bags-is-actually-terrible-for-the-environment-and-makes-us-sicker" [Accessed: 20.01.18]

LiveScience, 2018. [Accessed: 20.01.18] https://www.livescience.com/

One Green Planet, 2017. Henn, C. "These 5 Marine Animals Are Dying Because of Our Plastic Trash". http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/marine-animals-are-dying-because-of-our-plastic-trash/ [Accessed: 20.01.18]

The Guardian, 2014. "Full scale of plastic in the world's oceans revealed for first time"https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/10/full-scale-plastic-worlds-oceans-revealed-first-time-pollution [Accessed: 20.01.18]

Static Brain, 2016. "Plastic Bag Statistics" https://www.statisticbrain.com/plastic-bag-statistics/ [Accessed: 20.01.18]