Bags of Rubbish

Bad science is problem enough, but when the media gets hold of it, it can become worse science. It can become a part of an 'everybody knows that' truth which is, in reality, global myth. When that 'truth' circles back to the politicians, they may enact knee-jerk laws which cause more problems than they solve.

Such is the case with the British Government's attitude to environmental issues.

How to WRAP up the pollution problem, British Government style.

Stage 1: you realise that sulphuric acid and lead are bad for the environment, so you require all scrapyards to conform to some very expensive requirements, and then to pay an exorbitant license fee in order to be allowed to buy and sell used batteries.

Result: most scrap metal merchants stop trading in used batteries. The few that continue drop their prices. It is now uneconomic for the small trader to collect batteries and take them to be recycled. Private individuals dispose of the now worthless batteries by throwing them in hedgerows, streams and canals.

Stage 2: you realise that old cars are less efficient and more polluting than more modern cars. You institute a policy whereby owners of vehicles that do not conform to modern emissions standards must pay exorbitant prices for conversion or exorbitant taxes. Drivers who break driving and parking laws risk having their vehicles towed away and crushed.

Result: an immediate drop in the value of all second-user vehicles. Due to lack of value, many vehicles which would have continued in use are crushed. The poorest people now do not have cars. Higher up the second-user chain, people keep their cars longer, so do not buy younger ones, due to the strong financial dis-incentive to trade up.  Sales of new cars slump as drivers do not wish to lose the bulk of their cash investment in their current car. There is an overall net increase in the percentage of older cars on the roads as against the latest, more efficient models.

Stage 3: rather than tackle trivial problems like cutting down national heat and CO2 emmisions to keep the Arctic from becoming ice-free within 30 years, tackle the important issues of plastic bags and Easter egg wrappings.

Here's how:

Do not set up a 'dot gov' website. That gives you a let-out when it all goes pear-shaped. Instead, set up a limited company. Give that limited company some money to play with and there you go: a well thought out scientific solution to the whole anthropogenic climate change thingumy and we look good and get lots of votes. Oh, one thing. Let's not get carried away here! Let's just pay for the domain name short term, then if we lose the next election, and the other lot forget to renew the name, we have lots of reasons to wave our order papers at them.


WRAP The Waste and Resource Action Programme
UK Limited Company, (Company number: 4125764)
Renewal date: 02-Jun-2010
"WRAP's mission is to accelerate resource efficiency by creating stable and efficient markets for recycled materials and products, while removing barriers to waste minimisation, re-use and recycling. WRAP works with the public, private, and community sectors and is supported by funding from DEFRA, the DTI and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."
The above policy statement is not on the web site!  It is in the site's whois data, which the general public doesn't usually see.  Please note that there is nothing said about consultation with the scientific community.  'Sector' is guvspeak for 'commercial interests'.

New figures show efforts by retailers and consumers delivering results 26 February 2009
New figures released today by WRAP (Waste&Resources Action Programme) show the UK’s leading high street and grocery retailers have exceeded a voluntary target to reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008.

Since 2006, retailers have delivered a 40% reduction in the environmental impact of carrier bags, as measured by the reduction in the amount of virgin plastic used. Retailers have achieved this by reducing the number of carrier bags issued by 26%, increasing recycled content used and reducing carrier bag weight.
Is That Good News?

Hardly. By focusing media attention on wrappings, and by using taxpayers' money to pursue a policy based on bad science, the British government has just muddied the waters. Every time a scientific paper is shown to be flawed, the science community just picks up its feet and moves forward. Meanwhile, the policy makers, having invested in a flawed pet project just keep on feeding the flawed science propaganda machine. And in doing this, they give ammunition to climate change deniers.

The Flawed Report.

A document issued with minor typos is 'self-corrected' by its readers. Written language is notoriously prone to typos an mis-spellings, but the human brain evolved to deal with language, so most people subconsciusly correct the errors.  Did you spot the typos in this paragraph?

But if the error is totally plausible in the context it will usually go uncorrected. Such was the case with the report which seemed to the media to be suggesting that plastic bags were a major environmental hazard. The error was that 'plastic bags' should have read  'plastic waste', i.e. plastic waste of all kinds combined.

"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. "
Times Online March 8, 2008

Old news indeed!

And now, in a remarkably insightful declaration of its intent to tackle serious environmental issues, the British government has announced that -

we really ought to save those plastic bags and re-use them.

Somehow, the expression 'one slice short of the full sandwich' doesn't quite cut it.

Daily Telegraph 06 Apr 2009
The Carrier Bag Consortium is a group of major UK carrier bag suppliers.
They may have a vested interest, but I feel that their approach to the issue is based on good science. But please do make up your own mind on this.
Carrier Bag Consortium
This article in no way impacts on my view of global climate change as a major problem which we humans have brought upon ourselves by the profligate abuse of our descendents' heritage in mineral wealth.

"It is scientifically inconceivable that - after changing forest into cities, putting dust and soot into the atmosphere, putting millions of acres of desert into irrigated agriculture, and putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - humans have not altered the natural course of the climate system."