Plastic-Free

Guardian:

Shoppers in the Netherlands will get the chance to visit Europe’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle on Wednesday in what campaigners claim is an turning point in the war on plastic pollution.

The store in Amsterdam will open its doors at 11am when shoppers will be able to choose from more than 700 plastic-free products, all available in one aisle.

The move comes amid growing global concern about the damage plastic waste is having on oceans, habitats and food chains. Scientists warn plastic pollution is now so widespread it risks permanent contamination of the natural world.

Earlier this year, a Guardian investigation revealed that UK supermarkets were a major source of plastic waste, producing 1m tonnes a year. And for the past 12 months, campaigners have been calling for all supermarkets to offer a plastic-free aisle.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, the group behind the campaign, said the opening represented “a landmark moment for the global fight against plastic pollution”.

“For decades shoppers have been sold the lie that we can’t live without plastic in food and drink. A plastic-free aisle dispels all that. Finally we can see a future where the public have a choice about whether to buy plastic or plastic-free. Right now we have no choice.”

“Plastic-free” sounds to me a lot like “smoke-free”, and probably likely to have the same kind of thinking behind it.

My bet is that far from “giving the public a choice”, they’ll soon be demanding plastic bans, and saying that plastic causes cancer, and children should be kept away from it.

I must say that there seems to be far too much plastic around. More or less everything I buy seems to be encased in plastic. In the past when you bought a pair of pliers or a piece of steak it would come in a brown paper bag, and maybe not even that. Now they both come packed in several layers of plastic, and all inside a cardboard box. And it’s a devil of a job to open them sometimes. I’ve even taken saws and hammers to some of the packaging, it was so difficult to open.

And I suspect it’s all Health and Safety regulations. I doubt if the manufacturers or producers want all the packaging. It has to raise the price of everything, and since there’s quite often a time cost in getting the packaging open, there’s a loss in value, when for example you have to do 100 kJ of work to open a package containing 80 kJ of food.

But “plastic” also has connotations of being nasty, cheap, and artificial. Plastics are new products that have hardly been around for 100 years, and some people seem to react to anything new by condemning it (a bit like when people started smoking novelty cigarettes 100 years ago, and lung cancer was blamed on them).

I’ve read quite a lot about plastic bottles and bags floating around in the oceans, sometimes apparently covering huge areas, like Sargasso Seas of Sainsbury’s and ASDA bags, and fish eating them or getting enmeshed in them. But plastics are made up of organic compounds – carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – which must surely decompose over a few years or centuries or millennia. Pretty well everything else does.

But then I’m reminded of how I dug up some bivalve seashells out of shale beds on the Jurassic coast of Devon. They would have been 100 million or more years old. And they looked almost as good as new. How come nobody complains about the litter of seashells on the sea beds? Couldn’t  the bivalves have been a bit more considerate than to have littered the Earth with shells that were as resistant to weathering as cigarette butts (which, as everyone knows, can last for all eternity). And what about all those dinosaurs leaving their bones everywhere? And, worst of all, the foraminifer whose tiny shells make up entire layers of chalk on the Kent and Sussex coasts of England? Isn’t that “pollution” too?

But they don’t see that as “pollution”. It’s only ever anything that humans produce that gets labelled as “pollution”. In fact, these people seem to think that everything humans produce is something that will destroy the “natural” environment. And furthermore they seem to think of humans themselves as a form of pollution.

Sitting behind all this seems to be an idea of a perfect and unchanging world into which us humans blundered, dropping ASDA bags and cigarette butts and beer cans everywhere, spoiling everything, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, ignoring God’s advice as usual. And hence the intense moral fervour that accompanies all their campaigns: they’re doing God’s work.

About Frank Davis

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24 Responses to Plastic-Free

  1. RdM says:

    Like anti smoking and anti drinking memes, the anti plastic bag meme seems to have gone global, therefore organised…

    I weighed a supermarket plastic bag yesterday, rather imprecisely – about 5-6 grams.

  2. Rose says:

    I’ve read quite a lot about plastic bottles and bags floating around in the oceans, sometimes apparently covering huge areas, like Sargasso Seas of Sainsbury’s and ASDA bags, and fish eating them or getting enmeshed in them

    Frank, I’ve taken a particular interest in this since Gordon Brown suddenly took against free supermarket carrier bags, which I had found very useful for reusing as bin liners.

    It all started with an alleged “typo” when someone was copying a report from Canada about a serious problem with discarded fishing nets killing wild life.

    Incidental catch of marine birds and mammals in fishing nets off Newfoundland, Canada
    1987
    “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.”
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X87800231

    Miraculously “fishing nets” turned into “plastic bags”

    Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain
    Times 2008
    “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.”
    https: //www.thetimes.co.uk/article/series-of-blunders-turned-the-plastic-bag-into-global-villain-pc0p6hk6lw0
    https://www.heartland.org/_template-assets/documents/publications/22954.pdf

    But unfortunately the mistake was discovered too late and the juggernaut had already started rolling.

    Government may tax plastic shopping bags
    2008
    “LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned retailers on Friday they have to start charging shoppers for plastic bags or the government will step in to force them.”

    “I am convinced we need to act — and the time to act is now,” Brown wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper. “And I want to make clear that if government compulsion is needed to make the change, we will take the necessary steps.”

    “We do not take such steps lightly — but the damage that single-use plastic bags inflict on the environment is such that strong action must be taken,” he added.”
    https: //uk.reuters.com/article/uk-climate-britain-bags-uk-pack-only/government-may-tax-plastic-shopping-bags-idUKL2993097620080229

    Though the public have been made to feel personally guilty for years and are charged for their carrier bags instead of getting them free, at last now we know where all the plastic that we are being blamed for is really coming from

    Just 10 rivers carry 90% of plastic polluting the oceans
    12 December 2017
    “Two of them are in Africa – the Nile and the Niger – while the others are in Asia: the Indus, Ganges, Amur, Mekong, Pearl, Hai he, Yellow and Yangtze.”
    https: //news.sky.com/story/just-10-rivers-carry-90-of-plastic-polluting-the-oceans-11167581

  3. beobrigitte says:

    The store in Amsterdam will open its doors at 11am when shoppers will be able to choose from more than 700 plastic-free products, all available in one aisle.
    Great!! If I’d shop there, would I get my veg NOT WRAPPED in PLASTIC? I’d welcome that!

    The move comes amid growing global concern about the damage plastic waste is having on oceans, habitats and food chains. Scientists warn plastic pollution is now so widespread it risks permanent contamination of the natural world.
    Why are in supermarkets then virtually all vegetables wrapped in plastic? At least carrier bags can be re-used, the plastic wrappers around the veg (I particularly hate the tightly plastic-wrapped, uni-sized cucumbers) go straight into the bin to end up in a landfill. This can’t be good for the natural world.
    Another ultra-annoying thing is the uni-size veg we can only buy these days. Any veg that does not fit this pre-determined size or shape gets wasted. This can’t be good for the natural world, either.
    Also, why chucking e.g. fruit surplus into the oceans?

    Plastic carrier bags are the least of the problem.

    • Rose says:

      Bent banana and curved cucumber rules dropped
      2008

      “EU rules banning bent bananas and curved cucumbers are set to be scrapped.
      A majority of EU member states, including Britain and Ireland, have voted to reform rules like EC Commission Regulation No 2257/94, which caused international ridicule by stating that all bananas must be “free of abnormal curvature” and at least 14 cm in length.

      Imperfectly-shaped fruit and vegetables may now be back on supermarket shelves by 2009.
      France, Italy, Spain and Greece opposed the reforms and were accused by officials of unfairly seeking to protect the interests of their farmers.

      Mariann Fischer Boel, the European agriculture commissioner, has said that she also wants to scrap a swathe of regulations on produce such as onions, garlic, caulifower and spinach.
      Speaking before the vote she said the rules were outdated and especially inappropriate at the time of a world food shortages.

      She said: “In this era of high prices and growing demand, it makes no sense to throw (misshapen fruit and vegetables) away or destroy them. It shouldn’t be the EU’s job to regulate these things.”
      Under the present regulations, Class 1 cucumbers must be “practically straight” and be bent by a gradient of no more than 1/10.

      Produce that does not meet the minimum standards can not at present be sold as second-class, meaning many edible items are thrown away by farmers.”
      https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2453204/Bent-banana-and-curved-cucumber-rules-dropped-by-EU.html

      Or were they?

      To Properly Explain The EU’s Bendy Bananas Rules: Yes, They’re Real
      2016

      “QUALITY STANDARDS FOR BANANAS I. DEFINITION OF PRODUCE

      This standard applies to bananas of the varieties (cultivars) of Musa (AAA) spp., Cavendish and Gros Michel subgroups, referred to in Annex II, for supply fresh to the consumer after preparation and packaging. Plantains, bananas intended for industrial processing and fig bananas are not covered.

      free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers

      So, the standards do indeed say that excessively bendy bananas may not be sold for human consumption, but can be for industrial processing. So something is banned under the regulation: excessively bendy bananas being sold for direct human consumption.

      However, that’s not actually what the problem with this is. The problem is that this regulation has the force of law. It is, in theory, possible that someone could be prosecuted for selling bendy (OK, too bendy) bananas for human consumption. And who in heck wants to live in a legal system that would allow that sort of nonsense? Well, obviously, the people who write the laws for the European Union, that’s who, and there is our problem.

      The standards themselves are pretty much directly copied over from the Codex Alimentarius, something under the general control of the Food and Agriculture Organization (part of the UN) and the World Health Organization (similarly).”
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/05/12/to-properly-explain-the-eus-bendy-bananas-rules-yes-theyre-real/#4397a2ba6fc9

  4. waltc says:

    I share your frustration in dealing with impenetrable packaging. I think it’s a consequence of things like hammers, thread, flashlights, even pens etc no longer being sold in neighborhood hardware, stationary, etc stores but in big chain stores that not only have different inventory and display requirements, but a high level of shoplifting. And then, for things like aspirin, the threat of tampering that’s been with since the Tylenol poisonings that’s been with us for 30-some years,

    As for produce, pre-packaging is a great way to sell inferior stuff since the customer can’t put his hands on it. And bec old fashioned butcher shops are few and far between, a steak with too much fat or gristle can be packaged with the bad side down. IOW, in most cases, the plastic is for the benefit of the seller, not the buyer.

    As for plastic grocery bags, a real benefit for customers and, as Rose says, reusable as bin liners , they, like secondhand smoke, seem to be the chosen target fir the right-(er, left-) minded. New York state is currently proposing a state-wide ban on them AND a 25 cent charge for paper bags. And since paper is bio-degradable, yet more proof that it’s about social engineering, not The Environment.

  5. Philip Neal says:

    I have been reading Scared to Death by Christopher Booker and Richard North, which is interesting on health and environmental scares as a type of “narrative”. One essential element is that the source of danger must be everywhere, and another that the nature of the threat be superficially plausible and difficult to verify – salmonella-infected eggs, the millennium bug etc etc. Plastic fits the bill perfectly. More recently, Booker has identified climate change as an example of a related “narrative”, groupthink, which always involves claims about an overwhelming consensus of opinion rejected only by fools and knaves. Recommended – the recurring patterns are glaringly obvious once they are pointed out.

    • Joe L. says:

      Sounds like an interesting read. Do they examine the secondhand smoke “threat” at all?

      • jaxthefirst says:

        Yes it does, Joe, (Chapter 12, if you’re interested), and rebuffs it pretty robustly. In fact, it uses it as a classic example of the “power of the scare” and the corruption of science in order to further an ideological aim. Definitely a book worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy. It’s a fascinating analysis of the whole structure of “scares” and shows how the tactics used to whip people up into a frenzy, regardless what about, follow a similar pattern from start to finish, and that, often, these “scares” are designed purely in order for (often) just a small handful of people – even, in some instances just one single individual – with a bee in their bonnet to persuade politicians to institute a particular policy. It’s one of those books which I read with both astonishment and agreement in equal measure and to which I refer back frequently whenever the latest “end of the world as we know it” scenario raises its head. Put it on your next Christmas list – you won’t be disappointed, but be warned, you may find that bits of it make your blood boil – it certainly did mine!

        • Joe L. says:

          Thanks for the info, Jax! I’m very happy to hear Booker and North didn’t ignore the elephant in the room (smoking) as most authors seem to do. I just placed a hold on the book at my library; it seems right up my alley. Looking forward to reading it!

    • Emily says:

      I’ve read that and really enjoyed it!

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  7. nisakiman says:

    They just outlawed free plastic bags here, too. There is now a five cent charge if you want one. This came in just a few weeks ago. The funny thing is that we used to stuff ours into a bin liner for later use, and I found that I had to regularly drag the bags in the bottom of the liner up to the top, as if they were left undisturbed for more than a year, they would start ti disintegrate and I’d end up with a pile of minuscule, powdery bits at the bottom of the bin liner which were a right pain to clean up if they escaped. It quite surprised me how fast they biodegraded even though not subjected to UV light or anything else. I would imagine that they would degrade even faster if they were exposed to sun and sea.

    I do agree that they are very unsightly when disposed of carelessly, and it sometimes pains me when I see them flapping on a wire fence in the countryside, but given the speed with which they degrade, I’m somewhat sceptical about the claims of long-term pollution caused by them.

    • Rose says:

      I would be happy to pay the 5p charge if it was used to sort out the original problem.

      The scourge of ‘ghost fishing’: Divers plunge to depths of over 100ft to clear up abandoned nets and traps that kill sea life
      27 April 2016

      “Last month the Healthy Seas diving team of six divers, formed by Greek and Dutch volunteers, removed big ghost fishing nets on the Karystos Reef near Evia, Greece. They covered a huge area and the team made six dives in total at depths of up to 105ft.

      A spokersperson for Healthy Seas said: ‘Our divers worked hard and removed almost 75 per cent of all the nets on the reef and the wreck – the M/V Portugal – at that place. The reef is now liveable and safe again for its sea creatures.’

      The Ghost Fishing Foundation has been collaborating worldwide with various local groups of technical divers and salvage companies to remove lost fishing gear.”
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3561423/The-scourge-ghost-fishing-Divers-plunge-depths-100ft-clear-abandoned-nets-traps-kill-sea-life.html

      Carrier bags: why there’s a charge

      “The law requires large shops in England to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags. Charging started on 5 October 2015.
      We want to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter they can cause, by encouraging people to reuse bags.”

      6. How the proceeds are being used

      “This is not a tax and the money from the charge does not go to the government.
      We expect retailers to give the proceeds of the scheme to good causes, but it is for them to choose what to do, and which causes to support.”
      https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-why-were-introducing-the-charge/carrier-bags-why-theres-a-5p-charge

      Might I suggest that they send all the 5p’s to the The Ghost Fishing Foundation?

    • jaxthefirst says:

      Some shops started using those biodegradable plastic bags around our way some while ago, Nika, and you’re right, they do breakdown into tiny, irritating little pieces very quickly. Whether they degrade completely or not I never found out, because I never saw any information about them – typical lack of information from retailers and/or the authorities. You’d think shops offering them would be shouting from the rooftops about it, like they are about this plastic-free aisle, but no. Nothing. Not a squeak.

      The trouble was, as the main “message” here in the UK is to re-use plastic bags – which in our household we do – it became very common to put something into one of these biodegradable ones, only for the contents to drop straight out of the bottom! Highly embarrassing in the supermarket – and deeply unpleasant when using the bag to pick up doggie-do’s! Yuk!

      They seem to have stopped using them round here now, probably because everyone returned to simply chucking ALL bags away, because it wasn’t possible to tell which were the biodegradable, about-to-fall-apart ones, and which were the tough, won’t-degrade-in-a-million-years type!

  8. Yvonne says:

    People watch programmes like Trawlermen heaving in tons of plastic polluting our oceans /sarc
    Government in their wisdom makes people use thicker reusable bags that don’t disintegrate as quickly as the thinner bags and may be less safe due to germs and bacteria. Yet students have been working on a solution http://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/teens-use-science-worm-through-plastic-waste. I wonder if once the worms are fully grown they could be fed to the fish.

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