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Taiwan ban single-use plastic straws, plastic bags, disposable utensils by 2030 (hongkongfp.com)
659 points by jacksmith21006 on Feb 22, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 402 comments

The UK dropped to 500 million bags annually used from 7 billion after introduction of a 5 pence per bag charge. That's just one country albeit one of the world's largest. Still I think we're over due for much more agressive action.


Anecdata, but since it was introduced, I've gone from getting a new bag every day (lunch/fresh groceries), to using the same one for pretty much the last 6 months.

It was a very noticeable shift to making me think about their use.

Buying one because I've forgotten is a rare, and slight annoyance (the price doesn't put me off, it just changes the mental model).

Lots of my friends have said the same thing. I've always wondered why people didn't re-use bags before the charge...

Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does? People didn't know plastic was bad before? They didn't care?

It's great that the 5p charge works, but do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

> do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

I'd argue "Yep". We've shown repeatedly we value convenience over the environment time and time again, I think we need to be pragmatic and, rather than guilt people into making better decisions, guide them to do it through this kind of (albeit fake) positive reinforcement - "save money by just using that thing you have".

Most people buying a loaf of Hovis and some baked beans of an evening give precisely zero sh*tes about the ecological concerns of their decisions. It'd be great if people just decided to be concerned, but I think we need to be realistic about the motivations of people, and their priorities.

It's not the 5p, it's charge vs no charge. Consider two scenarios:

1) Bags cost 1p, but now cost 10p.

2) Bags were free, but now cost 1p.

I bet that the reduction in bag use would be far greater in scenario 2 than in scenario 1. It's like why a very cheap paid app is disproportionately harder to market than a free app.

There's an example in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational that showed this exact phenomenon.

This is literally the standard market solution for externalities, and follows the same basic logic as carbon taxes, cap-and-trade for SO2/NOx emissions, and so forth.

do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

Is this a people thing?

I observed very often that cashiers routinely gave away much too many bags for customers that didn't ask for them, maybe to look generous?

I still see in McDonalds and Burger King that they insist in putting in the shelf a lot of ketchup bags, drinking straws or paper napkings that I don't asked for or want. Simply forbidding them to do that if not requested would save a lot of trouble.

In UK Burger King charge for sauces, McDo always give a handful even when I ask for "a barbecue sauce" or "2 ketchups".

I guess for McDo the sauce costs a penny or two and they want to minimise interactions as they are costly; but theft must be too high off sauce is freely available.

For McDo it might well be a strong differentiator, customers see them as generous because of the excess sauce. Might also cause customers to make less mess under the psychology of feeling endebted when receiving a "gift".

Re plastic, a packaging company CEO stated on BBC radio (R4) this evening the expected additional cost of replacing burger packaging with fully home-compostable burger packaging was around 1p and that they had similar solutions for all fast food packaging ready to go. Financial incentives to responsible packaging solutions seem necessary at this point.

I think it also has to do with retraining social expectations to know that people are expected to reuse bags at the grocery store or wherever. At the grocery stores here in Japan, they actually charge about 2 yen for using plastic bags, but the norm is to take plastic bags anyway, so it's more like they subtract 2 yen for not taking plastic bags. When buying takeout lunch, places will bag the lunchbox faster than you can open your mouth. There needs to be a way to disrupt the "plastic bag by default" mode of thinking.

‘Internalize the externality’ beats ‘appeal to sensibility’ every damn time.

I think there may be a degree of thinking like "if this really were a problem, then the costs would be visible or pushed down to me by now", and then the 5p charge (and the routinely-forced conversation with the cashier) was finally that.

> Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does? People didn't know plastic was bad before? They didn't care?

i think it simply does not register, until something flips the switch. "money" is a powerful trigger. people pay special attention to what it is connected to.

One possible reason that no one's mentioned...

It isn't about the money you pay, but the money you keep.

If I buy a few things for £4.99 then without a bag I can pay with a £10 note and get a £5 note back, but with the 5p charge I receive loads of coins in change.

Plus the cognitive pain of monetary amounts like £5.04

The ideal scenario is to reward customers for being environmentally conscious as oppose to penalising those who aren't. eg. A 5p-off your shopping incentive for every re-used bag. However, sadly I don't think this would work as well currently.

A bubble tea place near me gives out glass bottles, and offers a 10% discount if you bring back the bottle for a refill. I have... quite a few bottles in my cupboard now. It doesn't work, for me, at least.

An extra charge to 'buy' the bottle would likely be a more effective incentive for me.

The convenience of cheap disposable one-time-use containers is simply too great.

The only real solution is to have this stuff made from biodegradable materials.

There is.

It's 10% of the cost of the drink.

Just seems you're not super great at personal finance, is all.

It all depends on what actions you are trying to change.

Technically, it does reward folks when they don't take a plastic bag by not charging them. But the goal is to actually discourage people from taking one in the first place, so something that seems like a small penalty does this more effectively. You notice each time you forget to bring a bag with you, unlike the rewards. And it is universal.

Sometimes you want to reward folks, though - this works with plastic and glass recycling here in Norway. I save up most of this stuff at home and take it back to the grocery store, where I get a bit of money for most plastic and aluminum beverage bottles and some glass ones (mostly beer). If there weren't a reward for bringing it back, I'd just stick these in with plastic recycling or regular trash. This adds up so long as I don't take them in one at a time, something I can't get with a reusable plastic bag discount.

Some stores did this in my area before the statewide ban, and indeed it did not work as well at reducing disposable bag use, though it was better than nothing.

In Seattle, this already happens in many (all?) grocery stores.

> Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does?

5p doesn't do it. 5p times hundreds does.


"Right, so I can kill a turtle for five pence then?"

> Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does? People didn't know plastic was bad before? They didn't care?

Honestly, yes. Even if people do know that plastic is bad for the environment, they honestly don't care. I might be comparing California oranges to British apples here, so forgive me if this doesn't match your experience but here's a quick summary of what I see.

Back in 2007 San Francisco enacted the beginnings of a City-wide plastic bag ban, banning them and charging 10¢ for paper bags. First at large retailers, then to all retailers by about 2013 IIRC, I might be off a little bit on the time frame.

Here's what happened: I went from seeing plastic bags littered in the streets every day, floating around in the wind, a sight that was incredibly common since as far back as my earliest memories as a kid to not seeing one single plastic bag left on the street in the past 4 or 5 years? Can it still happen? Sure, theoretically, but as the other cities and counties around here started enacting their own ordinances, the chances of that happening were sharply reduced. Now there's a State-wide law that's largely the same.

Now I've also worked in the service industry in the past, and when it comes to disposables, people are pretty liberal about their use. A café I worked at had a refill policy that lasted the whole day if you brought back your cup, but hardly anybody would bring their cup back and we would still give them the refund anyway, but the idea was that would be one less cup+lid to reuse. We would also subtract 10¢ from the price if someone brought their own cup, but still, hardly anyone does.

Even if people were planning to eat in the café, oftentimes they would request to go orders "just in case", which meant more paper/boxes/plastic utensils/whatever. Oh and if you provide those stupid little plastic covers to close up your plastic lid and prevent spilling? Just another crappy piece of plastic. Ice cream shop or cake shop? Expect to go through a lot of wax paper, unnecessarily most of the time, along with paper cups, and either wooden or plastic spoons, not to mention those wooden stirring sticks. Or if you don't make straws readily available, then most of the time, people won't even ask for one, but if you put them right there in front of them, then suddenly you're buying a lot more straws to replace them. All of this is just one-type of business in the city. Go to another place, suddenly you're dealing with disposable chopsticks, or little plastic salsa containers, or some other crap.

This is a city that is considered 1. pretty liberal and conscientious and 2. pretty environmentally friendly, but take a walk in any neighborhood and just note the trash on the ground. Cigarette butts (which incidentally the city charges a 75¢ fee per pack of cigarettes ostensibly to recoup costs from clean up, but is really probably just a double down on sin taxes), broken bottles, any kind of chip bag, bits of sandwich wrapping paper, paper cups from coffee, you name it, it's around. Just not carry-out bags, or if you do see those, it is pretty rare compared to 10 years ago.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if you taxed/enforced an extra fee collection at the point-of-sale for all of this crap? Or just banned it all outright. It's worth thinking about because obviously people don't really care, and if they don't care here, they probably care even less elsewhere.

Either way, it'll be worth paying attention to what happens in Taiwan from here on out, and in Scotland when their plastic straw ban comes into effect.

Short-term consequences always win out over long-term ones.

> It's great that the 5p charge works, but do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

Nope, and it's a slippery slope and this kind of tax becomes regressive. It's because it works that it's used so often. Same with cigarettes and the like. Next will be soft drinks, fast food, etc, etc. Many who support these kinds of government punishments don't realize how much they associate themselves with prohibitionists and moral majority members they may criticize in other areas.

Nonsense. The reason this particular tax works is not because people can't do without the 5p, it's because every conversation with a cashier includes "would you like a 5p bag with that?". In other words, you're forced to consider it every time you buy something. That sort of repetition is powerful for changing habits.

I don't disagree with anything you wrote nor do I see how it contradicts anything I wrote. Just because it works doesn't make it right and running to the government and using the long arm of the law IMO should be reserved for egregious crimes lest it become regressive and commonplace.

So, what would be the correct course of action to prevent stuff like fish in the sea being full of plastic from happening?

This is the type of dangerous question that leads to interminable lists of laws. If there is any problem and we don't know of another solution that works as well, let's go with the one we do know. It also happens to be the easiest and we know it will work. One wonders why the same solution doesn't apply to paper that is also a serious littering problem? And it's always this same type of appeal to emotion. If you cared about the fish so much, why not just outlaw all plastics? Answer: because people only care about things as much as it doesn't affect them to solve. That's how regressive laws happen.

I could put forth a guess or two on attempts at action, but I am not familiar enough with the science to argue them wholeheartedly. But I can say the political decisions are rarely science based and more often based on perceived righteousness (which is why it's a tax and not illegal).

So... Your solution is "plastic isn't bad" as well as "whatabout paper?" and "don't mention the fish, because their cuteness makes us irrational" and "politicians are stupid"?

Color me unconvinced.

I think you misread. I didn't offer a solution. I just mentioned inconsistency and the reason why. Your reading is purposefully uncharitable and makes it impossible to have these kinds of discussions rationally.

>Your reading is purposefully uncharitable and makes it impossible to have these kinds of discussions rationally.

That's an assumption of bad faith. Now that is something that makes rational discussion impossible. You seem to see yourself as totally above the person talking with you, because you're just "rational". But you continually appeal to emotion yourself, and that emotion is fear:

"it's a slippery slope", "prohibitionists", "using the long arm of the law" (to describe a 5p charge), "regressive", "dangerous question","interminable lists of laws" etc

Solving this problem affects everyone. Not solving this problem affects everyone. This is the nature of global environmental problems. Yes, outlawing most of plastic packaging, additives etc. is probably going to happen sooner or later in some parts of the world. With China now banning imports of plastic garbage, the process has already started.

This is probably not related to plastic bags, but still interesting: 73% of deep sea fish ingested plastic https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0219/941718-plastics/

A lot of us are doing the same. Feels great! Just don't forget to wash them once in a while, especially if they've been carrying meat (even packaged) as bacteria may grow and spread to your fresh food.

> using the same one for pretty much the last 6 months

Those are some high quality bags!

Same in France, the stores starting charging for plastic bags (even before the gov introduced a tax) in the early 2000s, and it dropped to 800 millions back in 2010, from 15 billion in 2003.[1][2] Since 2016 they're completely banned.

Glad to see that more countries took similar easy steps.

The E.U. is forcing every member country charge for those bags by the end of 2018, and to make sure on average people use less than 90 bags per person per year by end of 2019.

For comparison, Danish and Finnish use only 4, France 80, and Portuguese 400+ [3]

[1] http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2013/01/03/l-interdict...

[2] https://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2003/12/04/202430-la-chasse...

[3] http://www.liberation.fr/france/2016/06/25/sacs-plastique-ce...

The number of bags used drop is significant, but I wonder how much the volume of plastic used has changed?

This is an honest question. I am genuinely curious. Here in California, for example, the 10 cent bags you now pay for are much more robust than the cheap freebies of before, but also clearly use more material in their construction. I would estimate at least 5x-10x the mass per bag of the previous free ones.

(I much prefer the newer system, FWIW. The stronger bags are much more useful around the home, too.)

The economist Bryan Caplan wrote about the topic here:


Interesting read, thanks for the link.

I'm one of those idiots who always forgets to bring reusable bags but since they passed similar laws in my city, I've cut down on bag use, sometimes just carrying all my items. Laws like that help because groceries no longer assume you want bags. Now you have to make a decision. So even when I do forget and have to buy a bag, I ask for the bare minimum and the clerk just stack my bag as full as possible. In the past, I think they would have left a lot more room.

I guess these laws have an impact just simply making us make a decision on the number of bags we want to be charged for.

Every time I go home to Tennessee to visit family, I’m shocked at how wasteful they are with plastic bags. If you buy a small cart load of groceries/whatever at Wal-Mart, they have a big rotating carousel of bags for the cashier to drop items into and they’ll consistently use every bag slot rather than putting everything into a couple of bags. They’ve sent me home with 6 bags before, each holding only 1 or 2 items.

I’ve had convenience stores try to give me a bag for a candy bar. It’s one item and I’m going to eat it now. What am I going to do with this bag? There’s always a look of confusion when I ask for items not to be bagged. It’s just such a foreign thing.

I’m glad that my city has instituted a bag fee and banned plastic bags. A lot of places don’t actually seem to charge per bag as they’re supposed to, but even so the number of people bringing bags is much higher now and the number of bags used is way lower. And none of them are throwaway plastic.

The habit of assuming customers want bags seems like one way to characterize much, of not most, of the problem. I get the impression it’s seen as a common courtesy for some, or a gesture. Maybe nothing more than a habit, maybe less than that.

I often just take one of the empty cartons some products are shelved in.

This easily gets you cockroaches, that's why I avoid this.

Seattle has 5 cent charge for bags. I don't much care for the reusable bags. I just reuse the bags I bought for 5 cents. They can be used several times before they fall apart.

Meanwhile when I moved here in New York I was shocked at the common practice of "double bagging" where they literally put a plastic bag into another plastic bag.

The argument being that 1 bag isn't strong enough.

It's dumb for light items, absolutely.

But New Yorkers tend to carry their groceries home in their hands for as far as a mile, instead of wheeling them out in carts to a car trunk and then carrying them 20 feet to the door of the house.

Heavy items (liquids and canned goods and stuff like potatoes) WILL tear through plastic bags if not double bagged. The worst offenders are half gallons of milk/juice, which have sharp corners.

This has happened to me more than once. I've also on occasion just made it home with a bag that's seconds from splitting open.

And then you're half a mile from home with your groceries all over the sidewalk and nothing to put them in.

At least in Europe, since the introduction of the bag surcharge, the new plastic bags are thicker and much stronger. At most, they get punctured, but I have never had one break open on me.

The grocery store I grew up shopping at (in NY) also had thicker bags, but they were still vulnerable to punctures, which would turn into tears under the wrong conditions. They used to put a paper bag (no handles) inside a plastic bag (with handles) - which turns out to be super sturdy. You could carry cannonballs in those things, except that you could feel the handles stretch out after a few blocks.

In Finland there are small biodegradable plastic bags available in grocery stores. Free of charge. They're mainly for vegetables, fruit etc.

Downside is that they are weak enough to break if mishandled.

Bigger bags to hold all your purchases - made from recycled plastic - are available from the cashiers for 20 cents.

Edit: Regular small bags are also available free of charge.

Almost everyone in South Australia uses reusable grocery bags, like this: https://www.google.com.au/search?q=reusable+bag&tbm=isch&sou...

We keep them in the car or carry a collapsible one in a backpack, handbag, laptop bag, etc.

Right. A lot of us have started carrying those, but not everyone. And even the slimmest ones have some bulk. I wouldn't carry more than one in a handbag unless I were leaving the house explicitly to shop for groceries. But sometimes you stop by the store for one thing on the way home and end up leaving with a lot more.

Even the super strong HDPE bags at "luxury" grocery stores like Citarella, Grace's Market, Agata and Valentina, etc., get double bagged for absolutely no reason other than this is what the people who shop at these places have come to expect. It is long, long past time for NYC to impose a charge on plastic bags. My wife and I are honestly the only people who bring their own bags to Citarella.

if you ever had your milk go splat on the pavement after it went right through your plastic bag, then yeah, its not enough.

There are amazing fabrics today that can solve this; one called cotton and another called nylon.

Plastic bags hold about 20-30 pounds, how much milk are we talking?

Many US supermarkets use very thin plastic bags. I'm guessing 0.5 mil []. They're noticeably thinner than the type you (used) to get from UK supermarkets. This site suggests that "reusable" type would be > 2.25 mil.


Plastic bags can easily tear with just a small box being sideways and its corners cutting into the bag...

Depends on the type of plastic bag. If we're talking Walmart grade plastic bags then those are not going to hold 20 pounds. You'd be lucky to hold 10 pounds with those terrible bags. Safeway bags, thought? Those are crazy thick and strong and could easily handle 30 pounds.

For metrics units users, that's 9-14 kg.

Why not bring your own (non-plastic) bag though?

... we forget.

Glad to know you're helping bring down the average though

> ... we forget.

My technique is to always have such bags in my bags so that I never go anywhere without having them on me. Redundancy :)

Do they sell cloth bags in the shops?

If shops stopped selling plastic bags people would figure out a solution.

And if social media companies were legislated out of business people would figure out solutions to staying in touch and we'd avoid all the zombies we're creating [1].

But then we cease to be a liberal (as in live and let live) society.

[1] I for one despise being in the company of someone on their phone while we're talking in the same way that others can't seem to forget the plastic tidal pool in the oceans.

I also walk and ride so the addictiveness of social media is literally a mortal danger to me in a way plastic bits aren't

Its because the bags are thin useless bags. I was also shocked to see in the UK, US and Australia those useless bags that you use ten (double bag to 20) of to carry a weeks groceries.

When you get proper bags that you pay for they are much better. 25lbs in one bag is no problem even with sharp corners on some items.

Then make stronger bags?

the non-reusable plastic bag ban in austin, tx was a pretty big failure. the problem is that a lot of the big stores (heb in particular) sell heavier "reusable" bags for 25 cents that no one actually reuses. these bags have a significantly larger environmental impact than the disposable bags if they are not actually reused as intended.


It's probably not practical to implement something like this city by city, it has to be statewide or countrywide.

That link also states a "higher carbon footprint" for the reusable bags if not reused. I believe the core argument for banning disposable bags, straws, etc is because these throwaway items end up on the sides of highways or in rivers and beaches. If ALL of your trash ends up in a landfill instead of out in the environment, the higher carbon footprint to manufacture them is worth it.

There's a point in having variations of the same idea set into practice because only then the best system can shine and be implemented globally.

In the Metroplex the plastic bag law was repealed after bag manufacturers sued the city for unlawful taxes on containers. It didn't have majority citizen support anyways, was seen as a way to complicate purchasing on smaller retailers, and many were just paying the fee anyways. While many support the idea of reduced plastic bag consumption, they didn't like the government tax approach. I personally don't have a strong opinion.

anecdata... Every time I go to HEB almost everyone in checkout line is reusing their HEB "emergency" bags.

how do you feel about the government imposing these rules on commerce. In the UK we're quite used to this and don't mind. Americans often feel that government should keep out of capitalism.

i think it's fine in principle but in this case the implementation was poor. mostly i don't understand why non-reusable paper bags were banned. they're recyclable, biodegradable, and made from a renewable resource. the regulation requires paper bags to have handles and be at least a certain thickness so that they're "reusable". we'd be better off if the people that buy the 25 cent plastic bags and throw them away were getting disposable paper bags. probably need to charge them a fee on top for being wasteful.

in my opinion the second biggest problem with regulation is that often regulators don't properly account for human nature and some percentage of people being shitty. the biggest problem with regulation is corruption and money in politics. i think regulation is necessary in lots of cases. not sure that my views are representative of most americans though.

I live in Austin and the change was very welcome here as the city is considered liberal. About a mile away in a conservative county they would probably never have such a ban.

You can purchase bags however, I think they cost $1. For my family the ban worked, we always reuse our bags now. Before it was easy to forget even though we try to always help the environment.

Chicago started charging 7 cent a bag and that certainly made me think twice about my bag use.

I can't believe they didn't do this first instead of doing that ridiculous "No disposable plastic bag" rule. The grocery store by my house (marianos) just gave everyone paper, but it seems like most other places just switched to thicker plastic bags, called them "reusable" and gave out just as many as before.

Hey I liked the whole thick walled bag.

Suddenly this 7 cents are the biggest expense and everyone remembers to bring their bag, which is awesome because effects are great.

I really don't want to give the city more money. They've already upped income tax, property tax (property values have been going up as well), and they played with the sales tax.

So you're ok with it, if the money just goes to the shop, but they are obligated to ask that minimum price?

Given the context of what's been happening in Chicago, and a bit of the mismanagement of how they prioritize things: It's been frustrating to be hit with a lot more taxes.

How do you stop people using plastic once then throwing it away?

Ask them. TAX them. Make it illegal. $100 deposit. Don't worry about it.

Plastic bags have some externalities relating to how people discard them. Why can't the city tax to help recoup costs?

I see you haven't experienced the latest increases in taxes in Chicago. Soda was one of them, but that was repealed.

Imagine if they threw you in jail for it. I bet you'd think even harder and we'd definitely get rid of plastic bags.

If this is the best argument you can think of against 7-cent plastic bags, you might as well admit defeat and say that they are the greatest things since sliced bread, because that sounds about the same to me.

Same idea for guns. Buy back guns for $10,000 each. Soon have guns under control and off the streets.

People would be breaking into each others houses to sell them.

Soon have guns under control

Or, more likely, they would make more guns to compensate.


The implicit step one being that sale of guns / assault rifles were banned, as it should be.

The War on Drugs is a testament that simply banning something definitively means it disappears.

People don't get psychologically addicted to guns like they do to most drugs. Gun bans are perfectly successful in drastically reducing gun violence in countries other than the US.

I don't disagree, but most guns bans in other countries don't include paying $10k per weapon, which is the proposal here.

People are plenty addicted to being paid $10K per to manufacture guns. Who needs to sell them?

I don't think you get what the word "addicted" means.

Also, obviously you need to ban the manufacture of such weapons before you offer to buy them back.

That would cost $3T if everyone turned their guns in.

And would be a better use of the money than most other things the government does already.

Like schools, roads, medicare, research, etc??? OK.

Correction: the 500 million is for six month period. More recent data can be seen here:


WRAP previously reported information on carrier bag use based on a voluntary agreement with 7 major retailers (Asda, The Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose). Their data for 2014 showed that these retailers issued 7.6 billion single-use plastic carrier bags in England during that calendar year.

Defra’s data for the year from 7 April 2016 to 6 April 2017 shows a very substantial fall of 83% in the number of single-use plastic carrier bags issued by the seven largest retailers to just 1.3 billion single-use plastic carrier bags.

That was a wrong decision: rather than imposing a small fee, they should have banned the sale of non-biodegradable bags altogether.

Italy is doing so since 2011, and it seems to be working just fine.

> rather than imposing a small fee, they should have banned the sale of non-biodegradable bags altogether

Fines allow businesses to judge the merits (and timeline) of shifting according to their needs. Bans force everyone to shift simultaneously. Ceteris paribus, bans promote incumbents while taxes facilitate new entrants. (TL; DR Britain versus Italy's economy.)

A ban is effectively an infinite fee.

A small fee seems like a good halfway point between having no fee and an infinite fee.

> A ban is effectively an infinite fee

It’s the probability of getting caught times the cost of the punishment. That’s the other problem with a ban. “Probability of getting caught” being a cost center, authorities prefer giant fines with low enforcement costs; this results in a system favouring the politically connected.

I spent some time in Argentina last year and discovered the hard way that you must buy your own bags and that the only bags available where I was were canvas. Still, they were only a few pesos and proved durable. No complaints in the shift to bringing your own bag or buying one that is actually useful. The "bag for life" bags in the UK by contrast aren't that great.

Tesco used biodegradable bags but they weren't lasting long compared to the original bags. They couldn't be used for much because they started falling apart within weeks.

> they started falling apart within weeks

isn't that kind of the point?

At least they're biodegradable though? Plastic isn't really.

What is plastic? PE, PTFE,

There are microorganisms that eat certain polymers (PE), but I don't think anything will ever eat PTFE (teflon)

I'd bet that switching away from teflon frying pans you'll help the environment more than getting rid of a life time of PE bags. F chemistry is super nasty

I bet you won’t. The amount of PTFE consumed by the typical person is minuscule compared to the amount of PE they use. People buy Teflon pans maybe once every decade. They buy more PE with a single bottle of soda.

For that matter, most people probably have more PTFE in their plumbing than stored in their kitchen cabinets.

Plastic breaks down in oxygen and UV light. The problem is people keep burying them.

Well, they break down into small pieces that everything ingests.

Last time i was in Italy, I got charged for a bag, so they're still also doing that it seems.

I bet reduction is not due to price, but due to cashiers not automatically handing out bags to people (which was a frequent occurance when they were free).

It is through this kind of actions that we can hope to one day erase the Great Pacific Garbage Patch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch

This is the best invention ever for the ones that you do pay 5 pence/cents for:

Rubbermaid Bag Recycler Wastebasket https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000RNFEFQ/

Putting a tax on the use of such items is better than banning, because it does allow for justifiable uses, if the user is willing to pay for it.

I don't like that this is a regressive tax - pay a premium for the good bags, settle for paper, or pay for reusable bags. If anything, maybe just give a tax credit for not using plastic, which is printed on the receipt.

How would people use this tax credit that is printed on the receipt for every supermarket trip they take? It doesn't sound even remotely practical.

What about if stores credit customers n cents per bag they don't use (i.e. for each reusable bag they do use) and then claim an annual tax credit, kind of like a mirror version of how pass-through consumption taxes like GST/VAT work?

How about putting the tax up front while the customer is on the register? It reduces the burden of documentation for both the customer and government while also ensuring near 100% compliance. Might be a good idea to look into.

A better solution would be to pan the production and use of disposable plastic bags altogether like most countries did with plastic microbeads.

There's no good reason to ban plastic bags. We have to take convenience and quality of life for humans into account at some point when considering these environmental issues.

>The UK dropped to 500 million bags annually used from 7 billion after introduction of a 5 pence per bag charge.

Still totally insignificant. A small plastic product packaging, of the kind everything comes in, has more plastic than 200 bags.


Like TSA "security theater", this is "environmental theater".

Sorry, but that's complete nonsense.

A plastic shopping bag weighs about 5 grams. Plastic product packaging does not weigh 1kg, not even close.

Second, the shape does matter. Bags are especially bad because they are large, thin and soft, they're easier to be carried away by wind or water, and easier for animals to get tangled in or mistaken for food.

Agreed they have to be reined in. But on the recycling side, they are spectacularly inefficient. They are bulky to recycle - they never lay down flat again. The entire semi trailer load at my recycle center probably weighs a couple hundred pounds of plastic, mostly air. They are very, very cheap to make and lots of trouble to recycle - its arguable the recycle cost is greater than the environmental cost of a new one.

>But on the recycling side, they are spectacularly inefficient

All the more reason to ban them outright isn't it?

Good thought. But the ecological (read: CO2) impact of paper bags and even cloth ones, are they clearly superior? I doubt it. Its just so dang cheap to make a WalMart bag.

I see 'ban the bag!' as eco-theatre.

> the ecological (read: CO2) impact

No, do not read CO2. That's not what banning plastic bags is about. It's about not having them all over the environment where all kinds of animals, from sea turtles to cows to elephants, eat them or get entangled in them



I cannot imagine that the ecological impact of a canvas bag that gets reused hundreds of times is higher than hundreds of plastic bags that get used once.

CO2 production is also not the only impact. How much canvas is floating in the ocean and clogging up rivers?

There are studies on this topic. Here's an article: https://medium.com/stanford-magazine/paper-plastic-or-reusab...

I spent an hour or so researching the issue a long time ago and I seem to recall another study by a French supermarket chain. You need to reuse your cotton bags a lot -- hundreds of times is right -- for it to become worthwhile. Which is doable, of course.

And of course, the carbon footprint of both plastic bags as well as cotton bags varies wildly depending on the weight etc.

The polypropylene bags sold at many retailers (REI, Whole Foods, etc) only need to be used a few times to offset their increased cost of production.

“Nonwoven PP, on the other hand, is less costly than cotton. These bags need to be reused only 11 times to break even with the conventional plastic.”

Of course these are less durable that heavy cotton canvas. I doubt I could use one of these 200 times. I could definitely use a good canvas bag that many times.

How about I use a plastic bag twice? Now you have to use the canvas one 400 times.

Its just a losing gambit. You know how many shopping bags we have around the house? Supposed to save energy, but once you have 4 or 5 of them, you're up to a lifetime supply of plastic bags. And I'm sure we're not the only once.

This 'issue' is eco-theatre, in my view.

You don’t have to use the canvas one 200 times. It’s more like 130. And less if you use nylon or hemp or anything less energy costly than cotton. But yeah, if you want to reuse your throwaway bags, go ahead. It’s certainly a greener option than throwing them out.

It’s not “eco-theater” to want to reduce the ecological cost of bags, though. Not is it “eco-theater” to want to keep millions of plastic bags out of the oceans and rivers, or out of storm drains where they cause clogs, or out of bushes and trees where they are just ugly.

I don't think people tend to use plastic bags twice. Instead they double bag.

And as I alluded to above, not all bags of the same material are made equal. The original British source has a range of 80-250g for cotton bags. The ones I use weigh in at less than 50g.


>A plastic shopping bag weighs about 5 grams. Plastic product packaging does not weigh 1kg, not even close.

No, but can easily weight 40 to 200 grams. And accumulated over your grocery purchases can easily be 1kg or more.

It's only theater if you measure by kilograms.

If you instead care about "items" or "visual cleanness of the river that all the plastic gets blown into", it's a very different matter.

I'd put the prettiness factor down pretty far in environmental concerns. That is part of the 'theatre' side of the equation in fact?

By that metric, what is the environment and why is it important to protect it? On an abstract enough scale, we and our plastic are simply evolutionary products and the fact that we are wiping out species and cataclysmically heating the planet is just a geological event that might be called The Great Human Extinction by some distant inteligent race.

As George Carlin used to say, the planet is just fine. It's the people who are f*ed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W33HRc1A6c

All irrelevant to the comment: how 'pretty' the creek is, is not an ecological metric of merit. Its all about Ph, CO2, erosion and a hundred other things.

Keeping the planet livable and diverse is no more objective than keeping it plastic free. Ecology is by definition a human value, the universe doesn't care about CO2, biodiversity or erosion anymore than it cares about plastic bags.

(But sure, subjectively, plastic bags are a lesser concern, because they merely inconvenience us and trigger our empathy when a critter chokes on them, without directly threatening our own survival).

Actually, it's pretty high up for me. The look of trash and the relaxing, beautiful look of nature are pretty much opposites for me.

Yes, and the cute furry animals get all the protection too. But its nonsense, if avoiding environmental meltdown is your goal. If its about feeling good about yourself when you throw that pop can in the recycle bin, that's theatre.

So wait, shouldn’t your argument be that the plastic bag bans don’t do enough and therefore we should ban/price other kinds of plastic too?

If you read more closely, you'll find out that this already is my argument.

But I'd take it even further because even that is BS theater: industrial production of tons of crap in general should slow down. The packaging is an insignificant part of it. It just makes for nice headlines because dolphins and co get caught in it.


Plastic bags end up in litter clogging the beaches and stormwater drains much more than other types of packaging.

But those can be recycled, can't they?

In theory, maybe. But it's super complicated

- Plastics really don't mix well. Even trace amount of a different polymer (those numbers in the bottom) will destroy the strength of a batch of plastic (there is research in this though) - Recycling is expensive and in an economic battle against new stock (carbon tax?).

Cleaving the bonds to make diesel or feedstock is another option to "recycle" polymers (I dunno why it's not done. energy intensive wrt to oil? Dirty?)

Plastics are amazing... but we really should stop using them altogether except for fringe no alternative cases.

P.S. turns out plastics are bio-degradable by some tough organisms. So there's hope.

Plastics being biodegradable might not be much of a net gain. It would help clean up some, but it also means all that carbon makes it’s way into the air. Mixed bag there.

Most plastics labelled "biodegradeable" aren't actually what they say. What they do is break down under ultraviolet light into very tiny particles you can't see but which are still plastic. These diffuse into the environment, but they never truly break down into more natural compounds.

It's the equivalent of sweeping all those bags under the rug. They're still out there, just permeating into everything instead of being visible.

I was referring to the fact that some microbes can actually metabolize certain plastics. But yeah, just breaking down into tiny pieces is definitely not great.

The clamshell type ones cannot.

I have about 20 pound worth of bags in the cupboard gathering dust, 5p doesn't make a difference. They should make it £1 in the UK from now and £5 from 2020. That will make a dent.

2030 is the same as saying "Lets kick the can down the road".

Well apparently a 5p charge resulted in a 14x decrease in usage of plastic bags, so despite your anecdote, it does make a difference.

A little thing to bear in mind is that the new bags weigh significantly more than the old ones, so it's not actually a 14x decrease. With the switch all the stores now sell "lifetime" bags.

According to my fairly inaccurate kitchen scales the old ones weigh about 10g, the new ones weigh about 25g. So it's about a 5.6x drop, which is still fantastic.

I think everyone talks about the number of bags as it makes the decrease look bigger.

In Norway we went the other way - our grocery bags are so thick and sturdy that they're reused as garbage bags for 95%+ of households instead of garbage bags. Our garbage looks like this (the blue bags are free government provided bags for plastic recycling): https://i.imgur.com/WbAsG3y.jpg

Environmental organizations here actually complained about the plastic bag tax because they feared it would lead to people buying garbage bag rolls instead of reusing the grocery bags for their garbage.

Anecdotally I'd say it also makes our garbage system "less messy" than systems that depends on bigger thrash bags - a hole in a large flimsy thrash bag is more likely and has a bigger negative effect than one in a small sturdy one.

Very good point, really good to hear the new bags aren't weighing in at too much more than the old ones! Also worth noting that the heavier bags are better quality and so will last longer. Combine this with the fact that because bags are no longer a 'free commodity', I think people will tend to assign value to them and hence re-use them much more than before.

I think it's probably better than that though, because while some supermarkets have switched to using heavier bags, some are still using the lightweight ones.

The mass measurement is good to know; however, the lighter bags also take to the air and land in trees, the water, etc., a surprisingly large effect in the Windy City (yes I know it's not called that because of actual wind :-) ). This effect has almost disappeared in my neighborhood with the new tax in place.

> the old ones

Charging for bags was commonplace in the UK in the 80's ... how long have you been keeping these for??

Tesco/Sainsbury's (two of the big supermarkets) now only supply "bag for life"s (thicker plastic) and do not have any of the 'normal', thin, carrier bags. That's happened within the last year.

I now have loads of "bags for life" because sometimes you forget to bring one, don't bring enough or shop on a whim.

Fair enough but I wonder how much of that has to do with simply being asked? Being given a bag was standard, as normal as expecting the store to be heated. An invisible service.

Now, you don't get given a bag for your Sandwich & Water at lunch, and you don't get a free bag with your McDonalds meal to name just a couple of services.

1p or 5p wouldn't make much of a difference? A Family paying 100 pound a week on shopping at a super market, can easily just spend 100.35 on 7 bags and won't bat an eye lid.

If that was 107.00 that would make a real difference and I bet the decrease would be much greater.

Behavioural economics teaches us that the jump from a price of zero to a price of 1 penny has a much, much larger effect than going from 1 penny to two pence.


The same acts in reverse.

I personally reuse the same bag every time I go shopping until it is damaged. When I walk to my local, I carry the two or three items I bought directly, rather than in a bag. I could afford to buy over a million plastic bags a year, yet I've changed my behaviour to avoid buying them whenever possible.

(In my case, it has nothing to do with being asked, as I invariably use the automated checkout machines. Bags are available for purchase adjacent to these machines, so it's not an availability problem either.)

Having spent 18+ years without a car, walking or cycling or taking the bus, I always had a backpack with me. I would often tell a clerk I didn't need a bag and I'd be ignored -- they just automatically put items in a bag. Once a 5 cent bag fee went into effect and they had to ask, I never had a problem not getting a bag. (To be fair, other places knew me and knew I didn't need a bag.)

That's broadly where I'd go with plastic bottles - £1 deposit, rising to £5 and compel supermarkets and manufacturers to take the returns. I'm old enough to remember the 20p(?) deposit on glass bottles of fizzy pop. Also when supermarkets were selling milk in glass bottles - and provided crates in the same section for customers to return the empties.

This used to be a solved problem.

This approach is used in California and other states and it generally works. The deposit is 5 cents and certain "healthy" drinks (juices, milk) are not charged. [If you live in CA, know all this, and are just arguing for a much higher fee - my apologies.]

Most middle-class people don't take household bottles in for the 5c back -- they recycle them in bulk for free -- but bottles in public areas are scooped up by poorer people.

Also, some people game the system in various ways, like importing out-of-state cans for the return value, or other types of fraud, which can be abetted by shady recycling firms.

So basically, a micro-economy was created with all its attendant functional and not-so-functional aspects. But the basic problem of roadside litter was largely solved.

I didn't have the time to wait in line every few weeks to turn in my recyclables in LA so I put them all in a bag next to the dumpster for the complex. I didn't start doing this until after I noticed the dumpster divers were coming anyways.

Surprise, surprise, corporate greed and lobbying are the cause that it's no longer a solved problem:


I think the idea of loss aversion suggests that people would be more likely to avoid taking a bag at the time than they would be to return them for a deposit (not that this is an option with bottles).

I really want a deposit/membership at my local grocery store for reusable bags. I don't want to remember them. I want to use some standard, reusable ones at the store, and then be able to return them in bulk for my deposit back. I end up taking paper bags in SF because I constantly forget to bring reusable ones, despite having dozens at home.

The habit to get into is have a non-bulky resuable bag that folds up nice and flat and keep it in a jacket pocket or some other location that's available when you're out and about; and to put the bag back in that place when you finish unpacking at home.

Relying on remembering before you leave the house or whatever is much less effective, I think.

I had the same problem. I keep mine in my car now, which had helped.

That is how it works in places like Sweden and Norway. The deposit doesn't have to be as high as you suggest to make it work.

I do agree. I was just looking at the selection of regular-size bags today at my local Finnish grocery store:

- 0.20€ for a biodegradable bag - 0.20€ for a plastic bag

It's good that they offer bio bags that are no longer more expensive than plastic bags but it should definitely be the other way around.

If they priced bio bags at 0.20€ and plastic bags at 1.20€ you would not hesitate to guess whether people would move to carry their own reusable nylon/cotton bags or buy the biodegradable bags instead (or, rather, two of them instead of one plastic as they break more easily).

I rarely buy a new plastic bag myself but when I do I don't even blink at the 0.20€ price. The price should make me stop for a moment and reconsider.

It seems you have a financial interest in this. When you say you have £20 worth of bags, is this at the 5p per bag rate, or at your proposed £1 per bag?

> uniform invoices – widely used in Taiwan

I wondered what this meant, so I looked it up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_Invoice_lottery

To encourage businesses to report their earnings, Taiwan's tax authorities operate a receipt lottery. Genius.

I myself had won the NT$200 prize for like 8 times in a 3 year period during my stay. It encouraged me to buy more stuffs using that money and increases transactions, boosting economy. Genius indeed.

It's pretty common to buy something then be asked to pay 5% more if you want a receipt - 5% being their sales tax.

Wut?! No, they ask you to pay 5% more when you want to pay by card: it's the Visa/Mastercard fees.

I've experienced that kind of shenanigans in Vietnam, but never in Taiwan. What did you buy?


I've never, ever, been asked to pay more for a receipt.

have you ever asked for a receipt where one hasn't been offered?

Yes. And never heard of any additional cost.

Well you must go to classier places than I do (:

How exactly does the printing of tickets work? Most countries have special machines (owned by the lottery authority) for printing lottery tickets, but this seems to be built into the store’s POS?

Thanks for reminding me to check all my receipts, see if I won anything tonight!

There's claims the plastic ban bag in San Diego led to a Hepatitis outbreak https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/sep/08/stringers-pl...

This is a separate problem caused by not providing homeless people access to toilets. Seems obvious that the solution is more public restrooms not more plastic bags.

> Seems obvious that the solution is more public restrooms

While I agree, it's like saying wrt plastic bags in the ocean, "Seems obvious that the solution is less littering" or "Seems obvious the solution is biodegradable bags" etc, etc. It is just so much easier for people to change laws and affect everyone than target the specific problem.

In agree. Enact a laws to provide sufficient puplic restrooms and support for homeless people while also enacting changes to reduce plastic bag usage. My issue is with the implication that reducing plastic bags caused this. Not helping venerable people caused this, the need for plastic bags is a side effect.

Few typos due to using my phone: venerable should be vulnerable.

Two economists have claimed that the ban in San Francisco led to an increase in food-borne diseases. The proposed mechanism is that people don't wash their reusable bags, and dangerous bacteria gets onto them. It isn't clear to me how strong the evidence for this is.


This is true, it's very unsanitary if you put unpackaged goods in there or get leaks.

Lots of stores also don't ask and give you a bag at whatever the locale's imposed fee is which they keep it, so there is an incentive to do this.

At the end of the day, the externality should not be captured by the store, but should be refunded back to the user with even distribution.

I’ve seen this also and have not seen any evidence to the contrary. Considering how damning this study is to plastic bag bans, I’m guessing this means there aren’t any studies that rebut these findings.

So we need studies now to tell you to occasionally clean the bags you put raw meat into?

That’s one way to interpret the results. Alternatively, the study shows that in the normal course of human behavior, plastic bag bans may have nontrivial negative health impacts.

Also, it shows that in considering the carbon footprint of reusable bags, we should factor in regular (not occasional) cleaning.

Considering that a reusable bag needs to be reused many (hundreds, if memory serves) of times before reaching carbon neutrality versus single use plastic bags, this is not necessarily a trivial impact.

Carbon neutrality is not the only metric by which we create these regulations. Nor should it be. Single-use bags introduce many externalities that are captured and controlled by imposing a minimal cost.

No one said it is the only metric. But it is a relevant one.

Very informative piece. Key excerpts:

"Homeless people learned long ago that pooping in plastic-bag-lined containers meant you could wrap the session up and dispose of all the stuff without touching it, he said in a long email. So when it got harder to get the bags after the ban went into effect late last year, it became harder to find the bags and people who were able to keep things clean had to work a lot harder."

"Hepatitis A is spread by contact with feces or blood of an infected person. It can be trace amounts and it can be months old"

Well, other developed countries don't have so many homeless people, so that should be less of a problem there.

> other developed countries don't have so many homeless people

Not true.

Here are per-night homeless statistics from UN:

China has 2.6 million Russia has 5 million Ukraine 1 million Germany 860,000 US has 554,000 ...

But more profoundely, by homeless ratio, the US is not even close.

Germany, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden, Luxembourg, Croatia, Bosnia, Russia, Peru France, Austria, the Netherlands, China and Greece -- ALL have higher homeless ratios than the United States. The US is in 33rd place for overall worldwide homelessness as a percentage of the population.

Can you please link to "per-night homeless statistics from UN" source that you mentioned? I can't not find it through a little googling.

5 million figure for Russia for example appears on wikipedia [1] where it is cited from IB Times[2]. IB Times[2] cites Homeless World Cup[3] as the source. Homeless World Cup[3] cites the original IB Times[2] article as the source for the 5 million number! This was the first number I investigated and it already seems super suspect.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_homeless_... [2] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/homeless-day-2014-new-york-manila-a... [3] https://homelessworldcup.org/homelessness-statistics/

The US seems to have a higher rate of people sleeping rough than any other country outside of, possibly, Sri Lanka.

If that's true, it would still be a lot less plastic if we gave free access to the homeless population.

Or just access to toilets. It's not like they want to poop in bags.

They have that.

They choose the plastic bags because the toilets are in disarray.

They really don't. Trying to find a toilet you can use in downtown San Diego even as a regular looking person is a struggle and you will probably end up having to buy something. Businesses won't let you use their facilities if you look dirty or homeless, and there aren't any city owned bathrooms at least that I've seen in the 2 years I've been here so far.

Likewise in San Francisco. I like to take very long all-day or late night walks and bathrooms are very hard to come by. Sure as long as it’s daytime and I look presentable I can usually find a cafe/store that will let me use the bathroom, but after 9pm if I don’t happen to be near a hotel it’s often impossible for me to find a restroom. Many restaurants and convenience stores will say the bathroom is broken (even when it’s clearly not). Also it’s common to find places that physically block access to the restroom with boxes or whatever. Long story short, I’ve had to get used to peeing outside in shadows since it’s rarely possible to find bathrooms. I’m not sure what I’d do if I was female or needed to take a crap.

You're probably not looking in the right spots.


Or just access to well maintained public toilets.

Perhaps the homeless could be given jobs cleaning the toilets?

Fort Worth and Albuquerque give them jobs to clean up streets. In Fort Worth, they pay $10 per hour and provide housing. This would be similar - and a good idea, I think.

Would you personally pay this, or is it only a good idea if it’s someone else’s money?

As maym86 said, I'd be happy to contribute to the pool of resources that would allow something like this to be sustainable. Would you not?

>The city pays for it. The shelter runs it.

"It is a win-win," said Presbyterian Night Shelter CEO Toby Owen. "We want a clean neighborhood that speaks hope, that speaks dignity to our homeless guests. And it also provides income for these individuals so they can move out and be successful without living in a homeless shelter."

Last year, Clean Slate put 40 homeless people to work, Owen said. Approximately 3,856 tons of trash was collected by Clean Slate workers. And they don't just clean up trash on the street -- they also work as janitors for businesses.


There's a difference between paying a $10 hourly wage and contributing to a pool of resources.

I'm guessing my own contribution would be far less than $10 per hour if this were tax financed.

If you and I can agree to each pay $5/h, maybe let's start there and find other people who also want to pay? Wouldn't that be better?

Kind of an a-la-carte approach to civic responsibilities? I can envision ways in which it'd work, and people would feel better about it (in general) than they do taxes. It seems like something like this would work best at a local level, which would obviously apply to the particular example we're discussing. In theory, I'd be on board with it, as long as federal programs/taxes remained. If you found a way to implement it on a larger scale, I'd be surprised/impressed.

But why should it be surprising? So many people advocate for change just like you do; what mechanism could keep the idealism from being realizable?

I would happily contribute through taxes.

If you’re happy to contribute already, why bother with all that admin?

“I would love to spare some change, but my hands are tied until the corresponding bill passes the senate.”

12 years? 12 months seems plenty.

It's not like they need decades of research to reintroduce paper straws, paper bags and reusable bags.

Edit: I'm confused now.

"As of next year, food and beverage stores such as fast food chains must stop providing plastic straws for in-store use. From 2020, free plastic straws will be banned from all food and beverage outlets. From 2025, the public will have to pay for takeaway plastic straws, and a blanket ban is to be imposed in 2030"

They're banned free from 2020, but public have to pay from 2025? What happens in between then?

The way I read it is that they’ll first ban plastic straws at sit down places, then charge extra for plastic straws for takeout, then ban plastic straws for takeout as well as sit down dining.

You're right, I conflated too far.

Plastic straws for takeaway can remain free until 2025. For in-store use they can remain free until 2020.

paper straws really suck, please don't let them be the solution.

sounds like they'd be great then.

What's the problem with paper straws?

As I recall from my childhood, they get mushy if you dawdle too long with your drink. They also are more prone to collapse if drinking a milkshake and you deform a spot on the side mid-suck.

The newer ones are better, but can still colapse if left in a drink too long.

I never understood straws however. They bypass your tounge, thereby skipping the whole point of a tasty drink, and nobody uses straws for water it seems. It is very strange, and looks vaugely infintile to see an adult suckling in public.

I use them in cups when I drive or watch media. I don't have to tip up the cup and block my field of view. I'm a fan of the plastic disposables. I used to use permanent straws, but I got tired of having to wonder what was in my biofilms. Now I reuse a disposable straw until I manage to buy a refill at a gas station and get a new one.

They're a godsend if you have bad/sensitive teeth.

as others have said, they are really just not robust. if you go out to dinner and order a coke with a paper straw, the end is basically disintegrating in your mouth by the time you've finished your appetizer.

worse still, they impart much more of a flavor to the drink than a plastic or metal straw.

they seem to be able to make biodegradable plastic(ish?) straws which are fine, and sometimes it can actually feel kinda fancy to use a metal straw (which can be reused).

The ones I've used have gone limp after a few minutes. They're also less resilient to bending / pressure than the plastic ones.

Seeing some of comments about price.. just thought I can put more info here since that's where I'm from and some points are not mentioned, especially the previous plastic reduction effort by Taiwan started in 2002.

In 2002, the restriction on plastic bags that are thinner than 0.06mm was imposed to all stores, but it was not a complete ban. Stores that offer plastic bags thicker than 0.06mm need to charge customers. The idea behind thicker bag is reusability. Two types of responses from stores: Stores started providing thinner bag as long as they are bio-degradable (Link 1), or they provide thicker bag as long as customers are charged. Customer's response: Since 2002, 71.7 reduction in plastic bag use in supermarkets, and 43.4 reduction in plastic bag use in stores. (Link 2, Link 3)

And just a side note, Taipei started being more aggressive since 2000 by charging garbage bags. You have to purchase government issued garbage bags if you want to throw your garbage out of your house. (Mentioned in link 4)

Some links are in Chinese

Link 1: http://e-info.org.tw/node/202363

Link 2: http://www.epochtimes.com.tw/n176732/%E6%93%B4%E5%A4%A7%E9%9...

Link 3: Similar to link 2 with different stats https://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0615/p07s02-woap.html

Link 4: https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3134910

> You have to purchase government issued garbage bags if you want to throw your garbage out of your house

That's the case in many countries - in Japan for example. (not government issued but city-issued or prefecture-issued bags).

Same is definitely true in Zurich, but not the rest of Switzerland.

I recently bought a set of reusable stainless steel straws. They were expensive, but have a timeless "design" and have a build quality that gives the impression they will last a lifetime.

When dirty I throw them in the dishwasher with the other cutleries. They don't take any space in the washer so cleaning them is essentially "free". (Making abstraction of the ecological cost of a dishwasher.)

Honest question: How many plastic straws do you have to save to offset the CO2 cost of building a steel straw? Also, are paper straws really better, CO2-wise?

I think the meme of carbon footprint has gotten too deep. We need to address carbon at the power generation, deforestation, and transportation levels. At lower levels or carbon footprint, it's better to worry more about how waste is handled. If we're not reducing, reusing, and recycling, then we're probably adding more junk to the environment that still damages ecosystems.

> At lower levels or carbon footprint, it's better to worry more about how waste is handled.

No it isn't. Most countries have plenty of land available for storing waste. So long as its stored properly the environmental impact is negligible. Carbon footprint is far more important.

But where does the larger carbon footprint of reusable, or biodegradable items come from vs the one time use plastic versions? Theres a good chance a lot of it comes from power generation. If we have plentiful clean energy, then higher energy costs to manufacture things in ways to reduce waste results in a net good. So focus on the carbon footprint of the big stuff, while simultaneously reducing physical waste.

I don't know, but I think C02 isn't the primary concern. Petroleum usage and plastic waste are greater concerns. And if you're worried about the air, note that plastic manufacturing produces considerably more toxic gases than steel production.

Considering how many vehicles and buildings are built with steel on this planet, I'd bet that the volume of steel needed to provide every person on earth with a steel straw once wouldn't even be noticed by the steel producers.

Actually, I just took a few minutes to look a couple things up and did the math. The US today likely recycles more than 6M tons of steel every year (it was 5.8M and rising in 2014), and a ton of steel can produce around 40K straws, if I divide one ton by the weight of a steel straw I saw on Amazon. This means we could produce steel straws for all on earth with about 200K tons of recycled steel, or less than 4% of the steel we're recycling every year in the US alone.

Note the steel industry and the EPA have somewhat different numbers for amount of recycling, it may be due to US vs global recycling, but I went with the EPA's which is more conservative.

I don't know about Taiwan, but note that metal recycling in the US is currently twice the weight of metal recycling, and plastic is twice the weight of land filling compared to metal; in other words plastic is a much larger problem.




With these things in mind, I'd personally be pretty surprised if a steel straw that lasts 10 years wasn't environmentally better (and by more than a little) on all scales than plastic straws for someone who drinks a soda with a straw every day for lunch.

> but I think C02 isn't the primary concern. Petroleum usage and plastic waste are greater concerns.

CO2 is the primary concern. Storing waste is not a problem in most parts of the world.

The amount of steel it would require isn't important. What's important is how much energy it takes to make that straw and the other environmental impacts of doing so. It takes magnitudes more energy to melt steel than it does to melt plastic. It would take years to offset the CO2 costs of a steel straw. You also need to factor in the energy and water it takes to clean the straw and the likelihood of damaging or losing it over that time.

The best option is to stop using straws. They're completely unnecessary unless you have a physical disability.

> The best option is to stop using straws. They're completely unnecessary unless you have a physical disability.

I will note that straws are useful while driving, as you can drink without obscuring your view of the road. There's an argument that you shouldn't be distracting yourself from the road like that, but that's sort of a different discussion.

> The best option is to stop using straws.

Hey, I completely agree with you there!

> CO2 is the primary concern.


> Storing waste is not a problem in most parts of the world.

I didn't say anything about storage space. Storage of waste isn't even close to the primary reason to avoid plastic waste.

> The amount of steel it would require isn't important.

It absolutely is, even if you only care about CO2. This statement contradicts other things you said. You can only make claims about one being better if you compare how much it takes to produce.

I'm trying to find sources on tons of CO2 emissions per ton of plastic & steel, and as a non-expert using Google, it's hard to pinpoint. But I get the feeling that metals are 2-3x the CO2 emissions of plastic. A steel straw would be much heavier than a plastic one, so based on this guesstimation, I'd expect CO2 parity for 1 steel straw to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 plastic straws. If I'm anywhere close to accurate, that doesn't seem like it takes very long to beat plastic on CO2.

If you think I'm wrong, you'll have to demonstrate it by showing how much steel it would require...

> What's important is how much energy it takes

I don't buy that blanket generalization. Energy is a highly debatable potentially misleading issue, and doesn't necessarily have a high impact on C02, if renewable energy sources are used like hydro & solar. We might be emitting CO2 by burning coal today, but we don't have to burn coal in the future.

> You also need to factor in the energy and water it takes to clean the straw and the likelihood of damaging or losing it over that time.

Sure, fine. That changes the average life of the straw. Let's say it's 1 year instead of 10. For someone who uses one straw per day at lunch only on work days, we'd have to compare the carbon footprint of 1 steel straw to about 260 plastic straws. Even for CO2 emissions, the disposable ones are at a pretty severe disadvantage any way you look at it.

Don't forget the cost of all the carbon burned to heat the water each time you wash the reusable straw.

As the other poster said, this is very hard to calculate.

Perhaps it is hard to calculate exactly, but it is fairly obvious that a reusable steel straw is going to have an environmental impact over one's lifetime that is orders of magnitude worse than using disposable plastic straws.

If you're throwing it in the dishwasher with an otherwise already full load, you're not using any more energy to clean the straw than you would be to wash the rest of the dishes anyway.

Full carbon costs are extremely hard to calculate, and kind of miss the point of this intervention. An better question is "What happens to different types of straws when they reach the end of their useful life".

I've read that a dishwasher is less wasteful than hand-washing of dishes (perhaps this isn't true for people who are very, very scrupulous about their use of water while washing dishes, but that's not most of us).

Yeah, modern dishwashers use less water per washing cycle than it takes to fill the kitchen basin for handwashing.

Fill the basin? You don't just scrub each dish with a damp sponge spotted with dish soap then rinse it?

To be honest, I used to wash dishes under running warm water, probably quite wasteful.

By the way, around here (North Europe) we have special dishwashing brushes that apparently aren’t a big thing in most parts of the world.

Any examples of the special dishwashing brushes? I'm curious.

These sort of things, with a handle and nylon bristles: https://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-Dish-Brush/dp/B00004OC...

Oh, that's what I use (I'm in California). They're pretty common here as well. I don't understand people who use sponges. They're mold applicators as far as I'm concerned :)

I like to use a brush to get off all the gunk and then do detail work with a sponge.

A lot of people do it that way. Anyway I rinse the dishes but I'm not sure I'm using less water that way.

Depends on the dishwasher setting used and number of place settings being washed of course. [0]

[0] PDF https://web.archive.org/web/20091109165849/http://efficient-...

Assuming you use the dishwasher correctly: you don't overload it, You don't run it too empty, and you don't pre-wash/rinse your dishes. Fail either of the above and a dishwaser uses more water.

When you overload the dishwasher things don't get clean and then you wash by hand afterwards (in the case of pots/pans this might still be less water use just because when hand washing you are likely to drain the filthy water half way through)

I've seen people who scrub the food off by hand under running water before putting it in the dish washer - they are clearly using more water since hand washing plus rinsing the soap off is using less water than they use for the rood rinse.

That said, I would not expect a dishwasher can actually wash the inside of your straws so that is one of the things that should be reserved for hand washing. If you use a minimal amount of water in your wash sink, and a minimal amount of rinse water hand washing can be a low water use thing. Most people leave the water running for longer than they need to for rinsing and this wastes a lot of water.

Arguments about water "consumption" (hint: it's still water afterwards - it tends to clean itself if you didn't outright poison it and wait a bit) do not apply in humid regions - saving water someplace else doesn't help regions with water scarcity one bit. Berlin is an extreme example, they need to pump water out of the ground in any case to prevent the area from reverting to a bog.

Hot water usually costs a lot of valuable energy though.

The world is going to have more, not fewer, dry regions where water must be conserved over time.

I put straws in the basket with silverware. Works fine unless you've let something really dry on there (like a smoothie).

water is not the problem. Electricity is.

and besides, not everything go in the dish washer. And moreover some the dish washer soap can attack the surface of many things => increasing the need to replace those things...

I think people in California, Cape Town, or various similar locales might disagree with the idea that conserving water is unimportant. How much electricity does a dishwasher really use, anyway?

About 1-2 kWh and 4-6 gallons of water per use.

you're right, while trying to open the eyes of the older poster, I actually closed mine :-( oops

Absolutely. A dishwasher in the average American household, unless they're having massive dinner parties every night, is wanton arrogance. They not only use more resources than handwashing, it also takes longer.

I am happy to report that you are completely wrong about this.

The water usage is almost a 10x difference and the power usage of handwashing is 2/3 more:

"A European study comparing hand washing to machine dish washing found that hand washers used as much as 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy to wash 12 place settings, compared with the 4 gallons and 1.5 kWh used by a hyperefficient dishwasher to wash the same number of dishes."


27 gallons is over 120 L that's over a tenth of a ton of water I don't believe that figure

Wait until you figure out how much even a low flow shower uses.

Yes I could I have a Btech in thermo fluids :-) but this is doing the dishes by hand after a large meal no way do you use that much.

It must surely include rinsing under a fast-flowing tap (something I rarely bother with personally), and/or maybe doing the washing under a running tap too. I don't see how you could get to 120L otherwise.

120L = 7 very full sinkfuls of my fairly standard size kitchen sink. 7! For 12 people's-worth of stuff!

It sounds like he was describing just measuring how much a typical person washing dishes uses. I'm sure if you were specifically concerned with conserving water you could do better.

I noticed that the photo at the top of the article shows somebody washing under a running tap, so maybe that's how they got to 120L.

I'm not myself concerned all that much about conserving water, but I am a normal person, so I don't wash my dishes under running water. I fill the sink up with water, stick in some washing-up liquid as it fills, then once it's mostly full (12-15L of water?) I use that. Total use per wash is then 12-15L. Maybe a bit more if I give something a rinse. (Very much optional in my view for most items - but some things do need it.)

You can wash a lot of stuff in that much water! So that's why I am a bit surprised at people using 120L to wash twelve places'-worth. That's eight times the amount I'd use for washing 3-4 people's-worth of stuff and all the items used to prepare the food in the first place.

Poor scalability!

(I think my dishwasher uses 17L per wash so I don't worry too much about using that instead. I am quite lazy.)

Plug the sink next time you're washing dishes.

Why do you think I don't? And use a washing up bowl

I never do except by accident and it illustrates to me that I'm using a ton of water when I hand-wash dishes.

You seem to misunderstand. Dishwashers use less heat and water than hand washing, not more.

Am I the only one who slightly squeeze my straws with my teeth and mouth? A vegan restaurant I know has metal straws and it's so incredibly uncomfortable that I'm avoiding buying drinks with straws there.

Why use a straw at all instead of just drinking directly from a drinking glass, thus avoiding the need to wash and manage the straws?

Also, glass is a better material than steel for food applications, and glass straws exist, so they are probably a better choice (unless there's a significant chance of breakage like giving them to small children).

That's my question too, why is the straw in every day life necessary?

What about milkshakes and frappucinos? These would be awkward without straws. (And frappucions are a huge seller to the 14 - 20 yr old demographic)

I feel guilty when I get a soothie somewhere and don't have my straws and decide to go ahead and get a plastic one because I really want to drink it on the way home. Definitely good to have though. You need a nice pipette thing to clean them but it really isn't that hard.

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