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Pakistan to ban single-use plastic bags (washingtonpost.com)
106 points by pseudolus 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

Meanwhile in the U.S., the GOP is banning the banning of plastic bags (hopefully soon to be undone by the new Democratic majority in Michigan).


Banning plastic bags is bad policy that promotes resource waste and food contamination.It's a rolling back of the gains from sanitation that we've made, for no purpose other than muddle-headed virtue signaling by people who can't be bothered to learn the facts before passing their intrusive bans.



Multi-use plastic bags and single-use plastic bags, in actual lifetime probably are close to equal in terms of energy use, carbon and pollution. Where multi-use wins is in aesthetics. You don’t get as many bags blowing and landing on the streets and roadways or finding themselves in waterways and estuaries.

So I see that as a positive. Straws now, I don’t see the logic in it beside trying to condition people into “plastic = bad”. It’s the the “broken windows theory” applied to (anti-) plastics environmentalism.

Don't forget the damage plastics do to marine life. For almost any shape, type, and size of plastic, there is an animal in the ocean that will mistake it for food.

In the case of plastic bags, they seem to be commonly mistaken for squid and jellyfish, eaten by the albatross and sea turtles, to name just two species.

So while the bag-free aesthetic on land is an improvement, the potential for downstream benefits is even greater.

The pollution of plastic in the ocean is a breakdown of sanitation and is primarily the result of 5 asian nations that have poor sanitation systems.

You fix that by improving the sanitation system so that garbage is not dumped into the ocean, not by trying to stop the creation of garbage going into the system.

350 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year and that number is growing by 4% per annum. Plastic bags are not going to change that, and plastic is only one type of long lived material in our garbage.

The solution is to not dump garbage into rivers and oceans and to create effective sanitation systems in developing countries.

But people in Germany forgoing the use of plastic bags, thinking that they are saving a seal or something are just misguided. Germany has an effective sanitation system -- India, Thailand, China, Myanmar do not. Nothing you throw away in Germany is going to end up in the ocean.

Neither of the articles you cited mention anything backing your claims on food contamination or sanitation.

As a policy in action in Kenya, I'd say that it is working. (We have a ban that has been in place for more than a year). practically everyone at the supermarket uses reusable bags compared to pre-ban mentality of 'oh I'll get yet another bag at the till'.

Kenya has relatively lacking landfill and garbage collection infrastructure - such a policy makes great sense given those conditions. Bag bans have less utility in developed countries where more than 99% of trash is safely sequestered into landfill.

And don't said reusable bags cost thousands of times the carbon emissions of single use plastic bags? So unless you use your reusable bags for years and years, you won't break even.

Which is exactly what people do. My family reuses the same 'reusable bags' we've had for years. Almost all the bags I've seen are sturdy enough to last several years.

Plastic bag bans are not due to CO2 emissions.

They are due to plastic being a pollutant.

"So unless you use your reusable bags for years and years..."

That is literally the exact point of reusable bags. The hint is in the name.

The issue is how do you sterilize the bags between re-use to achieve the same level of hygiene as disposable bags? Doing that is very energy intensive and you are in a situation in which the energy cost of washing a bigger reusable bag is comparable to the cost of making a brand new plastic one. That is why I was emphasizing sanitation. We don't use disposable needles, containers for meat and produce, dairy, because they are cheaper per se, we use them because we are concerned with hygiene.

And of course the larger issue is the totalitarian nature of this. Who needs two cups of coffee? Ban the second cup! This idea that we should start using the government's monopoly on violence to ban what are symbolic and irrelevant things -- even without thinking through the repercussions for sanitation and energy -- is a very dangerous one.

No one will look out for the environment we live in, especially business. Try living with re-use bags for a month and find out just how inconvenienced you are...we as citizens are making these laws to live in a clean sanitary world, not Some unnamed totalitarian regime.

No, you are doing it to feel good about yourself. You are doing it to feel like you are making the world better.

But you are not making the world better, you are forcing random laws on people as part of an empty performative ritual.

If you wanted to live in a cleaner world, you would focus on improving systems of sanitation rather than trying to force a very marginal reduction in waste going into these systems.

90% of the plastic in the ocean comes from 10 rivers in India and Asia. The plastic is in the ocean because of poor garbage pickup and disposal infrastructure, it's not there because some guy in San Francisco is using a single use plastic bag when he goes shopping. If you want to make the "world" cleaner, then improve the waste management infrastructure rather than trying to reduce plastic waste by 0.000000001%. The thin disposable bags are not gonna put you over the top.

These are all symbolic acts that have real world deleterious consequences in terms of personal liberty as well as increasing the number of food poisoning cases, emergency room visits, etc, due to people re-using bags without properly sterilizing them between each use.

Why would you need to sanitise a plastic bag after use ?

What if you carried meat then carried lettuce in a reusable bag?

Who's going to the grocery store and putting unwrapped raw meat in their shopping bag (plastic or not)?

Not everyone goes out and buys a brand new reusable bag to replace plastic. Many people already had them lying around. Many people use their backpacks. Many people just carry things in their hands in situations where they would have otherwise taken the free plastic bag.

The problem is not an emission, the problem is the insane amount of waste.

Nonsense! We have this law here on Maui and it has only helped lower plastics pollution and loose trash. People have all adapted to carrying re-use sacks and I hear very few complaints. It is so nice not to see shredded plastic blowing in the the trees and brush all over the place.

I hope it works. The problem in Pakistan is trash in general, Pakistan needs a country wide "don't litter" campaign, sort of what happened in many developed countries.

Plastic bags just happen to be the most pervasive and visible source of trash.

There aren't many places to throw trash, the norm is to just throw trash anywhere outside your house. Even the more upscale suburbs in the big cities have essentially no trash cans, and the garbage collection areas are open dumps, so plastic bags fly all over the place.

The trash is sometimes picked up and burnt, or other times just burnt in place, and the smell is toxic as there is generally a lot of plastic.

The whole plastic bag problem has a huge cost on basic city infrastructure: In most of Karachi, every drain and sewer pipe is either choked with plastic bags, or has just been cleared and will get choked again in due time. And so every time it rains, the city floods, and there is a grand proclamation of building more drains and sewers.

In North Pakistan, around the most remote and beautiful lakes, ones where no one lives as they are too high and remote, many have plastic bags scattered all around, most I assume carried there by the winds from nearby towns/villages, as some of the ones I visited don't get enough visitors to have thrown the amount of plastic bags I saw.

Visiting places (again) which used to be pristine not that long ago really hit home how much we humans have spread our "stuff" everywhere.

Edit: The ban is a bit too harsh. Should have been rolled out slowly, to give ppl more time to adapt, like targeting larger stores (which are in the tax net and thus easy to monitor and punish) and then rolling it to other stores, and finally everyone.

My cousin to me walking on Tariq Road while tossing a plastic bag; “Who cares, this isn’t New York or America”

Me: “Yeah, and it never will be with that attitude”

dang (or some moderator) should correct this headline; the ban only applies in the Islamabad Capital Territory

You are correct. But there are similar bans either already implemented in other provinces or in the works. See for example

[0] https://www.dawn.com/news/1498790

[1] https://propakistani.pk/2019/04/30/cm-usman-buzdar-announces...

They banned single-use plastic bags where I live. Now every place has "multi"-use plastic bags which are 10 times thicker and cost a nickel. I have yet to see one of these bags being re-used.

If we make then extra thick maybe the wind will not scatter them all over the place and gathering will be easier.

This is interesting as what I've seen in other developed countries is a very efficient use of plastic bags. Most things you buy that need a bag (salt, rice, etc) come in a super small and thin plastic bag.

Far more efficient than the packaging we have in the west which tends to be either super thick paper or super heavy plastic bags with added packaging on top.

The flip side of thin bags is that often people end up double (or triple bagging!) heavier stuff, or things likely to leak, or just cause they don't trust using only one bag.

If all the food items in a supermarket came with a built-in loop, you'd just run a rope through the loops and you could carry as much groceries as you can lift, without needing a bag.

The loop that, if strong enough, would consume more plastic than a bag? For every single item? I mean, I loved your idea when I first read it, clever. But loops aren’t cost-free, unfortunately.

The loops seems like they would add a lot of extra cost, complexity, and hassle (might get hung on things or break prior to purchase).

Just reuse bags.

Tangential, but India insists on thicker plastic bags for recycleability. And yet we have seas of plastic bags and bottles floating around. Would we be better off with thinner burnable bags and clean incinerators?

There should be more countries who are also taking these steps in order to help reduce waste and help the environment. We are fully aware of the harm plastic bags cause and there are many other alternative including paper or reusable bags.

I thought paper was just as bad, if not worse, because it takes more energy to produce. [Here's a random site about it[1], though please note that I've done pretty much nothing to vet the information.

I reuse plastic bags (garbage, traveling w/ liquids, picnics), and if I have a bunch of extras, I take them to the grocery store, where they have a recycling bin for them. I don't know if they actually get recycled (I read that they often end up in the landfill regardless), but there's a chance. I rarely get too many though because most of my shopping is at Costco, which doesn't provide them.

I disagree that a ban here is necessary or useful. I use them quite a bit, so at least for me, I'll be producing "more" waste because I'll need to buy new bags instead. Paper bags aren't as useful (can't hold liquids, are more rigid, break easily), and I always seem to forget my reusable bags.

I wish more stores would follow Costco's lead and reuse those cardboard trays, which are just as useful for carrying groceries to/from the car and are obviously recyclable and biodegradable. Honestly, I prefer them most of the time because they keep things from rolling around, I can carry more in one trip to the house, and it's easier to see where certain things are for organizing later.

What we need isn't a plastic bag ban, but maybe a tax on them based on the cost of cleaning up discarded plastic bags. It costs $0.05-0.15/bag to buy small garbage bags (bathrooms, office, etc), so the tax shouldn't be more than that. Charging for plastic bags seems to work[2], so why not just do that instead of a ban? Those of us who find value in these bags can continue to use them (I love them for dirty diapers, rotten food, and other stuff that shouldn't hang around the house for days), while those who don't can use other bags.

[1] http://www.allaboutbags.ca/papervplastic.html [2] https://neweconomics.org/2016/09/why-the-plastic-bag-charge-...

I believe the big problem is cleanup, not production. "They end up clogging city drains and sewers" is the key here -- a mix of plastic bags & dirt is much more effective at blocking drains than just dirt. And this matters a lot in cities with monsoon rains & terrible garbage collection. (Even before you mention downstream effects, like bags in the ocean.)

In city with excellent garbage collection, plastic bags used once and then (say) incinerated in the city heat plant may well be better than paper. Although as you say re-using cardboard boxes is always a great idea too.

This is the correct answer. In Pakistan, poor people will also often burn garbage, including plastic bags - which releases toxic byproducts. Ensuring that plastic bags are all collected and properly disposed off is difficult, banning them is easier.

Plastic bags are _short term_ less costly to produce, but unlike paper they do not readily degrade in the environment and produce long term environmental damage. They're not the only or largest proportion of plastic pollution, but you move a mountain one stone at a time.

Reusable bags are a habit thing. Once you're in the habit of taking bags with you it's much easier, but is a right pain until then.

I do agree a minimum price might be better, at least that would make medium-term degradable bags (corn starch etc) more readily used as they're currently out priced by non-degradable plastics. However sometimes the outright ban gets things moving faster.

For reference plastic bags have been banned where I live for two months now. I don't miss them.

Environmental damage depends on them getting into the environment. If they're properly disposed I don't see the harm?

The problem is that there is no "proper" way to dispose of plastics. That's why plastics have become such a problem. They simply accumulate in the environment.

You can say that about anything. If things are "properly" disposed of, they go in the landfill. Decomposition isn't an issue, because stuff doesn't really decompose that much in landfills: they've dug up old landfills and found newspapers perfectly intact from the early 20th century. The main problem with plastic bags is what happens when they aren't disposed of properly. Paper bag litter will decompose fairly quickly, but plastic bags don't. The corn starch ones are a lot better, and have been around for decades now, so I'm not sure why those aren't required everywhere that still uses plastic bags, because they would ameliorate the problem significantly.

That's not true. Landfills are quite effective at keeping stuff out of the environment. We have the technology.

The energy use of producing bags is essentially irrelevant.

By contrast, plastic is basically proving itself a global poison at this point, whereas paper decomposes easily.

I always seem to forget my reusable bags.

Me, too, and the only reason it is an issue is because you and I grew up with stores that would provide you all the bags you need (and in fact would have stared at you oddly had you brought your own bags). Think you’d forget if no grocery store had ever given you a bag?

Time for you and I to both develop some new habits. I started by always keeping bags in the car; if I forget, I just have to walk back across the car park. Hell, I’ve taken to keeping a bag in my backpack should need to make a purchase on the electric push scooter.


This is like 'forgetting' your credit card at the shop, or 'forgetting' your car keys when you head outside the shop.

You bring your reusable bag or backpack or whatever or you can barely carry anything. Sorted.

>and I always seem to forget my reusable bags.

The key here is to make a habit of keeping your reusable bags in your car's trunk so they're always there when you need them. Then if you forget to bring them in with you, punish yourself by going back out to the car to get them; after doing that a couple of times, you'll remember when you park to get your bags and bring them in with you.

>Those of us who find value in these bags can continue to use them

They are actually pretty useful for many small things. I use them for lining my bathroom's tiny little trash can, for keeping food waste in my fridge until I throw it out (you can't put avocado pits in the garbage disposal, and if you throw them in the main trash they attract insects), and I also keep a couple in my backpack just in case I need an extra bag for carrying things.

Is there a giant swirling mass of paper bags in the Pacific Ocean?

Do paper bags hang from trees and phone lines for years?

Do paper bags cause enormous damage from clogging up sewers and sewage processing plants?

They don't.

>Is there a giant swirling mass of paper bags in the Pacific Ocean?

I'm quite sure there's no giant swirling mass of plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean.

Sure, there's a huge amount of plastic pollution there in gyres, but it's not from people using plastic bags at the grocery store in middle America. It's from stuff like shipping containers blown overboard, and various other trash that has gotten into waterways.

Your other points are sound I think, but not this one. If you want to complain about the gyres, then you need to take aim at ALL plastics and discuss banning them ALL. That'll basically set our technology back to the early 1900s or so.

The problem is if a plastic bag ends up in the ocean it never really breaks down or degrades. Turtles tend to eat them since they look like jellyfish, and this causes enormous knock-on problems when turtles start dying from eating too much plastic.

Turtles could eat paper bags all day and probably be fine.

They may not be the #1 contributor to the Pacific Garbage Patch, but they're a component of it.

My point is that plastic bags from most places in America are not winding up in the ocean. They sure as hell aren't getting to the ocean from people in Kansas being sloppy with plastic bag disposal. There's a lot of problems with plastics in the oceans, and I have a hard time believing that plastic grocery bags are one of the major contributors.

But as I said somewhere else in this discussion, I think all these grocery bags should be made of the corn starch plastic that breaks down quickly, and I'd like to know what those weren't mandated since they've been around for at least 20 years now.

Canada just got on with a ban on single-use plastic items (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/government-to-ban-single-us...) which presumably includes plastic bags.

Single use non-plastic items made of other materials like corn starch would be interesting, but they're going to have to be sure to not brand them as "plastic".

The problem isn't waste -- plastic bags are really cheap. The only problem is pollution.

The laws of unintended consequences.

Banning plastic bags in San Diego led to a Hepatitis A outbreak.


2nd and 3rd order effects are not so easy to anticipate.

Finally some smart people, it should have been done years ago and not only in Pakistan but all across the world. The nature sends us obvious signals that it is not okay what we are doing and we need to take serious actions.


Pakistan, yes even Pakistan, has been doing quite well over the last few months since the new government has come in.

Here's another prettuy interesting drive going on at the moment http://few.kp.gov.pk/page/about_billion_tree_tsunami_affores...

They've already planted over a billion trees https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/pakistan-s-billion-tr...

Turkey Will Declare a Holiday Dedicated to Planting Trees


I dislike Trump at least as much as any typical liberal, but what exactly did Obama do about plastic bags when he was in office? Even when Democrats are in power, we still don't get a lot of progressive legislation. The comparatively weak nature of the US Federal government doesn't help either. (But to be fair, the first comment in this discussion pointed out that Pakistan's policy is a municipal one in the capital city only, not nationwide.)

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