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Ocean plastic waste probably comes from ships, report says (afp.com)
373 points by elorant 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 291 comments

I spend a day or two every year cleaning up a beach on a island off the coast of China. Its location relative to local sea currents makes it a natural garbage trap. It has been a radicalizing experience but maybe not in the way you would think.

Anecdotally about a third of the trash I pick up is fishing related - some nets, some buoys, but mostly thousands of small plastic sardine sized fishing net floats.

About a third is one-time use food packaging related - soda and water bottles mainly, but also so many bags for snacks, or tangentially cleaning bottles for hands/dishes. We could do better making less plastic waste with each meal. Straws are a very small part of that and a weird thing to fixate on relative to all the other one time use food waste we generate.

And the last third is various forms of hydrocarbon foams. This last one kills me because I see foams everywhere in the supply chain for consumer goods. TVs are shipped out in white styrofoam. Chips are shipped in with pink styrofoam. If it’s fragile lab equipment it gets shipped in a box three times it’s size full of packing peanut foam. Every product in the room you are in probably generated an equivalent volume of foam during its production. The foam lasts forever. I refuse to use it for anything we package and glad to see it phased out.

I would much prefer biodegradable paper like pulps to foam. As I understand the chemicals used to make hard paper bowls and straws may be their own kind of nasty endocrine disrupters but for all other packaging purposes, yes please. Less foam, more paper. Especially if some tweaks we can make packaging a carbon sink.

The fishing gets me. I used to fish from the shoreline a lot, but when I went snorkeling in a couple of beautiful places in the world all the lost tackle and line just made me angry at my past self. It's very hard to fish from the shoreline without leaving trash everywhere.

It's hard to think that every dollar I spent on tackle was a dollar I spent polluting the shoreline. It was out of sight, so it was out of mind.

I remember this incredible natural aquarium, formed in a wide, deep circular depression of a coral reef. And a single 30m piece of neon line riiight through the middle of it. Doubtless, it was left by a fisherman who swore at losing another $2 sinker, with no concept of what else they'd just done.

It's thinking like this that led me down the path of rejecting money/currency for the most part. Every dollar I spent is a vote for producing more of whatever I'm buying, directly correlated with habitat loss (for humans included) and animal deaths. And each transaction is like a curtain from behind which the finished product appears, handed to you with no information about its origin.

Yes, finished products abstract away how they were made. But that's why we have labels. Also, taxing the inputs if they're harmful.

Politics can change the rules, having impact that individual purchase decisions can't, because we don't have the information.

What does this even mean? By ones existence one precludes other life. Where does one draw the line on what one can eat/use?

I sometimes feel these statements are made without much critical thinking. I’m open to be proved wrong.

That's an interesting perspective. How does such an approach play out in practice?

The freeganism link in sibling comment provides a pretty good overview.

In my case, I live outdoors more than half the time, sometimes couchsurfing.

I obtain food primarily from waste.

My electronics are hand-me-downs.

For getting around, I ride with people going my way or walk. I am a careful driver, and sometimes I help drive as contribution. Sometimes I ride trains and buses, which cost minimal money.

I pay a few hundred a year for domains and hosting.

Occasionally, people offer me money. I used to not accept it, but now I just do my best to limit its use to the above.

If I go to a coffee shop, I typically do not buy a coffee. If I sit at a fast food place, I don't buy anything.

I do not feel that I owe anything to anyone just for occupying space.

I do, however, place some properly logoed cups (reused) on my table, and I pick up any trash on the floors, and fix the chairs, and sometimes wipe the tables with abandoned napkins.

It seems kind of silly sometimes, but it's a system that's working well for me now.

I like to visit libraries, though hours are typically limited.

It has taken me about 5 years to transition to this life from full-time job, apartment, and cat.

I had previous camping experience, and a relatively low regard for social norms. I am a man, which obviously helps with safety. But women do it too.

This practice has helped me develop my meditation practice, write more code I can be proud of, and travel without worry about where I'm going to stay when I get there.

Because my past jobs contributed to selling soft drinks, securities, oil, etc., I think that my "environmental karma" is much better. I also have the time to stop and pick up the trash everywhere I go, a practice I find to be both enjoyable and great "natural" exercise.

I’m honestly curious and not trying to be contrarian - what does your code produce if not more consumption in some way?

Well, it is not producing much at the moment, and it is consuming electricity and resources to run.

I am hoping that it will produce a better way for people to talk and connect, as well as provably reliable information store.

This is why I prefer spear fishing (free diving style especially), yes it’s harder work, yes there are dangers; But it’s not only visually attractive but you can be much more selective about the fish you take and there is almost never anything left behind, unless you had to drop a weight belt in an emergency or something, which I’ve never actually needed to do though it happens.

Often I actually take tack home I find and dispose of it properly.

I've always wanted to try spearfishing, it seems like a real sport, unfortunately it's banned in my country.

I seem to remember working for a pharmacy years ago and disposing of packing peanuts by putting them in the sink and dissolving them with hot water. Is that not a thing anymore?

Starch-based packing peanuts are will break down in water, unlike their polystyrene equivalents.

Some packing peanuts are apparently made of puffed up rice. It's a fun trick to pull on coworkers who don't know this and eat a bunch when you get a package.

as long as they're not imported and have been sprayed with pesticide.

Apparently the majority of the carbohydrates and nutrients have been removed too, probably not tasty without the pesticide zest.

My local recycling center (in the SF Bay Area) accepts styrofoam blocks (though the machine is down right now). Unfortunately, storing and transporting bulky styrofoam is cumbersome for individuals, so it's not very scalable.


"Fees apply for customers from outside El Cerrito"

I wonder why? Sounds like it's impractical to recycle.

"Fees apply for customers from outside El Cerrito"

Maybe it's funded by the city, so it would be free for people there, since they've already paid for with their taxes?

acetone will melt huge polystyrene foam block into a small puddle

Paper is an amazing technology.

Were I king, I'd massively fund R&D to bring new sources of fiber to market. Make them competitive with wood pulp.

Hemp, bamboo, sugar cane, feed corn. Maybe even invasive (noxious) weeds like kudzu. Two birds, one stone.

Extra credit for non till harvesting techniques. Just mow those hemp fields. Then do it all again in three months.

Wood-pulping can also be a filthy technology. Growing up in a paper-mill town meant smelling and breathing the particulate and gaseous effluents of the cooking process. In the spring, the remnants of this deluge covered all the melting snow-piles in a black sheet. (And lungs?) Much of what didn't come out of the stacks flowed out under the river's surface through a secret pipe. Downstream, the shores were matted and bubbling with discarded wastes.

As for the hundreds of men who 'harvested' the trees ... laboring in the gulag wilderness, far from the cities where the paper for fiduciary reports, magazines, academic wisdom and signage is consumed ... most lived marginalized lives of quiet desperation. Even if they managed to make it to retirement with whole bodies.

You are correct.

I infrequently do some light googling to see if anyone is seriously trying to use bamboo or hemp for paper and fabrics. This was the biggest hit last time.


For future, I'll be mindful of the labor and ecological impacts of their processes.

Thank you.

I recently learned that many of the things we make out of plastic today were once made of paper.

I don't mean bags and plates and stuff. I mean big things like tables, and reusable bowls, and snuff boxes. A lot of them can still be found in antique shops 150 years later.

>Straws are a very small part of that and a weird thing to fixate on relative to all the other one time use food waste we generate.

Straws are completely superfluous. If you take away my straw I can continue drinking the beverage. Chips need a container, sure I'd prefer more bulk bins and recycled containers, but if we banned plastic containers for chips you interfere mightily in someone enjoying their product.

ANYWAYS, the fixation is from the bad actors, the trouble makers, the noisemakers.

Most people's teeth are sensitive to cold. They like to use straws to be able skip the teeth while ingesting a cold beverage. This is why the straw was invented -- to make it easy to consume icy cold drinks.

Very strange that this must be explained to people who think straws are completely superfluous. If they were superfluous, people wouldn't be using them. This is a great example of Chesterton's Fence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton%27s_fence

Unfortunately this is a widespread problem that dominates environmental activism in privileged wealthy countries. I wouldn't necessarily call the Straw Banners "Bad Actors" or "Trouble Makers", just foolish people. You have people venturing into areas they know nothing about and suddenly start trying to ban things before even understanding what the issues are. Serious people know that reducing plastic use or the production of plastics is not the issue, but having secure disposal systems is how you keep garbage out of the ocean. Moreover, the problem is almost entirely in the third world where secure disposal systems don't exist. Nothing that you do or don't consume here is going to make a difference in terms of what ends up in the ocean.

You are wrong regarding disposal of plastic. Most of developed world does not recycle its plastic, we ship it to China or Philippines, where its sorted by hand, or illegally burned and land filled. Often it is shipped there illegally by our own governments. Recently China stopped taking contaminated plastic, and much more of it now ends up in even poorer countries. Many kinds of plastic are 'unrecycleable' at all, like most plastic bags and films. Some are recyclable (like plastic bottles) but uneconomic to sort from the grades of plastic that aren't, from each-other, and from random food contamination. No country in the world has achieved good track record of recycling plastic, and it probably impossible without very tight control and discipline.

Unrecycleable plastic in single use items should be illegal.


You roll your lower lip over your bottom front teeth, bring the container to your mouth, and pour the liquid into your mouth while gently resting the lip of the container on your lip.

Girls need straws for lipstick, guys need straws for beards, elderly need straws for health concerns.

They aren't "completely superfluous".

People don't need lipstick, lickstick is superfluous.

I've never needed a straw while drinking and I facial hair, but I guess personal anecdotes are useless, and cleaning your face occasionally with a napkin(or a sleeve) is... forbidden?

As for the elderly, if your health requires you to use a straw why are you relying on someone else to meet your needs? You should provide your own straws if drinking without a straw is a health concern, right? Someone with a peanut allergy shouldn't rely on the restaurant to have an epi-pin.

Agree, with enough dedication we can remove our reliance on anything. Coffee, tv, internet, phones, straws, bananas...

Still doesn't mean it is a good idea or that it will solve anything.

More in specific, we can remove straws from our life (you can also claim that all the noise about it raised public awareness), but when Starbucks solution is to use even more plastic in their lids, McDonald's solution are paper straws that cannot be recicled and raise a huge controversy for focusing on something silly I am not sure it was a net ecological win.

Single use lids are next.

We're destroying the environment because we can't be assed to take a break to have a drink.

We are not "destroying the environment" and you are not going to "save the environment".

This is childish. Nations which don't have good sanitation systems are dumping garbage into the oceans, as are ships. Your attempt to self-flagellate, or more accurately flagellate others by abstaining from straws does not help or hurt the environment. It does annoy people and cause resentment and blowback that might stop useful engineering solutions, though. It's a type of modern religious ritual meant to absolve yourself of invented sins because you think you have something to do with plastic in the oceans when the real culprits are thousands of miles away.

If you want to clean up the oceans, try to find a way to provide asian and african nations with secure sanitation systems, and to improve the sanitation handling on ships. Container ships are quite dirty also because of the sulfur being burned. Lots of potential solutions that don't have anything to do with personal abnegation -- it may not feel as good, but for that you should go to church or synagogue rather than trying to invent your own eco-shamanism. The environment is improved by engineering solutions and development in the third world, not by acts of personal purity in the wealthy west.

> It's a type of modern religious ritual meant to absolve yourself of invented sins...

Nail on the head.

Most people don't need them.

Some people are switching to metal straws, while some restaurants are using dry pasta straws (the pasta doesn't go soft as the drinks are cold).

There are alternatives for those that need them.

> L.A. will prohibit all restaurants and vendors from handing out plastic straws unless requested effective Oct. 1. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell says people don’t even need a straw to drink a smoothie. “Just have them blend it a little thinner.”


> Straws are a very small part of that and a weird thing to fixate on relative to all the other one time use food waste we generate.

People always fixate on things they personally touch and see, over things that are out of sight even if they're thousand or million times bigger factors.

Thus all the frenzy around straws, shopping bags, coffee mugs etc.

This is known. The number I have heard floated around is 45%. So, commercial fishing nets are a big problem when it comes to plastic in the oceans.

And here we are "saving the planet", by reducing the plastic straw consumption:




Mental gymnastics at its best:

> “Whether it’s 500 million or 500 a day, we shouldn’t lose sight of the real issue: Straws should be disposed of properly and should never, ever be littered on land or in waterways,” she said.

Looking at elements loses sight of the system. The boats are there as part of a system driven by growth in GDP and population, externalizing costs, and related goals.

We can say it's not us tossing the bottle overboard, but buying things the boats transport supports the system.

Among the most important leverage points for changing a system are its goals and values. Changing from growth to enjoying what we have and from externalizing costs to taking responsibility and stewarding takes time and is not the only course of action, but are necessary.

If we avoid straws and stop there, the action doesn't add up. If we use avoiding straws as practice then to avoid bigger things, then yet bigger things, I see avoiding straws like playing scales to learn piano. Scales alone seem like nothing, but they're how you get to Carnegie Hall.

In my case, starting avoiding packaged food led to no flying which led to leadership roles with my podcast, my second TEDx talk on environmental leadership this weekend (my first: http://joshuaspodek.com/my-tedx-talk-is-online-find-your-del...), and many people now contacting me that they're changing and enjoying the process and results.

Because jettisoning junk improves our lives, we expect to continue.

Only action -- not talking, not reading, not writing, not debating, not analyzing -- only action on one's values brings that joy. If straws are someone's starting point, I support them. Then I support them to continue. I believe everyone should start and accelerate as much as possible in changing their behavior and values.

I believe you are genuinely trying to help solve the problem. However I think your plan of action is misguided, and is making things worse. Your ideas only appeal to certain personality types in rich countries. They make an enemy out of everybody else.

Your framing of the solution as "Humans need to change from growth to enjoying what we have" is wrong. This is diametrically opposed to human nature--you're literally swimming upstream on this one. It's not going to happen.

If we look at the solution in a way that harnesses the natural tendencies of humans to compete with each other and seek better lives for their children--you could describe it as the following: We need to find newer, more environmentally friendly technologies, faster. This is the Elon Musk approach, and he's proven it works.

Instead of spending billions of dollars on public education programs to eliminate plastic straws, why not direct that money toward inventing bio-degradable straws that are cheaper than plastic? This is absolutely doable.

Instead of telling people to stop flying to visit their family, why not work toward creating more fuel efficient forms of air travel?

You're misguided if you think wrapping yourself in the self-satisfied flag of "do-gooder" and shouting loudly at people to join you is going to have any meaningful impact.

You're misguided if you think we can prevent the coming climate catastrophe without making any sacrifices. It's not technological solutions or make tough choices. It's both. Perhaps your path would work if we started down it in earnest 40 years ago, but it's too late now. We're not going to turn this ship around with half measures.

I fully agree, ideally we would be doing both! But due to obvious realities of humans, any time or money spent trying to tell people to stop doing what they are instinctively motivated to do is a waste.

Americans love to fool themselves into these naive, moralistic tirades that lead nowhere. Take the issue of teen pregnancy, for example.

For decades, the American approach was to wag their fingers at teenagers and tell them to not have sex (similar to how we currently wag our fingers at the developing world and their use of oil). Meanwhile, in Northern Europe, they focused on making contraception widely available for teen girls via state run healthcare programs.

Fast forward 50 years and the US has 6X as many teen pregnancies per capita as a country like the Netherlands. Ignoring human nature and focusing on moral appeals doesn't work for sex, and it won't work for consumption either:


You are naive if you think your sacrifice will be enough, you need to convince others to join in, this is why so much of the funding focuses on reaching market viability.

If India and China will not join you every sacrifice you did was essentially worthless

Efficiency doesn't mean lowering total waste and often creates more.

Reducing is strategic. Efficiency, such as bio-degradable straws and most newer technologies like you described, is tactical.

I covered this in part in my podcast "episode 183: Reusing and recycling are tactical. Reducing is strategic": https://shows.pippa.io/leadership-and-the-environment/episod....

I'm sorry you think reduction is misguided. Your appeal to human nature opposes hundreds of thousands of years of human history before the past few thousand.

I believe reduction would certainly solve the problem. I just don't think it's possible to make happen (I elaborated on this further in the comment below).

Is it possible the reason humans in the past didn't consume as much, was simply because they lacked the technology to allow them to?

If you gave a human from 10,000 B.C. a private jet, while also telling him that jet is bad for the environment, that human would still be flying all over the globe in an instant.

I don't think humans were somehow more morally conscientious in the past. And I'm not sure we should be aiming to head back to those "glory days" of 20 year lifespans and terrible infant mortality rates.

How would reducing consumption affect infant mortality rates?

It wouldn't. I didn't say that.

> why not work toward creating more fuel efficient forms of air travel?

There is no lack of incentive for this to be invented. The global airline industry is approaching 1 trillion USD in revenue. Climate concerns are not the thing that will provoke innovation here.

Besides, "fly less" is infinitely more tangible. When you become aware that skipping one intercontinental plane (round)trip has the same positive CO2 impact as going from moderate meat consumption to veganism for one year (!) you might weigh your travel options differently. I know I do.

> I see avoiding straws like playing scales to learn piano. Scales alone seem like nothing, but they're how you get to Carnegie Hall.

That isn't remotely true. The best pianists in the world who play at Carnegie Hall, true virtuosi, are far beyond attributing their skill to scales. Scales are mainly used by great pianists within the context of your work on specific pieces, as that is where pianists will be judged. Why waste time on all 24 scales for an hour? That's terribly inefficient practice.

For instance, Ballade No 1 by Chopin: you need to practice scales for the coda only, but there are 30-40 other passages that are just as important. You'd be wasting your time to practice scales in other keys and not practicing those challenge moments, as no one cares if you can do scales in E major when those scales are adjacent to the G minor tonality. When I learned that piece, I practiced the two scalar passages maybe 1% of my work on the whole piece.

A more apt analogy would be: if we wean ourselves off of single-use straws, beginning piano students can wean themselves off of pneumonic devices for remembering note names. It's just the very basics of decarbonization/piano playing, and so so much more has to be done in both cases.

So, no, getting to the tip-top level of decarbonization doesn't rely on not using straws, just like Carnegie Hall doesn't rely on scales. This is a classic example of focusing on very miniscule lifestyle changes, when climate change/environmentalism is about huge, broad stroke issues first and foremost.

> off of pneumonic devices


> If we avoid straws and stop there, the action doesn't add up.

Ehh, not much point in doing this without also tossing some execs in prison. People won’t see the justice in it otherwise and it will continue to fail catastrophically.

And here you are creating a straw man argument.

Reducing straws won’t “save the planet” on its own. We will improve the planet by doing multiple things.

Reducing plastic use (less packaging, fewer straws, reusable shopping bags) all play a role in a much bigger effort.

Except that’s not improving the planet even a bit — chances are, every one of those straws being used in an American city would end up in a well run landfill and have minimal impact on the environment. It’s yet another example of knuckle dragging elites using state force to virtue signal. Meanwhile the real sources of the problem get ignored.

> chances are, every one of those straws being used in an American city would end up in a well run landfill

My front yard disagrees. It's adjacent to a somewhat busy road, and straws are part of the debris I have to routinely clean up (along with various wrappers and cigarette butts).

> and straws are part of the debris I have to routinely clean up

I assume this cleaning includes putting them in your trash and the city taking them to a landfill?

It's obviously not the best path, but cities[0] (by necessity) generally do a good job cleaning up the trash that gets scattered around.

Bigger issue is non-urbanized areas where there isn't the density/wealth to clean up litter.

[0] The collection of people and institutions, not just the government.

Let's consider the biggest city in the U.S., NYC. Manhattan? An island of 1.8 million no more than 2 miles wide. Brooklyn and Queens are on a spit of land called "Long Island". Together they have 4.8 million residents. Staten Island is, you guessed it, an island. And the Bronx is necessarily very close to a lot of water.

People litter. Cigarette butts, straws, plastic bottles, etc. all very regularly and easily wind up in the ocean with an assist of a slight breeze.

I saw it in action firsthand in NYC. A garbage truck picked up an overflowing trash bin around midnight, and the dome of trash on top fell off and into the street, and the worker did not even break stride. Many well-meaning people took the time to carefully place their trash on the trash that was in a garbage bin, but they may as well have just dropped it on the street directly for all the good it did.

After I saw this happen a few times, I stopped taking the time to carefully place my trash, and just held onto it until I found an emptier receptacle. After all, emptying public trashcans is already a terrible job. The garbageman isn't carrying a broom and dustpan. Why make his job more difficult?

(I would distinguish public trashcans like this from e.g. commercial trashcans for the use of customers of private businesses. First, they should never fill over halfway. Second, the whole thing should be kept clean. Anything else is a failure of management.)

Yep. Litterbugs, all 4.8 Million of them.

Our weather patterns here include heavy rain storms. What I don't happen to catch gets flushed away into the drain in the street, which leads to a nearby creek (stormwater is kept separate from sewage here).

And of course, all the other parts of the road that don't happen to run up to a yard are not really groomed, so all that debris is flushed into the waterways.

that's anecdotal evidence. how may of the straws used in your city end up in a front yard?

On the other hand all the straws have to go somewhere. If you're picking up one straw a day from your garden, you'd expect each household in the city to generate at least one improperly disposed of straw per day.

How do you think they generate statistics for this kind of thing? They don't count everything, they take samples and infer from that.

If I'm picking up one straw a day from my garden, and assume everyone in my city has a straw in their garden every day, I would be making a Hasty Generalisation [0]

It's far more likely that I live in a stray straw accumulation zone than straws are uniformly distributed over the entire city's gardens by some method.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faulty_generalization#Hasty_ge...

I think its only as hasty as assuming that it's a straw accumulation zone.

Considering that a lot of land in a city isnt your garden/house (shops, offices, parks), I would suggest that that would tend to balance out the risk of this being a SAZ.

I take your point that this is a data point of one. But if I found one straw in my garden, it is astoundingly unlikely that is the only wild straw in my city. I wouldn't start putting a figure on it from that, but it does suggest the lower bound is much higher than one.

I agree, trying to generalise anything based on 1 data point is going to be fraught with danger of hastiness.

Having never found a straw in my garden my intuition is that (not finding straws in every garden) is more likely than (finding straws in every garden) but obviously I have no valid basis to put a number of any kind on that.

Now while I think the original post is an example of Hasty Generalisation, I think the bigger issue is the generalisation combined with a sample bias. Self reported data points tend to be interesting because otherwise they wouldn't be reported. My thesis is that regularly finding a straw in your garden is interesting because it is unusual.

The other poster provided no evidence at all, just stated things authoritatively.

Except that’s not improving the planet even a bit.

Arguably it raises awareness and the shard belief in at least the principle of individual responsibility. Against the overwhelming tide of the "Fuck it, I'll be dead before this shit starts to really come down on our heads anyway" which would otherwise be the reigning default.

Stop raising awareness and start triaging. At a certain point, everyone is aware of the top line issues and you just need to prioritize public attention.

You (obviously) can't do this on your own and, at a certain level, the environmental movement's focus on bogus, small-time, feel-good issues reveals its cynicism. BUT PLEASE, stop defending it. You're just empowering those looking for a reason to resent the movement.

>Stop raising awareness and start triaging.

Like trying to start banning categories of plastic? Straws and shopping bags?

Banning categories of plastic is an action. Choosing to expend political capital on banning certain plastics is an act of triage.

The political capital is being spent to stop the banning of plastics. Banning straws should really be a simple issue, but there are people opposed to the ban not for actual reasons, but because straws are first. They falsely argue that the ban will eliminate the straw, they use pleas of emotion feigning concern that the law won't have carve outs for legitimate use, they mock the minor efforts, snuggly knowing that all their distractions are making straws into a huge issue that now becomes almost poisonous to approach.

Just Ctrl+F for straws in this thread. Two top comments are taking shots at straws and once I post this reply, those two comments will have pushed the word straw to 97 counts.

Lastly just for fun, just a tally of the most common words on this page: 447 the

230 to

224 a

221 of

182 ago

174 and

172 hours

170 reply

170 in

158 is

150 that

103 i

98 plastic

91 it

81 you

79 on

78 for

76 are

67 not

67 be

62 we

60 this

57 but

55 they

55 straws

52 with

51 it's

51 if

51 have

50 all

49 or

43 use

39 was

39 more

39 as

38 so

38 at

37 about

36 don't

36 can

34 straw

34 people

34 from

32 them

32 fishing

The article is about merchant and fishing ships.

The article is about merchant and fishing ships.

Actually it was primarily about these ships as primary sources of plastic dumping in the ocean.

Not about the "ships" per se.

Using non recyclable plastic in a single use items should be a criminal offence

Most plastic ends up exported to recycling firms in china or Phillies, sometimes illegally, where its hand sorted, burned, or dumped.

It is usually contaminated with food and several different types of plastic are mixed together, including unrecycleable ones. Sorting them for recycling is usually uneconomical.

is it a straw man though? i'm not proposing anything, I was just providing some links and maybe hinting at the fact that if we want to reduce plastic in the oceans we should focus on the biggest sources of plastics.

if everyone stops using plastic straws tomorrow it will not matter and will not make an impact on how much plastic keeps accumulating.

here are a few more ideas for helping the planet: have fewer kids - this weird trick works, learn to love GMOs - this is the future, there is no way we can sustain the population growth we are experience with everyone eating organic, drive your car into the ground or until it's too expensive to repair it.

The population is already stabilizing at 11 billion. Paul Ehrlich was wrong: richer countries undergo a demographic transition.

I don't see people talking about reducing packaging. It was all about prohibiting shopping bags, and after that failed they got that turtle video and changed into prohibiting straws.

What is doomed to fail again. You won't save the planet by focusing at the least effective, most demanding action one can do.

There's definitely a huge shift to reducing plastic packaging. Even large TVs now come packaged without polystyrene padding.

> There's definitely a huge shift to reducing plastic packaging.

On the consumer side. You now no longer see the packaging as it arrives to your house. Do an image search for Pallet Deliveries (I don't want to point fingers) and look at just how much plastic wrap comes on the "reduced waste" packaging, when it's delivered to your supermarket/department store. It's utterly astonishing.

Do you know how many pallets you can wrap with one roll of stretch wrap? I bet there is a teaspoon of oil in the stretch wrap for an entire pallet of goods. It’s like 6 miles down the plastic use chart.

It doesn't invalidate your point, but quantity of oil used was never the problem with plastic packaging - plastic is a minuscule part of oil demand, and doesn't get burned at that. The problem is and always has been the plastic entering the environment, where it doesn't biodegrade and causes all kinds of problems. That's why eliminating the very light plastic grocery bags is a win, even if the replacement bags are just heavier ones you have to pay for, and even if total plastic consumption increases - the heavy bags are less likely to blow away into the environment. It's also the reasoning behind cutting down on plastic straws - it's not that plastic straws represent a large quantity of plastic, they just represent a disproportionately large percentage of harm caused by plastic pollution.

Where I live the enterprises recycle their packaging, something a lot easier to achieve than with individuals, so can't see it becoming a huge deal yeah.

It's a lot easier and more econmical to recycle and properly manage waste when the waste is centralized at a commercial facility.

The home machinist trashes his chips, the production shop scraps them.

I don't know where you think that failed - I've seen an enormous transition away from plastic bags in the three cities I've lived in

What failed about encouraging people to reuse shopping bags instead of having single use bags by charging for bags?

When I google "plastic packaging" there's a single link on the first two pages which doesn't talk about reducing packaging, sustainable alternatives, impact of packaging, or petitions to change something. If that doesn't count as people talking about it, I'm not sure what does.

> We will improve the planet by doing multiple things.

The problem is that people don't have infinite time or attention. So if you raise awareness and guy buy-in for something like straws, you took away time and awareness from things that could have actually made a difference. To make things worse, people will eventually realize that getting rid of straws didn't have much impact and would be less likely to participate in future causes.

> The problem is that people don't have infinite time or attention.

Exactly this. Furthermore, we should be thinking about these issues in terms of ROI; how much time/effort/political capital does this intervention cost? And how much utility does it yield? Banning straws vs. sending them to landfill - not much difference in utility there as I see it.

Unfortunately a lot of movement environmentalism (every movement, really) is just virtue signaling ("Look at me, I fit in to this community, I don't use plastic straws!") rather than actions that are rationally constructed to make a difference.

People supported the anti-straw movement because it has zero impact on their life. The only people who even ask for straws are some women wearing lipstick. It's an easy issue to support.

Now consider your ideas that would actually make a difference. I bet they actually change people's lifestyles which means those proposals are going to be political suicide unlike plastic straws/bags.

For example, look how angry and defensive people get when it comes to their meat consumption. People will openly brag about how little they care about the slaughter of factory-farmed animals because it tastes good, just in response to someone bringing up ethical concerns.

Though I do think plastic straw/bag movements are a gateway to larger ecological movements. You can't jump straight into massive changes unless society is advanced enough to not throw a shitfit if their drink doesn't come with a straw, something that we're still working on.

So, maybe it's plastic straws today, but tomorrow a politician will have a real shot with a platform against waste wrt TFA.

> People supported the anti-straw movement because it has zero impact on their life.

My impression was the exact opposite. A plastic straw ban is invasive and annoying, which makes it a good way to prove commitment to the environmental movement.

I just want to enjoy an occasional unplanned fountain drink without having to use a straw that dissolves in my mouth. I never litter, and would happily cut out some other use of plastic from my life to compensate.

> So, maybe it's plastic straws today, but tomorrow a politician will have a real shot with a platform against waste wrt TFA.

Plastic straw bans are not a prerequisite for fishing reforms. Regulating the commercial fishing industry to fix this problem will be difficult to coordinate internationally, but the end result is not going to have a noticeable effect on most people's lives.

Those sort of reforms are the easiest policy wins and the most impactful, so the focus should be on campaigning for them directly.

The uncomfortable truth is that action costs political capital. Something highly public, like plastic straws, by its nature is far more expensive than the actual environmental benefit that is accrued.

> reusable shopping bags

So now, when I don’t have a shopping bag in the car (something I’ve done since back when it was specifically “uncool” to do so), and need a bag, I pay a dime for a plastic bag that has at least 5 times as much plastic in it, and it doesn’t photo-degrade in the sunlight like the filthy evil old T-shirt bags (which I also reused) of yesteryear.

If not a straw man argument, then at least the final straw that broke the camel's back.

In general we should stop focusing on 1% solutions — that even if somehow 100% successful will only solve 1% of the problem .

Like focusing on mass murders or killing by cop only, in the USA, when talking about gun violence. I get that it’s the most visible thing but it sucks all the political capital out of the discussion to do something major.

Anyone who has ever worked in industrial jobs, know how much more plastic is being used / discarded there. Sad to say, it's only been in the past few years that many companies have really started focusing on sorting / good handling of garbage.

One of my first part-time jobs were on construction sites, where I'd spend my day unloading materials which was packed in plastic - which was then just thrown in containers, which in turn were dumped in land-fills.

But with that said, I think it's good that people are aware, and spread awareness.

I sometimes wonder if this "plastic straw" wasn't another of 4Chan's trolling attempts... Like, sure, reduce plastic straw usage, but most bars just replaced them with paper straws. That is obviously a stupidly wrong solution, the vast majority of the population can easily manage without straws entirely, so really it just shows that people don't actually care about the environment, it's all just virtue signalling...

If people are really getting this upset over their straws being replaced we don't stand a chance at the level of consumption change needed to combat climate change

Why are paper straws the wrong solution? Even if they take a little more energy to produce they at least don't leave long-term waste behind.

Because they don't work for people with disabilities. They dissolve, they're more easily bent, they're less resistant to accidental biting. They disintegrate even faster with hot beverages.

I've heard this argument before, and please forgive me if this is insensitive. Are people with disabilities eased by non-paper straws not able to supply their own? Perhaps steel ones that can be reused many times? I appreciate that allowances for disabilities must be made, but I can also understand that general popular use of plastic straws is harmful to the environment.

Ok, then there's the rest of the objections.

Add to this, plastic straws are a trifling fraction of plastic pollution, and the made-up furor distracts from actual important issues.

There was a video on YouTube of a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nose. I believe that was the spark the set off the straw-less movement.

What does that have to do with the question? Using paper straws would address the type of problem you mentioned, as they're (too) quickly bio-degradable. They may not be the right direction to go in (why do we use so many straws in the first place?), but they do solve that type of impact to marine animals.

Doesn't paper production require trees to be cut down?

Make them buy trees that have been grown just for paper(they definitely exist), no one's going to cut down old growth for paper... seriously that's prime high margin furniture material.

At least plastic straws are multi-use. It's rare that a paper straw makes it through a single drink.

When was the last time you saw someone re-use a plastic straw?

Last night the waiter topped off my iced tea three times and I continued to use the same plastic straw, whereas a single paper straw would not have lasted. It's a wetted time and solubility problem. Paper is water soluble--plastic is not.

I've used bad paper straws that didn't last through a single glass but any I've used in the last year has been much more robust. A better question than paper or plastic would be to ask why your iced tea needed a straw at all.

Same goes for plastic straw. Except maybe home use which is not very common.

Metal straws look cool and seem like a good step, but are actually quite dangerous and have caused death


I think this is human psychology. Most people don't really care about straws so it is easy to get riled up about it and ban it. If you asked those same people about banning bottled water or taxing it heavily, they would be against it. The more difficult the behavior change, the less likely people will stick with it. This is true for consumption reduction, weight loss, exercise and more.

I don't know about the US situation, but the recent EU proposal is often ridiculed for being just a "plastic straw ban".

Actually the "single-use plastics directive proposal [1]", part of a greater plastic strategy [2], is not only about plastic straws:

a) The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks. These items represent 86% of all single-use plastic items on European beaches, and about half of all plastic marine litter washed up on European beaches.

b) Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups.

c) Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up. The industry will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products.

d) Member States will be obliged to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025.

e) Member States will be obliged to raise consumers' awareness about the negative impact of littering of single-use plastics and fishing gear as well as about the available re-use systems and waste management options for all these products.

f) Fishing gear is also addressed: "up to now, ports have been able to charge fishermen for bringing retrieved abandoned, lost or disposed of fishing gear ashore over and above their normal fee. The Commission’s proposal to revise the Port Reception Facilities Directive (COM(2018)33 final) removes this disincentive. However, ports' costs for expanding facilities and running them could find their way back into the port fee; thus increasing the overall cost for fishers. This is where the Extended Producer Responsibility comes in. Under this scheme, fishing net producers take on the responsibility (and the cost) for managing fishing gear plastic once it is landed. So, this will reduce port costs for fishers, particularly in small fishing ports, and it will accelerate the development of a dedicated waste stream for fishing gear waste. [3]"

You could argue that this regulation is not enough.

You could argue that the ban should not focus on the most occuring single-use plastics that wash up on European beaches but should focus on the most occurring (micro)plastic-types in the oceans.

I would say this is a perfectly fine complementory step in the right direction.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/single...

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/plastic_waste.htm

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/new-proposal-will-tackle-mari...

The cynic in me might think that corporates getting behind "pious" things like banning plastic drink straws allows them to avoid other more costly changes they should make.

Also banning straws does impact disabled people who as usual are often ignored.

This is the end result of all the Earth Day style propaganda. Regular people have made their lifestyles greener. And the impact it has made is not very significant, because the top polluters just kept on going. Instead of tackling the economic fundamentals that allow that to continue, the thought-leaders are just asking more and more ridiculous sacrifices to be made by consumers.

All the straws and all the 6-pack cartilages that make it into the ocean are nothing compared with lost fishing net detritus--the things that are designed to kill and capture marine life.

Why should we be using plastic straws at all?

So your proposal is what, New York City should somehow ban ocean fishing, instead of controlling plastic waste in it's jurisdiction?

Why not? Ban fish from unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly sources. 10 million New Yorkers represent enough buying power to marginally change the economic incentives for fishing companies worldwide.

Considering for cities like NY and SF the majority of seafood served is not what is advertised, despite existing legislation to the contrary, I think enforcement is the problem.

I imagine the only substantial course of action would be to ban ocean fishing vessels from the entire coast.

i think banning ocean fishing would be a disaster actually. what we need is responsible fishing with proper management of the fishing nets (i.e. huge penalties for mismanaging/dumping/abandoning the fishing nets)

also the elephant in the room is that an individual in the US has little to no control over huge sources of pollution apart from feel good activism (look at this! i'm using a paper straw! I saved 2 turtles this morning y'all! what? can i drink though the paper straw? naaaw dog - it's mushy after 5 seconds but the turtles)

Plastic straws are such a red herring for climate change. If you want to make an impact on your individual contribution, then you can get an EV (at very least a plug-in hybrid) and (if you own a home) get a solar roof or a heat pump instead of gas (everyone has pretty much replaced their incandescents, which is the cheapest thing to do). The marginal costs of these things are relatively low to neutral (and sometimes can save you money), and all of them have several orders of magnitude bigger impact on climate change than straws.

And it's contagious. Several of my peers (who aren't ultra-green types) bought electric cars or installed solar roofs after I talked about my EVs, and even some of their peers bought electric cars after talking to them. Individual action builds consensus on the importance of political action, too, as it is tangible proof that a transition to a low-carbon economy isn't just possible but attractive.

As far as plastic waste:

We can just replace drink straws with biodegradable plastic of the same performance. Techno solutions work. It's how we fixed ozone depletion.

that’s cool. now you have to make it economically viable for everyone to do it vs deincentivizing people as currently is happening in the US

"US has little to no control over huge sources of pollution"

Not trying to suggest you can create structural change here, but just as a product of being an American consumer you have a larger power to reduce GHG emissions than most of the other 6.6 billion people on the planet.

I don't disagree, but as an individual taking action, it sure feels futile.

On plastic waste specifically, I think there is far more consumer awareness and consciousness than where I am now, Japan. Everything is in bags in bags in bags.

The individual in the US could choose to not purchase tuna.

Most of this comes from a single type of ship waste:

"Half of the great Pacific garbage patch is made up of fishing nets, by weight, according to a report published last year in Scientific Reports."

So the ocean is being overfished and is being polluted by fishing. The clear answer is to ban fishing. Though, as someone who dislikes all seafood, this is easy for me to say.

"Approximately 1 billion people people are dependent on fish as the principal source of animal protein"


Is there something in particular necessary about animal protein, that it gets a distinct category from just protein in general?

It also stands to reason that if that many people really are dependent on fish, it will be devastating to them when overfishing and pollution destroy fish stocks. All the more reason to reduce fishing and build alternatives now.

Well yes, but actually no. Not all proteins are equal, they have different quantities of different kinds of amino acids. Humans need 9 distinct amino acids for a healthy diet, and animal proteins are by far the easiest source of "complete proteins" from a single source. It's absolutely possible to get plant-based complete proteins (e.g. soy or quinoa), but often that involves deliberately mixing different protein sources to get a complete balance.

Turns out that eating the exact same thing every day is bad for you. That goes for meat as much as it goes for not-meat.

What do you mean “gets a distinct category”? Nutritionally it’s certainly possible to survive without eating fish, but a very large number of people do eat fish to survive.

Statisticians will collect and analyze data at many levels of granularity. Obviously it’s nice to know the types of food billions of people eat more generally than “fat”, “protein”, and “carbs”.

It stands to reason that fishing should be done sustainably, just like anything should be done sustainably, lest it become unsustainable. In other words, this says essentially nothing, right?

Only in the context of what the substitute is, how readily available it is, how comparable in cost, how comparable in nutrition, how much is it preferred or disliked compared to the status quo, and what negative externalities might exist in scaling up the alternative, only in that context can a useful discussion be had.

> Is there something in particular necessary about animal protein, that it gets a distinct category from just protein in general

Pretty worrying that people don't know that the only real sources of essential acids critical to humans are from seafood, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

They aren't optional and the body sucks at synthesising them.

Humans can get EPA from algae, same as where fish get it, among other sources. Just look up "algae based omega 3 supplement". The body synthesizes DHA from all sorts of seeds and oils, else we'd be screwed.

Weirdly smug, alarmist post.

There are people who never eat seafood. Reading your post, you'd have to assume such people would be dead.

Historically none of the above is true. iodized salt, and the OM3 where almost universally received from sea based foods.

You are talking about sources that have only affected people in the last small period of time. There are a couple of million years of development that got you to the point of fortified cereals and pills.

> There are people who never eat seafood.


There are entire countries and cultures that survive without meat for centuries. I’d love to know how you decided sourcing those proteins from fish is “not optional”.

In your zeal you have both misquoted me to redirect the comment to be what you were hoping i had said so you could treat it combatively.

Do those folks know that peas, tofu, nuts, etc. have protein too?

These are people in some of the poorest countries like Bangladesh. Are pea proteins cost effective and available in sufficient enough quantities to feed all these people? Other people brought up that it isn't just about the protein but other essentials things like amino acids.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. All of my aforementioned foods have the complete spectrum of amino acids.

I don't know the details but look at what Slippery_John said in his comment:

> Well yes, but actually no. Not all proteins are equal, they have different quantities of different kinds of amino acids. Humans need 9 distinct amino acids for a healthy diet, and animal proteins are by far the easiest source of "complete proteins" from a single source. It's absolutely possible to get plant-based complete proteins (e.g. soy or quinoa), but often that involves deliberately mixing different protein sources to get a complete balance.

Like prohibition in the US, a ban that is unpopular and impossible to enforce can be counterproductive. Consider the difficulties in enforcing a ban on something that 1) Millions of people depend on for their livelihood; 2) Happens in the middle of the ocean.

Yeah, in the middle of the ocean the only governmental/law enforcing body that really exists is the ship's captain. Beyond that, people can do whatever the hell they want because there's no one else for miles.

Also, no, the world is not going to stop fishing because a few people on HN think it's a good idea. Trying to enforce your own sense of morality on others is pointless.

There are types of fishing we really should think about banning because of the harm the cause to the ocean ecosystem. And that's before you take into account the fishing net waste.

The ocean is interconnected commons though so nobody really has a whole domain over it.

Banning non-biodegradable nets and lines would be far more sensible and even that would have compliance issues.

Seafood haters unite! You're the only other person I've ever found who doesn't like seafood, I feel like we should form a club or something.

There are dozens of us

Smells like death to me.

Fresh fish has barely any smell. You won't smell fish in a reasonable quality sushi train place for example. It's only if you don't preserve it well for hours that it starts to stink.

I've lived near the sea most of my life and have always been exposed to very fresh fish.

To me (perhaps not you) it smells like death.

- ed

As an aside - I remember reading some thing a few years ago about 'supertasters' and there was a checklist that i went through that implied I had a particularly acute sense of smell. Probably bullshit, but perhaps it's something to do with that.

I really wish I could enjoy fish - as a meat it looks wonderful, but I simply cannot stand the stuff.

That has the peripheral benefit of allowing me to be smugly pious when it comes to the subject of over-fishing and depleted stocks, etc..

Personally, I don't mind fish, they smell and taste like nothing to me. I hate crustaceans/etc because they look disgusting, basically cockroaches of the sea. I can't understand how people look at them and still eat them (obligatory XKCD here https://www.xkcd.com/1268/).

I was eating dinner at a Thai restaurant with an ideological vegetarian friend of mine, when I noticed that he ordered prawns.

So I teased him with "For heaven's sake, John! You're a vegetarian! Why are you eating Prawns??? Prawns are insects!!!" fully expecting to have an enjoyable argument about whether or not prawns qualified as insects for the purpose of vegetarianism, a hill I was willing to die on, for which I had a bunch of subjective emotional aesthetic talking points locked and loaded.

But he headed me off at the pass by accepting my premise and shutting me up: "Of course I eat insects. Insects are the enemy! We MUST eat them!!!"

Shrimping is so bad for the environment and other marine life. The amount of bycatch involved is disturbing. He made a pretty lousy argument.

Damnit. He has a point.

Most raw meat smells disgusting.

Raw horse is tasty.

Ban fishing? That's like saying we should ban email because of spam. Or ban the internet because of malware.

It'd be great if fishers needed to be checked for how many nets they have on board and then checked when they arrive and then be fined for the difference.

Or only allow certified nets, and make them cost so much that you'll never want to dump them in sea.

Also valid, but in this case you'll still need to check their ships before they leave. Though I guess the cost of the nets could help pay for these checks.

I imagine in both cases the ships would just have a boat meet them out at sea with additional nets so they either don't need to pay the fine for nets lost or don't need to buy expensive certified nets.

> I imagine in both cases the ships would just have a boat meet them out at sea with additional nets so they either don't need to pay the fine for nets lost or don't need to buy expensive certified nets.

I don't think they would go through that much trouble just for not bringing a net back home. In any case, you could also put an ID or name on a net, just like a license-plate.

Also, having nets without certification would be a crime, so that boat waiting at sea would be in problems if caught.

Wonder if this will have an impact on plastic straw bans on land. It was always a feel-good hi-viz, low-impact measure given little evidence behind the measures.

We need to do both. Push for ships to reduce their environmental impact (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_shippi...) AND take individual action.

Saving the planet - an enormous and incredibly complex task, will undoubtedly require quite a bit of individual action and behaviour change. To do without a straw or bringing your own cup can be a commitment to such behaviour change, to accept and act on whatever reasonable measure we find out to be important. Finding out that, say, producing a bamboo straw or cleaning the reusable mug takes more energy than producing plastic straws and cups should not be taken as a reason to mock well-intentioned actions (not saying that you did), but rather to iterate and figure out real solutions.

Well intentioned actions might include trying to reduce one’s own straw use, thinking it will play a part in helping the planet.

They certainly don’t include using government force to impose that on everybody else, while having no fucking clue what one is talking about.

We already had this data before the straw bans. They're not based on evidence, they're based on one photo of a turtle with a straw in its nose. Straws are a pretty common type of litter on beaches, and I could understand bans were that kind of litter is a problem. But if you put a straw in a landfill it's not going to end up in a turtle's nose.

> But if you put a straw in a landfill it's not going to end up in a turtle's nose.

That depends on what happens with your trash. If it stays inland in a landfill, then no. If it's sold for sorting and transported long distance on a barge, then that's possible.

And it needs to be a well placed and designed landfill:


"The Fox Glacier landfill operated from the 1960s until the early 2000s. It was eroded by the Fox River during the huge storm event on March 26 and 27."

Or even the context. A coffee shop in my neighborhood started keeping straws behind the counter, so that you have to ask for them.

And yet, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that there's less plastic in a straw than in a disposable coffee cup, let alone the doubled cups that they serve the coffee in in lieu of using those paper sleeves. Certainly after they've stuck one of those plastic sippy lids on top of the whole affair. If they're worried about their waste stream, that's the place to start.

Many will have paper straws as substitutes, but I’m very skeptical they did a study regarding cradle-to-grave impact of the substitution. Maybe they are net positive (results wise), but I doubt they looked at numbers and said, yes, clearly paper straws are less impactful.

I imagine it's similar to the grocery bag situation. Reusable cotton canvas bags keep plastic out of the environment, but their production emits thousands of times more CO2 per bag than disposable plastic bags. If you buy groceries once a week, you basically have to use the cotton canvas bags the rest of your life to even have a chance at breaking even, everything's a trade-off.

Aren't there better materials to make the resuable bags out of than cotton ?

Also, you can reuse the plastic bags.

My favorites are made of nylon. It's a much lighter material than what most stores are selling as reusable bags. Enough so that you can easily keep 1 or 2 with you all the time if you're the kind of person to carry a purse or courier bag. Meaning that, unlike those canvas bags or the ones made out of that big heavy stiff plastic material, they're convenient enough to actually get used regularly.

I found one study that suggested, though, that the lowest environmental load came from the regular disposable bags as long as you reuse them until they wear out. The main reason I don't do that is that I've discovered that supermarket employees seem to really hate that, in a way they don't with the bags that are made for reuse.

I'm also inclined to guess that it's still bikeshedding. The shopping bag is really visible, but it's maybe a small amount of waste compared to all the unnecessary packaging for the products it's being used to carry home.

How does this hatred manifest?

Maybe because the normal unused plastic bags are in that sheet you can just peel one off and it is easily opened up thanks to the design of the plastic bag holder. While if I was recycling them they are probably a wadded bundle inside another plastic bag.

Starbucks claims that their new strawless lids use 9% less plastic than previous straw+lid.


Starbucks also pays customers to take their drinks in reusable cups.


I am not surprised to learn that people who have thought about the issue for more than 2 minutes have come up with a better solution than a low effort HN comment.

> It was always a feel-good hi-viz, low-impact measure given little evidence behind the measures.

I think the EU when banning this had data, they sampled garbage they found on various beaches and decided that straws are both common and easy to replace.

One interesting side-effect is the rise of the edible straw. There are other edibles as well, spoons, forks, knives and bowls - though the latter is rather an old idea.

So while the ban straws was a token gesture it does seem to have generated some creativity and movement on other fronts which at least gets peoples attention on the problem of single-use plastics.

Yeah, we have to start somewhere and we have to have the mindset that we should keep going.

I'm more worried that we dig in on the easy problems, forgetting the big, hard problems. Like plastic straws instead of fishing nets...

Why worry without evidence?

Even if the only the thing the straw ban did was inspired a whataboutism movement to pretend to care about fishing nets, it would still be a net win in terms of motivating improvement.

One problem with banning plastic straws as well is that many disabled people are dependent on them to be able to drink. AFAIK the alternatives (other kinds of straws) don't work well.

That's why they aren't all banned.

Problem? There is a solution though: https://www.sulapac.com/

In Thailand they plan to put a bit more effort in, over the next 2 years.

> End of this year, Thailand will be free from three types of plastic – microbeads, cap seals and oxo-degradable plastics – and from four other types of single-use plastics by 2022, according to a road map that got the Cabinet’s initial nod on Tuesday.

> The four single-use plastics to be rid of by 2022 are: lightweight plastic bags less than 36 microns thick; styrofoam food containers for takeaways; plastic cups and plastic straws – with the exception of those who still need to use them such as the elderly, patients and children.

I hope Thailand sticks with these plans. Plastics use is huge over here and in my opinion these plans could make a big difference.

Source: https://www.nationthailand.com/national/30367931

Siri, what is marginal utility?

Siri, what percentage of you is plastic?

> a feel-good hi-viz, low-impact measure

Isn't this all that politics is?

One problem with plastic straws is they get stuck inside creatures noses and gullets and cause them a great deal of pain. So the tonnage may be small but the damage potential is significant if you are a marine creature.

I get the sentiment behind objecting to straw bans and the like. But I think we're at a point where reducing plastic waste is becoming critical. It's everywhere. Short lived single use plastics like straws, cutlery, packing and shipping materials have to go the way of their dinosaur derived chemical components.

if you only had limited time and resources to actually change something wouldn't you want to focus on the things with most impact? Also, before banning anything do we actually have an understanding of what the environmental impact is going to be? (e.g. if producing a paper straw consumes more electricity and generates more pollution than a plastic straw ending up to actually be worse for the environment than just keeping to use the plastic ones, wouldn't you want to know this before you ban the plastic straws and force the use of paper straws?)

I did not advocate paper straws. I would much rather a change in the way we consume things. Do we need straws at all? Do we need or want a life that moves so fast that you can't stop and remove the lid to your beverage to consume it?

Plastic waste reduction needs to think bigger. This isn't about straws. It's about a wasteful throw away culture that has to adapt to a less wasteful way of life. And that will involve making sacrifices beyond paper straws.

Does an AMD threadripper need to come in a huge gaudy plastic display case? Does amazon need to send a thumb sized trinket in a 10x12 plastic bubble envelope? Why does my gadget come in a fancy box that needs to be placed in another box filled with foam packing peanuts or plastic bags full of air? All that wasteful packaging does is clog landfills and waterways. But people foolishly praise it as in the case of the horribly wasteful AMD packing. It's environmentally tone deaf.

i understand that you were not advocating for paper straws. that was just an example

I sometimes see biodegradable packing peanuts that resemble tasteless Cheese puffs used as alternative. So much better, I wonder why the styrofoam puffs are even still allowed.

Another side note, look at this sign that I've seen aboard vessels: https://vesselplacards.com/product/garbage-overboard-marpol-...

It basically states "Don't throw garbage overboard, You could be breaking the law" as if it being illegal should be the only reason not to dump your waste in the environment.

"resemble tasteless Cheese puffs"

Resemble in looks or taste?

Both. They're made of corn starch, which is what puffy Cheetos are made of, and manufactured literally the same way, except without the cheese flavor powder mixed in. They taste like "nothing" (well, they probably taste like pure corn starch but I've never eaten that so I don't have a reference.)

Source: a member of my immediate family worked at a company that manufactured them and brought home many samples. We'd freak people out by eating them. The joke was always "What do you pack packing material in for shipping?"

Out of curiosity, do you risk rodent infestations using those? I would imagine rodents/bugs happily eat most human food, cheese puffs included, so if this is literally the same won't it suffer rodent risk?

The warehouse I worked in had a rodent infestation, they didn't eat the edible packing peanuts as far as I could tell though. -- never saw any with bites out of them and they didn't noticeably disappear.

As an aside, don't drink from beer/pop cans without washing the tops.

I'm sure theres a joke about Carling/Budweiser/whatever here.

Edit, got it: Don't do that, you'll wipe away all the flavour!

Esprit de l'escalier

Oh that last sentence brought too many imaginative images of me drinking from cans. I will forget i ever read that.

please elaborate on why not? I would think they'd have to be relatively sterile. Boxes are stacked flat, can tops must be in a pringles style stack until they're assembled into a can.

Where are they contaminated?

I remember a story going around about people dying from rat urine on soda cans [1], but the veracity of the claim is questionable.

[1] https://www.hoax-slayer.net/leptospirosis-death-warning-rat-...

For soda/beer cans, wipe a damp cloth on them and try to get into that little moat around the top. It's almost always filthy.

I don't work in an industry where I encounter bulk packing materials day-to-day. I would assume the answer is "yes"? Any large warehouse for any type of product using any type of packing material probably suffers rodent risk. At least, any warehouse I've ever been in.

I use these. While theoretically they can attract pests, I've never noticed any biological activity associated with them.

I used to work in shipping/receiving. Everyone there ate them at least once on a lark. They don't taste like nothing, but they really don't taste like much. Not as crunchy as cheetos, but i'd honestly rather eat them than cheetos.

I wonder if they would be like stale cheetos, that would make sense, ha. I agree with your statements.

Look AND taste. They are starch-based, biodegradable and nontoxic. Not very tasty but I've tried one!

A bit of both

I mean one thing does not take away from the other, it's necessary to stop wasting so many fish nets, AND reduce single-use plastics, AND fish less, etc. It's not OR it's AND.

This leads to reasoning like "it's fishing nets the actual issue, I might as well continue throwing a full trash can full of packages every 3 days".

It's not true, fishing nets is actually only 45%, the other 55% we can still work on that's a lot, it's the majority. Another way is to just stop eating fish.

In my local supermarket, if I want to buy 4 peaches they come in a plastic container wrapped in a transparent plastic sheet, not kidding.

agree that we have to work on multiple things, but the point was that a disproportionate amount of resources are placed behind getting rid of something that is a drop in the bucket. it's not "should we get rid of A or B?" We agree it's A and B, but we need to focus on the thing that has the bigger impact first.

> we need to focus on the thing that has the bigger impact first

Why is this, why wait to solve the fishing net problems before taking other measures?

I see this line of thought a lot here in Hacker News, especially in topics related to climate change for example.

These things can and should be tackled in parallel at the same time. We can all take responsibility personally, how about trying to use less single-use plastics, buy in local grocery shops more with reusable bags, and stop eating fish?

We can all do that, we don't need to wait for some international fishing committee to decide for years on what is the best way to change the rules on how nets can be made or handled.

Everyone everywhere could change thousands of things about their daily lives and things would be perfect. This has been true since the dawn of time. It's never happened and most don't think it's realistic for it to suddenly happen now. This is why people want to focus change on the things that matter the most first, they know not everything is going to change.

That being said if anyone is up for the challenge personally go for it! That's completely different than wondering why society as a whole focuses on impactful problems first.

I think that thought is removing responsibility from the individual, the thought of "I don't have to do anything, someone else will fix it".

Society is not an abstract entity, its all of us, we are the society. The responsibility is of each and every individual and not governments.

Governments are elected by individuals to represent their viewpoints. Governments will not act on these issues unless there are enough individual voters supporting these views, politicians, as usual, will only do and say what is popular and gets them elected.

Governments are a reflection of the thoughts and beliefs of the people that vote for them. The real responsibility is of the individual.

If people are so worried about the impact of fishing nets, then stop eating fish and directly supporting that industry. Its completely a matter of personal choice, fish is optional for a healthy diet and nobody is flushing it down people's throats.

Do you have the experience of triaging bugs/features at work? There's always more problems then we can solve at once. There is only so many man hours/money/attention available.

I'm not sure which approach this analogy supports.

Sometimes it makes sense to fix small obvious issues quickly ("oops, forgot to check for null here") before diving into potentially worse but more complicated problems ("user who signed up on legacy plan reports that some playlists are incomplete in new app").

Sometimes there's such a high impact issue that you have to try to address it immediately, even if you suspect that it will involve a hellish trek through the least-maintained code in the whole company before you can even isolate a reproducible test case.

And if you have multiple developers working on bugs, one person may be doing the first while a different person is handling the second.

There are different ways/philosophies to triage; but the fact remains that you have to triage. That's all I wanted to argue. You have to pick and choose what to work on, so, in the context of environmental-protections, it's worth arguing the merits of different problems/solutions IMO.

ha. i was originally thinking performance optimizations but I like your example more

Extensive air pollution from China or India that surpasses the West also doesn't seem to get much attention, e.g. [1] [2]

Greta visited the US and gave some compelling speeches. Will she visit China and India and do the same?

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2018/07/01/china-emits-...

[2] https://qz.com/india/1581665/indias-carbon-emissions-growing...

It gets loads of attention, not least as both India and China have developed way beyond the free "developing nation" pass they got in previous climate agreements. Which plenty said was a big mistake at the time, but we are where we are.

No doubt if the climate movement in China and India invite her, she might well go. Well, perhaps not China as they lack freedom of association and speech. There have been protests in HK though. I doubt there is even as much in China as in Russia.

Russia has school strikes for climate consisting of one person demonstrating, changing places with another every hour or two[1]. That's because two or more demonstrating would fall foul of restrictions, as would anyone under 18.

[1] (Photos, text in Cyrillic): https://twitter.com/Fridaysforfut20/status/11776740588482478...

HK's protesting bandwidth will likely be saturated for the foreseeable future by domestic political concerns.

If you were a rising country coming up from behind in a world where the US dominates, would you want to reduce your growth to ensure you don't catch up to the rest of the world as quickly?

You might if you were one of the nations most likely to be harmed by near-term climate change, and you were already dealing with a severe water crisis to boot.


The original idea was meant to avoid that. Many of the developed nations expected to contribute some sort of levy or subsidy, and try to help developing nations short cut their way past simply repeating all of our fossil-centric development trajectory. The earliest pre-Kyoto UN talks often seemed to be thinking along those lines. Sadly some nations - especially the US - weren't willing.

My guess is Greta focuses on people who can actually be influenced. Americans have access to a free press and information about how we use our energy or pollute. And being the richest nation in the world, we certainly have some responsibility for how we live our lives and the effects it has on the Earth.

Communicating with China and having the ability to effectively influence their policy is a much more difficult task.

It's not just China or India. It's the entirety of Southeast Asia and West Africa for much of the year too (typically starting in the next month or so). I've lived in Southeast Asia for a couple of years of my life and even had to move my family out of Thailand because the pollution is so bad (not just air pollution).

AirVisual [1] shows the impact of these areas pretty dramatically. At times, the air pollution in Africa is so bad that its impact can be felt directly in Brasil.

[1] https://www.airvisual.com/earth?nav

A lot of that air pollution is emitted producing products for the US & European markets.

Exactly. It's pollution that we directly benefit from, it's not fair to think our countries are better at the protecting the environment when everything we buy is made there instead of having the dirty factories/industries in our own countries.

It's interesting seeing how the Right is changing it's rhetoric as public opinion changes.

A few years ago it was "this isn't happening" now it's "these other people do it far worse than we do."

True, the right has been in outright denial of the facts, but the left has also been in denial about the contribution its policies have to the problem - they after all have been the cheerleaders for globalisation. No one is going to come out of this smelling of roses.

The "Left" (not the democrats) was not a cheerleader for globalization.

I also don't buy that if everyone was producing at smaller scales at home, this problem would be at all better. This is a consumption problem, not a "globalization" problem.

Ok, what counts as the "left" in the US and most European countries promoted globalization - the unreconstituted hard left, sure, not so much.

I agree with you that this is a consumption problem, but globalization is what has driven consumption for the past 30 years.

What? It’s the right in almost every country that has promoted globalization. Labor parties around the world, and the democrats in the US up until Bill Clinton, were staunchly opposed.

> democrats in the US up until Bill Clinton, were staunchly opposed.

That's a hell of a caveat.

Shrug, parties change. The democrats ceased to be a party of the left by any measure from 1992-2016. That’s just about a quarter century. Clinton took the party hard right.

The “right” in the US is now staunchly in favor of trade wars instead of free trade. Not what you’d expect given their history.

What aboutism is all well and good. But climate change is a much bigger planet wide threat compared to local air pollution in India and China, which mostly affects locals in India and China. On a per capita basis the western world, especially USA, contribute the most co2 emissions. So that is where the climate protests should start. And dumping all kinds of what aboutism criticisms on a 16 year old is not a good look.

Why are per capita statistics more important than total emissions? Are the glaciers going to reform because China also has a billion people? China produces more than double the raw amounts of CO2 than the USA. Though I am willing to shift some of the blame to countries who outsource their manufacturing to China.


>>Why are per capita statistics more important than total emissions?

Why should a grouping of people called "country" be more important than per capita? You can always find a group that is larger than you, but it is still not a good excuse for not changing what you do. I would say it is selfish to expect mostly emerging markets to change, when it is the developed world that is mostly to blame

Only 58% of the population in china lives in cities and therefore is responsible for pollution. The other 42% are most likely emitting almost nothing. Telling them to cut their emissions even further isn't going to work. Meanwhile Americans with their pickup trucks and 30 minute commutes could trivially change their carbon footprint by simply getting a more efficient car.

it comes down to standard of living. if you're a developed country you have the luxury to care about the environment. if you are playing catch-up and are also aggressively building/developing the resources you use and the waste you generate are going to have a totally different profile.

> Why are per capita statistics more important than total emissions?


> Greta visited the US[...]

Yes, to address the United Nations.

...don’t forget the opportunistic appearance before Congress.

I was struggling with your use of "opportunistic". That word typically implies unethical behavior. Is that what you meant?

Had the opportunity to and acted on it. Parent mentioned UN, but she also visited other places in the US like the Congress.

You probably wanted the word “opportune” instead, then.

You literally just linked to two large publications talking about the issues you think don't get attention. India/China air pollution is pretty well known - it was in the media for decades now.

It was actually bad enough, that Beijing was apparently fixing it for the last 20 years: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/27645/...

Per capita US pollutes more than China and India. Using Anything besides per capita isnt a valid measurement because a it doesn’t treat people equally.

I believe the issue is that they aren't denying the effects like the Trump administration is.

This is a whataboutism that distracts from actually doing anything meaningful about climate change. We can't fix the entire problem, but combating climate change will require everyone to do as much as they can - so we should get to doing our part in transforming our economy.

Please don't troll here. Pollution in those countries gets massive attention. The mainstream news articles you cited are an example. Those countries are part of the UN and Global community that is covered by the Global climate strike. Much of China's pollution is in industry manufacturing exports to the rest of the world.

If you have good faith interest in reducit pollution, please contribute efforts to reducing pollution, not backseat driving another volunteer. Greta Thunberg doesn't owe you anything.

Tbh there are so many things we can change at home already. This tiny pack of reusable straws(https://bit.ly/2nReQyG) has lasted my kids almost a year. Literally zero waste. Trump's the paper straws even! It's the little things..

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