It also quotes the old study that people barely ever reuse their reusable bags, when I think more people are far more well-aware now and reuse the hell out of reusable bags. Mine have been used for 5 years now, several times a week.
It's a slop-filled hit piece that tries using "environmentalist" as a slur. It's not hard to walk outside and see plastic garbage laying around--increasing by the year--and knowing it'll be there well beyond my lifetime, and knowing some countries are several times worse. I've been to some of those countries and seen piles of plastic bags and wrappers lining streets. It's a problem that will only grow and have compounding damage.
For example, yogurt. Ubiquitous. Comes in nice little plastic cups, which will, at best, end up in a landfill. Suppose there is a wide agreement in society to phase these plastic cups out:
* Do we ban yogurt?
* Do we use recyclable glass instead?
* Do we use recyclable glass, and only dispense yogurt if you bring a recyclable container for an exchange?
* Do we use recyclable glass, only dispense in exchange for a recyclable container, and standardize container shape such that the recycling actually recycles, as opposed to sending the "recycled" container to a landfill anyways?
* Do we limit the amount of yogurt containers one can buy in a given timeframe?
* Do we create a heavy tax on the container, say 10x the price of the content?
Life is short and people may get overwhelmed by too many details. Problem which compounds if there is too much choice. Almost always better to have a standard recipe to follow, than having to figure out a recipe on a case by case basis.
That’s how it works in Germany, but there are plenty of yoghurts sold in non-deposit plastic, for which the seller has to pre-pay the disposal fees.
That is the key idea, it is just a process towards that and in the meantime you got to reduce plastic usage somehow.
However, your option list has enough glaring omissions that it seems as much of a hit list as the article:
1. Eliminating disposable packaging is a worthy goal but reducing the harm of individual disposable packaging materials is always going to be part of the solution in the medium term, and there is PLENTY of innovation in this area. Not least in less environmentally intensive disposable yoghurt containers.
2. You keep repeating "recyclable" but never "reusable". e.g. ceramic is also used for yoghurt containers where I live, as well as glass, and it's common to see both types of familiar-looking pots reused throughout households.
3. Other commenters have mentioned larger containers (which incidentally is what I do). Reusing every reusable container might become unwieldy if you're buying a few dozen single-serves per shop but if you're consuming that much yoghurt then big containers are going to be much better in many ways.
4. I haven't seen this happen with yoghurt just yet but it's extremely common to have bulk stores with refill facilities for milk, syrups, honeys, peanut butters, dry foods & washing liquids, so I see no reason this couldn't happen for yoghurt.
Is it more polluting to manufacture or transport glass? If it's transport, our trajectory is heading to EVs, so that would leave the cost of recycling/manufacture which seems like it would scale well and also benefit from lowering costs of green energy in the long-term.
Unless we can get to reusable glass. Living in US and walking the aisles of the local supermarket, I don't see how that's possible. The glass-packaged foods come from all around the world, with each company apparently intent on having its own distinctive glass shape. As 'recyclable' material ends up in the landfill more often than not for cost reasons, it seems a monumental task to build a 'reverse distribution' path to send back glass containers thousands a miles away to their original producer for reuse.
Humans are smart enough to solve this, what we're missing is policy.
Buy yogurt in 1L or 5L reusable buckets and you get rid of a huge part of the problem
That's true for a lot of products in the US. The "invisible hand" has no options.
I agree, (anecdotally) every time I go to the supermarket I notice that the vast majority of people walking towards the supermarket are carrying reusable bags. This wasn't the case just a year ago when it'd be very rare to see even a single person bringing their own bags.
Pretty much everyone I ask (including myself) has way too many bags. I've got a full drawer of reusable bags, and it keeps growing. While I'm totally onboard with tote bags, you can't always plan when you'll be buying, so I don't see the disposable bag (maybe not plastic though) as being something that can be eliminated.
Because of the pandemic now, though, the store doesn't want me to reuse the paper ones. But I'll resume once the pandemic is over.
The number of plastic bags, bottles, and cups I picked up out of a nature area was amazing. Plastic bags were by far the worst. There was plastic bags in waterways, plastic bags in ditches, plastic bags in trees, just plastic everywhere.
I'd love to know if the person who wrote this article has any financial ties to the oil/plastic industry.
Side note: While I picked up litter, I thought about how I once saw disposable utensils in a grocery store that were mostly made from corn. They were biodegradable, but certainly more expensive. We (in the U.S.) already subsidize quite a bit to corn growers. Why can't we make more biodegradable plastics?
Time scale is clearly an issue with your statement (that is repeated over and over).
If I was, it would be, don’t rely on supposedly biodegradable plastic. Do they really do anything in a biologically inert environment?
It's so sad that the people who are growing up with this don't know its not normal, .. for the sea spray to be partially polystyrene,.. for the sand to be stratified with nets,
I think the war on plastic represents our collective awareness of human harms to our planet. Whether the solutions we come up with are expensive, ineffective or even somewhat harmful isn't more important than the fact that we are beginning to factor human impact into our economic models. Dealing with the harms of plastics today isn't really the problem to solve - creating ways for us to factor in those harms and prevent/manage them over the long-term is.
It is worth engaging with the article on its merits, irrespective of where it appears. One learns most from people who think differently from oneself.
I agree with the article as far as this: -
1. Some (many?) people use recycling as a "license to pollute". "I recycle everything I can. I deserve my twice-yearly holiday that's a six hour plane flight each way."
2. Focusing on recycling takes finite attention away from bigger issues, like meat consumption, flying, and coal power.
3. Recycling is meant to be a last resort. The first thing to do is reduce.
4. Post-consunmer recycling is dirty, dangerous and difficult, and in many places most of what people virtuously put in recycling bins ends up in landfill anyway.
It'd be nice if environmental groups could get together and agree to focus on the big issues: coal usage, passenger flying, and meat. But that's not how humans work, it seems.
Now, digging into the points you make:
> 2. Focusing on recycling takes finite attention away from bigger issues, like meat consumption, flying, and coal power.
I have two issues with this:
1. The focus on recycling is itself a deflection maneuver from the Packaging and Petro-Chemical groups. Recycling and the shifting of responsability and 'guilt' from industry to consumers is an incredibly succesful cost externalization for the petro-chemical and packaging industries.
2. All the examples of 'bigger issues' you refer are areas where there is more Carbon/Methane emissions. However, the issue everybody has against plastic was never the issues of emissions but the calamity of microplastics.
Microplastics have created a defacto man made plastic geological epoch. They have by now contaminated our food sources, our water supplies, and have contaminated the whole water cycle to the point that they can be found in alpine glaciar ice. More worryingly there is now strong evidence on the hormonal and fertility disruption in both humans and animals due to microplastic absorption/ingestion.
So Plastic is indeed a _huge_ issue not due to emissions but due to it's disruption in our ecosystems and our health.
Wait, but Environmental groups do focus on those things too. So They like Solar and renewables but it has nothing to do with coal?!?!
Why do you think they don’t focus on those things too? They aren’t one trick ponies.
"Too" is the problem. I think they're not enough of one-trick ponies.
Coal. Let's just focus on eliminating the use of coal.
Putting on my tinfoil hat...
There were quite a few past posts recently about how plastic is not that economical feasible to recycle, about how the Packaging and Petro-Chemical industry is offloading costs to the 'recycling movement', and about how plastic is creating mass scale health issues with hormonal disruption in both animals and humans.
Those posts gained traction because the issue is beyond obvious and the general population is concerned. This likely triggered the alarms in the industry who then payed to slip some "counter-argument" piece into HN.
I understand that there is no obvious technological solution and that there is no 'economically' interesting replacement for our society's plastic addiction. Nevertheless, going all 'tobacco industry' on this issue is only going to buy them time. They should put the money from their stealth PR into actual R&D instead, in order to solve this mess.
Data point: the OP has 98K+ karma and has been a member since 2007. His/her submission history also seems to be mostly informative. Tin foil hat indeed.
I am not questioning the authenticity of Alex's submission but if you think old accounts can't be bought or rented, for the reward of being able to shape public opinion, then you are in for a surprise.
Any forum, once it becomes big enough and relevant enough to shape public opinion, will eventually be used by lobby/PR people.
Here’s another data point though, starting with the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign with Iron Eyes Cody in the 70’s, the Petroleum Industry’s PRopaganda position has been to transfer responsibility for the scourge of single-use plastics from their industry to the citizenry. This article, if propped up by Big Oil, would represent a major departure from that position.
I have since switched to using soda cans. Cut the ends off, slice up the side, and flatten it. It makes for marvelous leak and flashing patch material. So far it has lasted for years :-)
“The Manhattan Institute is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.”
It’s think tanks like these actively disseminating dressed up garbage like this article that is a big source of our current political issues.
Literally in other news on their site “ Let’s Hold On to the Throwaway Society Disposable products are sanitary, efficient, and environmentally sound.”
Saying this garbage with a straight face is the most galling part of this whole enterprise.
Here’s the fake news folks.
That the plastics industry lied and deceived the public that plastics weren't being turned into environmental waste is not the justification for continuing to put plastic into the environment.
The author then begins a political attack by calling all regulation elitist and framing them as puritan.
The author describes no solution other than removal of all regulations. This results in the tragedy of the commons and why our waters are filled with plastic particles.
But it does make some rich people richer when they can continue to manufacture and sell cheap disposable garbage.
Before, the bags were thicker, and it would survive a trip home. So these were reusable. Then, they made the bags thinner, especially from the supermarkets, and the bag would fail, and get punctured, so you had to throw them away. Thus, these flimsy bags were non-reusable.
Now, I have to buy brand new plastic bags in bulk, just to fulfill my usage needs, when before the ban, we got them for free.
I imagine there are other use cases as well, not just medical. Being medical waste, it is unlike to be dumped in the sea.
We seem to be conflating an attack on plastic being poorly disposed of (or recycled) and the use of plastic.
N.B. medical supplies were exempt even in the earlier draft proposals. This was never a discussion point.
Single-use plastics should be banned where they are used purely for economic reasons. For cases where industry chooses to use plastic, then they should also take up the environmental cost of disposal/recycling.
The only reason plastic is economic in the short term is because industry is not paying for all the externalized costs associated with disposal, recycling, environmental and health degradation, etc.
For example: most of SE Asia burns their rubbish in their back yard, because there are no rubbish collection facilities. They also litter, throwing plastic waste into the gutter, because they're too busy dealing with other stuff to care. But the wealthier countries (Singapore is the classic example) don't do this and are fastidious about waste management.
It doesn't matter what issues (or proposed solutions) you look at - it could be GMOs, glyphosate, plastic, electric cars, nuclear power, bio-fuels, you name it - there is no easy answer. Some solutions are better than others, but all have some disadvantages.
It certainly doesn't help the environmental movement that many of its members display a very definite "green ideology". They go around spouting their preferred policies, ignoring or shouting down any objections (no matter how well founded). That really doesn't help our trustworthiness with the rest of society.
The nature of politics is such that we often have to pick sub-optimal solutions, and often on incomplete knowledge. But let's at least have a proper debate before settling on one solution - and not prematurely tout anything as "the only green way to go".
You can see the same thinking in his previous articles, as you noted.