Single use?

I like plastic bags. They are simple, easy to use and I keep a stock of them for all sorts of things. Hell, I’m even starting to hoard them, as I know they are going to be phased out soon and I don’t know what I am going to do without them.


When you stop and think about it, the humble plastic bag is a remarkable triumph of technology. It costs a couple of cents to make, holds a thousand times its own weight, is waterproof, surprisingly durable, and 100 per cent recyclable. After carrying your groceries home, it might hold feijoas off the tree, your togs and towel, dirty rugby boots, and then end its life as a bin liner.

Having grown up with a ready supply of these miraculous freebies, I have mixed feelings about their imminent demise. Even if the Government doesn’t follow through on its proposed ban, the supermarkets will phase them out by the end of this year.

The big question is what will replace them. It’s counterintuitive, but plastic bags are far more energy efficient than any of the other options. Paper’s out – it causes seven times more global warming than a plastic bag reused as a bin liner. A cotton bag would have to be used 327 times to break even with plastic, and trendy “organic” cloth bags are hopelessly inefficient.

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Cloth bags will get wet and mouldy with children’s discarded swimming togs in them. What about discarded uncooked meat wrappers? In my house, they go into a plastic bag and then into the bin. What am I going to do now?

None of my plastic bags go into the ocean. They are either recycled or sent to the landfill. So, we are being punished because people in other countries can’t dispose of their plastic bags properly?

The supermarket chains can’t believe their luck. The overseas experience suggests they’re about to receive a massive boost in the sale of bin liners, which they essentially gave away for free all these years, and come out of the whole thing looking like heroes, despite potentially making global warming worse.

Aha. And it makes them look like the champions of the planet. And all the while making more money out of stupid virtue-signalling Greenies.

So why have plastic bags been singled out as the devil incarnate, despite being a miniscule part of the problem? “Ban the bag” campaigners say it’s low-hanging fruit that gives us an easy win. The more cynical explanation is that it lets us feel the righteous pride of doing our bit, without having to make any real sacrifices.

And that is it. We are saving the planet. One plastic bag at a time. Except for the fact that we are not.

Banning plastic bags is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s not important to make a difference, as long as you look like you’re making a difference; preferably with a limited edition hemp tote that has a cute picture of a seal on it and only cost $2.

Giving the remarkable plastic bag the respect it deserves is as simple as reducing, reusing, and being a tidy Kiwi. If you want to be truly virtuous, a meaningful lifestyle change is required.

Here is the interesting bit about this article. I have always wondered how someone like Lucy Lawless can climb to the top of a piece of rigging, hold placards against drilling for oil in the Arctic… and then climb down, jump into an SUV and go home? Well, here, it appears, is the answer.

There’s a flaw in our psychology called “moral licensing”, which makes us less inclined to behave virtuously after we’ve already done some token good deed. This is how someone can pilot a two-tonne SUV from their massive home filled with stuff, emerge from the supermarket with an eco-bag full of packaging, shrink-wrapped slabs of miserable animal flesh, and plastic junk “collectables”, and still see themselves as someone who cares about the environment. After all, they’ve done their bit.

So, holding up the placard and calling for an end to oil drilling is more effective than… driving an SUV? Oh, right. I get it.

Actually, no. I don’t.

In the meantime, a useful, cheap everyday item is going to disappear and be replaced by reusable bags that use up natural resources, or reduce hygiene, or cost more, or all of the above, because… it makes eco-warriors feel good? And that’s it?

Hands off my plastic bags. I have plenty of uses for them, and it is not my fault if people in other countries cannot handle their rubbish properly. And I don’t think that, here in New Zealand, we should be punished just because of that.


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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.