Damning assessment of governments plastic bag virtue-signalling

This government is following the course of Helen Clark’s, no real substance but big on virtue-signalling and nanny-statism.

The latest policy is a ban on plastic bags despite it not even being a problem in New Zealand. Economist Michael Reddell has looked at the policy and is astonished and not in a good way: Quote:

There is a reason why we do not let primary school children make policy or vote.  They are children, precious and growing but prone to all the enthusiasms of children, easily influenced, and not responsible (as taxpayers or anything else) for their expressed preferences.   And yet, as the Prime Minister was reported, it seemed that the fact that lots of school children had written to her about plastic shopping bags was almost enough in itself to justify a decision to ban them.  And how many of those letters in turn were subtly –  or not so subtly –  prompted by teachers, themselves disproportionately likely (at least based on the sample I’ve seen over 10 years and four schools) to be Labour and Greens supporting?  Has a child in central Wellington ever came home enthused by a teacher regaling them with the creative wonders of the market, of innovation, or prosperity?  (Let alone any other traditional virtues.)

Having now read the government’s consultative document on the planned ban on plastic shopping bags, I was pretty staggered by how bad it was.   Since the document is actually released under the name of the Ministry for the Environment, has the New Zealand public service now sank to such a low level of “analysis” and evaluation?  Or were they simply overruled by ministers with an agenda, and no analysis?  Either way, there is little positive that can be said for it.   

Just for clarity –  since this didn’t really come through in the media reporting I saw – this is what it is proposed to ban:

A new plastic bag (including one made of degradable plastic) which has handles and is below a maximum level of thickness. The terms ‘plastic’ and ‘degradable’ (including ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ and ‘oxo-degradable’) would be defined in regulations with reference to international standards.

Thus, oddly, of the 31 bags I brought home from the supermarket the other day, only 15 will be outlawed.  But there is no hint in the document as to why one sort of bag –  that one might put beans or apples in, or in which bread rolls might come wrapped –  is less problematic environmentally than the bags (with handles) that I might then carry the groceries home with.

Since one tends to notice these things once attention is drawn to them, I’m also relieved to find that the two newspapers a day that arrive at our house will still be able to be wrapped in plastic (definitely never re-used after it is ripped open), and that the various magazines that arrive each week wrapped in plastic will also still be okay.  But why?  What is the difference?    Will the bag my newspaper was in be less likely to blow round than the bags the groceries were in?  No evidence or argument is offered.

It is a simply incoherent approach, apparently grounded on no analysis whatever (at least none they have sufficient confidence in to expose to scrutiny –  perhaps it will biodegrade in sunlight?)  End quote.

That is brutal. But wait there is more:Quote:

As it is, the document highlights just how small a problem – if “problem” they are – plastic bags are.   Here is total use

Industry estimates of current consumption in New Zealand of standard supermarket single-use shopping bags are 154 bags per person per year. This is about 750 million bags per year, or about 0.01 per cent by weight of total waste in levied landfills.

0.01 per cent of landfill waste.

There is more

Published urban litter count data does not differentiate plastic shopping bags from ‘unclassified packaging’, which makes up 10.8 per cent by count in ‘visible litter’. Takeaway food and drink packaging makes up an estimated 40.2 per cent, and non-packaging litter makes up 42.4 per cent.

And recall that the proposed ban isn’t going to ban all plastic shopping bags, only the ones with handles, which must make up quite a small proportion of even that 10.8 per cent of total “unclassified packaging”.  End quote.

So, not actually a problem then. But wait there is more:Quote:

Or take these (unverified) estimates from various “coastal clean-up events”

Figure 1: Coastal clean-up data, New Zealand, top litter categories by … weight

plastics 2

(the orange bars are items wholly/largely made of plastic).

So even if you were wanting to focus policy on the potential impact of plastic litter on marine life etc, it is far from clear why you would make a start on plastic bags (again, recall that the class of plastic bags the government proposes to ban is only a fraction –  no estimates from them as to what fraction –  of total plastic bags).  Rope and buoys/floats do rather stand out, as do plastic drink bottles.    As I read the consultative document, it is all plastic, and will also break down over time into stuff that might do bad stuff to marine life or even humans.   But the government is just coming for our shopping bags.  End quote.

And it gets worse:Quote:

So what is the rush?  Why not do your evaluation rigorously and robustly, clearly identifying your assumptions when there is (as there always is) inevitable uncertainty?  And how about pricing the option of waiting, or incentivising the development of genuinely biodegradable bags?

But actually the clue to what is going here is actually repeated several times in the document, this from the Executive Summary.

plastics 3

In other words, we want to be in your face about it, and we can inconvenience almost everyone. End quote.

So, it is all about nanny-statism when you get down to tin tacks. it won’t do any thing at all other than cost people more, deliver less and deliver super-profits to the supermarket cartels who are laughing all the way to shareholder prosperity.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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