Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Waste, trash, garbage

What attracts me to garbage? That invites a potentially impolite response but it has been a long-standing fascination. The Productivity Commission released its draft Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency report today and it promises to be a good read – it’s a long document so it will take environmental analysts time to get their head around the whole thing. Note the PC is again embarking on an environmental mission - it is running out of other industries to reform!

One immediate fun conclusion, already taken up by The Age, this morning is that the long-discussed campaign to scrap the use of plastic bags might not be worth the effort. Generally recycling options need not make much sense. Quote:

‘….while more Australians are recycling than ever before, it can be a costly and ineffective method of reducing waste….

Presiding commissioner Philip Weickhardt said the reduction in plastic shopping bags had simply resulted in more Australians buying large rubbish bin bags. ‘Before you ban them, you need to think carefully about whether there are cheaper options,’ he said. ‘This appears to be a heavy-handed approach’.’
Basically most bags are used to package household garbage and end up being disposed of without significant environmental harm. My friends in the green movement will dispute it but economic logic not greenie romanticism again reveals itself to be the key decision-making discipline in the environmental area.


Patrick said...

I've always hated every single effort by shops to reduce plastic bags. 'Would you like that in a bag? - Oh no, that's alright, my two-year-old will carry it for me!

This reminds me, though, of some recent study on landfills - apparently, plastic bags are better than thought at decomposing, too, and only take up a 10th of the space of paper ones.

conrad said...

The plastic bag people might have some argument about it being more than a useless feel good campaign if every single product you bought didn't come in plastic and you could actually bring in your own containers to refill things.

There are fact some countries in the world where you pay for what you chuck out, but they allow people to bring back the packaging material to where they bought it, and not surprisingly this leads to far less packaging. I don't see this as viable in Australia, as I guess it would just lead to people littering the streets.

Jan said...

I believe your statement 'Basically most bags are used to package household garbage' si simply incorrect (and I am not 'in the green movement'). You seem not to be the one who does the shopping in your family... My estimate would be that 1 or 2 out of every acquired bag is used in such a way. I do not know much about the current efficiency of recycling but one thing is clear: with the advances in technology that will make recycling more efficient in the future this seems to be the right direction in the change of our thinking and behaviour. Patrick, you failed to mention that getting your two year old to carry your shopping is not your only alternative, how about bringing a normal bag if you know you are going shopping - is it too much of a sacrifice?

pedaller said...

We decided to become a plastic-bag-free family last year.
After 2 months we ran out of stored plastic bags to line the bin with.
All the garbage goes straight into the bin.
Now we have to wash empty tins etc before putting them into the wheelie bin just so that we can keep the smelly bin within walking distance of the house.
And, we have to thoroughly clean the bins every week (as opposed to once a month or so previously).
This leads to the question of what is more important, conserving water or using plastic bags?

Lucy Tartan said...

We don't use plastic or paper bags, we have a dozen or so calico bags that get taken to the shops and washed when they need it. I started doing it because of not liking the way plastic and excess paper clutters up the house .

observa said...

I just can't wait for the legislation to define a 'plastic shopping bag' and all the other euphemisms shopkeepers are going to call them. Would you like a free environmental 'doggy do bag' and fries with that sir?

David said...

I believe in Ireland a tax was introduced on plastic bags. Has anyone estimated the elasticity of substitution between plastic shopping bags and plastic garbage bags (was this in the PC report) If so this would give us an idea of the effect.

Patrick said...

Fine, jan, I'll just speak for myself where the vast majority of plastic bags are used for the household waste.

As for taking my own bags, I often stop to shop on my way home, or after going to the creche, etc. You'll be delighted to know that I try and walk not drive, but obviously this reduces my desire to carry silly bags with me.

Fwiw, one of the things I hated about France was that you were supposed to bring your own bags - to the point where the checkouter would reluctantly give you one or two bags at a time when you asked for them, at least until realising that the whole line was about to form a coalition and kill him/her (In France you actually pack your own bags). To make things 10 times worse, the bags they did give you where especially weak, so often broke and thus rendered themselves unsuitable for household waste.