Readers seem shocked by the news today that Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, on Monday called on all countries to immediately take steps to ban single-use plastic bags. His comments came with the release of a report on the growing global problem of marine litter. "Some of the litter, like thin film single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere -- there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," he said in a news release. "Other waste can be cut by boosting public awareness, and proposing an array of economic incentives and smart market mechanisms that tip the balance in favor of recycling, reducing or re-use rather than dumping into the sea." The 234-page report (warning: it's a huge file) notes that plastics are the main ingredient in marine debris:
Plastic - especially plastic bags and PET bottles - is the most pervasive type of marine litter around the world, accounting for over 80 per cent of all rubbish collected in several of the regional seas assessed. Plastic debris is accumulating in terrestrial and marine environments worldwide, slowly breaking down into tinier and tinier pieces that can be consumed by the smallest marine life at the base of the food web. Plastics collect toxic compounds that then can get into the bodies of organisms that eat the plastic. Global plastic production is now estimated at 225 million tons per year.What does this mean? Well, it is a kick in the gut for a sector of the plastics industry that was feeling pretty good after some recent victories in efforts to stop bag bans. Steiner's comments, and the UN report, generated a ton of headlines around the world. That's going to contribute to the public perception that plastic bags are clogging landfills and trashing the oceans. A former bag company owner emailed some interesting these thoughts on the issue today. He notes that the global bag-ban trend is fed by plastics' negative public perception. He blames plastics industry leaders who "led the industry into the world-wide public image toilet" by failing to devote the necessary resources to education and image-building efforts.
This is an incredible situation - a "UN", fergodsake, world-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. Regardless of one's ups and downs (assuming it hasn't yet been fatal), it's always comforting to think your professional work has made at least a few contributions to your industry and to the world, greater or lesser, in addition to building your own cash reserves. Abject "plastic product stewardship", to use their euphemism, has resulted in thousands of people being blasted as having spent their entire career - and many family fortunes - damaging the world to a greater degree. What wasted lives and assets so many of us committed to that unseen, unintended and ridiculously-accused result. No one should foolishly find comfort in not being a "single-use bag producer" today. "Single-use plastic everything" is next.That's a sobering thought, and it may be close to the truth. There's an anti-plastics bias that's evident -- supporters of the ban would tell you that it's warranted -- because Steiner isn't calling for a ban on all single-use bags -- just the plastic ones.