Maybe there are a few members of South Australia’s Labor Government who have a brain, or at least part of one.

But any government which could introduce a measure so utterly pointless and so clearly going to cause major inconvenience to most of its constituents as a ban on plastic shopping bags, is not overly blessed in research skills and independent thinking.

Some months ago I wrote to politicians and to our local paper to say just how silly I thought this was.

Alas, it made no difference, and next Monday is the day. A sword day, a red day. Or at least a very annoying day.

This is the letter. I apologise for the lack of links – it was written for print publication.

Dear Editor,

Plastic shopping bags are cheap and have a variety of uses. I have used them as lunch bags, bin liners, rubbish bags in the car, to carry wet towels back from the beach, or as litter bags when I pick up rubbish on the side of the road. Eighty percent of plastic shopping bags are re-used in some way, and they make up less than one percent of litter.

Why would anyone want to ban such a cost-effective and useful invention?

Both the present state government and Peter Garrett, the Federal Minister for Plastic Bags and Pussy Cats, quote a study which they say shows 100,000 marine animals are killed each year by plastic bags. Shocking!

Or it would be if it were true. The study, published in Canada in 1987, estimated that between 1981 and 1984 as many as 100,000 marine mammals and birds were killed or injured by fishing equipment – mainly ropes and nets. The study did not even mention plastic bags.

How did a study which estimated 100,000 animals killed or injured by fishing equipment over three years morph into 100,000 animals a year killed by shopping bags? One might be kind and suggest this was an honest mistake.

But I suspect it means that the agenda is more important than the facts. Certainly it confirms a view that both State and Federal governments are more concerned about appearing to do the right thing than actually doing it.

Another nonsensical anti-bag claim was made by John Dee, the founder of Planet Ark, who in 2006 said he had been inundated with calls from farmers saying calves and other livestock had been killed by choking on plastic bags. I had never heard of this when I worked for the United Graziers Association – later AgForce –  and calls to the National Farmers Federation and the Cattle Council confirm that they have not had a single report of such an incident.

One of the issues with a ban on plastic bags is that it is not plastic bags or nothing – plastic bags will have to be replaced by something else. What? Those vile looking ‘green’ shopping bags may make people feel better as they stuff them full of plastic milk containers, plastic meat trays, plastic bags of fruit, plastic packets of biscuits, etc.  They are a public demonstration of concern about the environment, much like driving a Toyota Pious, sorry Prius, but they are worse for the environment than ordinary plastic bags.

Each ‘green’ bag contains about fifty times as much plastic as an ordinary shopping bag. They are made of polypropylene. Unlike bio-degradable shopping bags, which break down over about twelve months, polypropylene virtually never breaks down. In addition, ordinary plastic shopping bags are made in Australia with strict environmental and emission controls. Polypropylene nags, sorry bags, are made in China, with no such controls, and then have to be transported to Australia.

Paper bags are another option. Except they’re not.

Paper bags are simply not as useful as plastic bags, and if plastic bags are banned people will have to buy more bin liners, rubbish bags, lunch bags, etc to replace them. In addition, paper bags take three times as much energy to produce as plastic bags. Apart from wasteful use of energy resources, this also means that paper bags are at least three times more expensive.

The environment is too important for us to be distracted by ’feel good’ projects which do more harm than good.

Despite bans or bag ladies, I will continue to offer my customers bio-degradable plastic shopping bags until they are no longer available, or I am off dragged for re-education.

Peter Wales
American River

The ‘Bag Ladies’ were a marauding mob of well-meaning (I assume) ladies who had taken it upon themselves to stop people in the street and harass them about the evils of using plastic shopping bags. We haven’t seen them of late. Thank heaven for small mercies.

I still have a supply of some hundreds of plastic shopping bags, and will take my own to the supermarket for as long as they hold out.

We shall overcome, etc.