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196 Comments:
ridicter said 3 months ago:

I see comments pointing out that the majority of plastic pollution in oceans come from Asia/Africa. This is true, but there are two points worth considering:

1) Whenever you pay cheaply for anything made in any third world country, you're externalizing the societal cost of pollution to that country (and if it gets into the oceans, to everyone). In other words, you're not paying the true cost of that item--economically and to society and the environment.

2) As linked elsewhere: first world nations often export their trash to third world nations, masquerading as recycled materials - see spat with Philippines - https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canadian-garbage-from-phi...

O_H_E said 3 months ago:

I would also like to assert that non-western countries are very influenced by trends in North America and Europe. (Source: I am from such country in Africa, and am living in another in Asia)

Once the west establishes plastics as something for the uneducated and poor -- that they[the west] got away from, people will rush to use their fancy not-so-cheap bags.

Same with fossil fuels, recycling, carbon-related policies, ... etc

* I don't mean "uneducated and poor" literary, but just generally less fortunate people in the no-so-developed world

Related comment (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20157820)

Gibbon1 said 3 months ago:

Opinion of mine is it takes a while for people to come to a consensus that something is bad and come up with rules to mitigate it.

Three things I think of.

One is a guy talking about visiting really poor part of South American. Used to be 'clean' because people were too desperately poor to throw away anything. And later as they became less poor there was garbage everywhere. And still later and better off, less garbage.

When I was kid in the 1960's in the US there was trash everywhere. People would throw trash out car windows, leave their trash behind at parks. Toss trash in the street and dump refuse in vacant lots. Now that is both illegal and considered boorish.

Another friend mentioned riding the bus in a country in South America. 40 years ago people just tossed trash out the window. 30 years ago they'd wait till the bus was a mile outside of town. 20 years ago the bus had a trash can and people would hold onto trash till the next stop.

I think societies are slow to come to grips with and deal with negative externalities that industrial culture makes possible. The whole thing is a process.

jopsen said 3 months ago:

Yeah, we shouldn't be quick to underestimate the cultural influence from Hollywood :)

Besides, if they west goes in this direction, economies of scale might simply make single-use-plastic more expensive than the alternatives..

nostromo said 3 months ago:

> Whenever you pay cheaply for anything made in any third world country, you're externalizing the societal cost of pollution to that country

That's true maybe when it comes to atmospheric pollution, but not with plastic waste in rivers and the ocean.

The majority of plastic found in rivers and the ocean are not industrial waste but post consumer waste... things like cigarette butts, plastic bags, and food wrappers.

uhhhhhhh said 3 months ago:

>That's true maybe when it comes to atmospheric pollution, but not with plastic waste in rivers and the ocean.

A large amount of that is waste exported to those third world countries, especially plastics for recycling.

zcid said 3 months ago:

I've seen this tossed around a lot the last few months, but I've yet to see any evidence of its truth. Do you have a link to a study or some other source for this?

guessy said 3 months ago:

"China has been a major destination for Australia's recycled waste, with around 1.3 million tonnes exported in 2016–17. This accounted for 4 per cent of Australia's total recyclable waste, but included significant amounts of recyclable plastics and recyclable paper (35 per cent and 30 per cent of Australia's totals)."

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Sen...

Tsubasachan said 3 months ago:

There was a Dutch journalist who went to Poland and saw those recycling centers just burn the plastics in open pits.

This is why countries need to clean up their own mess and not sell their waste to a foreign company to be recycled offshore. But out of sight out of mind I guess.

soperj said 3 months ago:

The US was a major destination for Toronto waste. Don't know where it ends up afterwards.

gpm said 3 months ago:

Uh, I don't think the US has declined quite far enough to be called third world yet.

Disclaimer (?): Am from Toronto

sonnyblarney said 3 months ago:

If that is the case then again, the issue is on the receiving nation.

Richer nations are not externalizing their garbage, they're literally paying for it. If the receivers are not doing their job and putting it in the Earth, then that's not just some industrial by-product problem, it's point blank corruption.

Also, if it's consumer items in the Ocean, then the issue will be about where most consumers are, and how much they pollute, given that the issue might be Asia.

But the West obviously has enough of it's problems so it's not like anyone can point fingers really.

uhhhhhhh said 3 months ago:

>Richer nations are not externalizing their garbage, they're literally paying for it

They are externalizing it, selling what they can, paying others to take it but not paying the true costs of properly recycling it in the first place.

> If the receivers are not doing their job and putting it in the Earth, then that's not just some industrial by-product problem, it's point blank corruption.

If we know this and continue to sell it to them, are we any less at fault? the answer is no.

>Also, if it's consumer items in the Ocean, then the issue will be about where most consumers are, and how much they pollute, given that the issue might be Asia.

Its thrown away consumer items, which as explained are shipped to asia from western countries as waste.

>But the West obviously has enough of it's problems so it's not like anyone can point fingers really.

everyone sucks, everyone needs to do better. No exceptions.

TheSpiceIsLife said 3 months ago:

Can we please stop using the term third world when referring to Africa and Asia.

This is an outdated term that no longer represents the political and economic reality of the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_World

pkaye said 3 months ago:

1. How do we know if we paid extra it doesn't go into the pocket of a middleman? We may pay $150 for Nike shoes but at the end the person who stitches the shoes might get $0.25. This will only work if there is accountability with consequences along the entire chain.

2. I've certainly disappointed by this one but I put the blame on our city and county politicians who allowed this to happen while charging us extra on the claims that they will be properly recycled.

maxxxxx said 3 months ago:

We should just do the right thing no matter what everybody else is doing. That's called leadership.

sonnyblarney said 3 months ago:

"you're externalizing the societal cost of pollution to that country (and if it gets into the oceans, to everyone). In other words, you're not paying the true cost of that item"

It's not the responsibility of buyers a long way down the value chain and 1/2 way across the world to manage the social policies of other nations.

Do you want colonialism? Or not?

The 'pollution' is 100% the fault of the people doing it.

Also, I don't see why the manufacturing/creating process should be necessarily considerably more 'plastic waste intensive' than the end product itself - in fact, this would be economically wasteful and more expensive possibly.

So ... we could start putting big tarriffs on importers with bad environmental practice and human rights laws ...

p1necone said 3 months ago:

It's the same inane naysaying that pops up on anything about environmental concerns. "Look those other people are bad too, therefore we don't have to improve".

That logic is bullshit and lazy, and we should call people out when we see it.

lopmotr said 3 months ago:

Western countries already do so much to protect the environment from plastic that there's not much room to improve. It almost all gets buried in landfills or burnt, not spilt into the ocean. Since we've pretty much solved the problem already, why not invest that money into something we're not doing well, like CO2 emissions? Even if we were to reduce plastic waste in the ocean, perhaps there are less costly ways, like fining people for littering, putting nets on the stormwater drain outfalls, or, shockingly, stop trying to recycle if that's how it's getting into the ocean.

All environmental efforts have a cost and it's a mistake of hyped-up media consumers to assume that the latest popular cause must be fought at any cost. There may be other, more effective, uses of that money on things that aren't in the news right now.

nitrogen said 3 months ago:

We need an "effective environmentalism" movement to parallel effective altruism.

sampo said 3 months ago:

> first world nations often export their trash to third world nations

Not anymore, pretty much all Asian countries have stopped accepting plastic trash.

devy said 3 months ago:

The damages has been done. It could take hundreds of years and an order of magnitude's financial resources to clean it up land and underground water pollutions. But the air/ocean/atmosphere/carbon footprints are shared and affecting globally.

whatshisface said 3 months ago:

We should take a break from games and adtech and save the earth.

chopin said 3 months ago:

There's no money in it.

uhhhhhhh said 3 months ago:

They still have tons of it to dispose of, and still have lower regulations/controls on how it gets disposed of.

And now there is a backlog of recycling plastics in north america that is increasingly likely to get thrown in landfills, some of that may make it to waterways.

sampo said 3 months ago:

Past 10 years, Europe is increasing burning waste for generating electricity, and heat for district heating. Especially Sweden is burning 50% of the waste they generate. Waste plastic makes pretty good fuel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incineration#Incineration_in_E...

thatfrenchguy said 3 months ago:

And emits CO2. No more plastic, less CO2 from production and from the waste. And it’s clearly our major crisis of the century.

sampo said 3 months ago:

Sweden (5.1) is very close to the world average (4.9 tCO2/capita/year) in fossil CO2 emissions, so they're doing really well for a developed country. (2017 data from Wikipedia.)

perfunctory said 3 months ago:

There is a caveat in per country carbon accounting. It doesn't include imported goods, nor shipment of those goods. Having said that, Sweden is indeed doing relatively good compared to other developed countries.

uhhhhhhh said 3 months ago:

Imagine how much better they could do without such high emitting activities

ccozan said 3 months ago:

Let me put it that way: CO2 might be mitigated at some point, but plastic in oceans is a lost cause.

magduf said 3 months ago:

Yes, it emits CO2, but is that really a problem? If they didn't burn plastic to produce heat and electricity, they'd likely be burning fossil fuel, which is going to emit probably about the same amount of CO2. Is trash burning really offsetting the use of non-carbon energy sources?

Amygaz said 3 months ago:

Plastic pollution didn't just happen in the past few months. It's been decades.

mantap said 3 months ago:

Imagine you live in a place that has no waste collection services. You have the same kind of inorganic waste such as plastic food packaging as people in the US, albeit a bit less.

What are you going to do with your trash? You could burn it, but that would release a lot of noxious fumes and make your neighbors unhappy. So you just throw it in the river, and it floats away, out to sea. Problem "solved".

I don't know what the solution is, but the problem cannot be solved by the west at a distance.

monk_e_boy said 3 months ago:

Also, if we come up with sensible solutions then mass production of whatever packaging we decide on will also happen in Asia/Africa.

I like that we are doing something about plastic polution - yay! But I fear over fishing is actually more of a problem.

thatoneuser said 3 months ago:

I see these two points made often yet I've never seen a comprehensive meta analysis that shows how true any of it is. Yes as you linked ppl will often give an article that supports that these things happen, but relative quantity is important. Otherwise this is just empty rhetoric, and environmentalism doesn't need any more of that.

nitwit005 said 3 months ago:

> Whenever you pay cheaply for anything made in any third world country, you're externalizing the societal cost of pollution to that country

Much of the disposable stuff I've seen here in California were made in the US. The Solo cup company, and its parent Dart Container, are both in the US, for example.

gnicholas said 3 months ago:

> The World Economic Forum estimates that 90 percent of the plastic ending up in the oceans comes from 10 major rivers, and that currently there are 50 million tons of plastic in the world’s oceans."

from the WEF: researchers were able to estimate that just 10 river systems carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean. Eight of them are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger. [1]

It seems odd to mention that nearly all of the plastic waste comes from 10 major rivers and then not to name them (or mention that all of them are a world away from Canada).

1: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluti...

petschge said 3 months ago:

It's not quite that simple to absolve Canada (and Europe and the US) from their responsibility for this problem. Quite a bit of the plastic that ends up in those rivers far away was exported "for recycling" to the countries where it gets miss-handled and ends up in the landscape.

jlawson said 3 months ago:

People keep saying this, but is there any evidence for it? I'm curious where this comes from.

At first estimate we could just Google images of polluted rivers in Asia and Africa and look at the logos on the garbage.

From my priors, I'd estimate that the plastics would almost all be from locally-consumed products, simply thrown into the river as is common and accepted in such places.

My sense is that a lot of educated, wealthy Westerners don't realize:

1. How many people are in Asia and Africa.

2. How little effort they put into keeping their local environment clean. People just don't get how callous same cultures are about the environment; it cannot be believed until it's been experienced since it's so far outside of the wealthy Westerner's experience. (Plus, to believe such would also create cognitive dissonance with social justice creeds which are victim classes as inherently morally pure.)

bobthepanda said 3 months ago:

China tightened up regulations on importing recycling waste last year and Western recycling was hit extremely hard: https://www.wired.com/story/the-worlds-recycling-is-in-chaos...

> It has been a year since China jammed the works of recycling programs around the world by essentially shutting down what had been the industry’s biggest market. China’s National Sword policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century. The move was an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and leaving the country with yet another environmental problem—and this one not of its own making.

> In the year since, China’s plastic imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials tossed in the recycling bin are being processed. While the glut of plastics is the main concern, China’s imports of mixed paper have also dropped by a third. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban.

> Globally, more plastics are now ending up in landfills, incinerators, or likely littering the environment as rising costs to haul away recyclable materials increasingly render the practice unprofitable. In England, more than half a million more tons of plastics and other household garbage were burned last year. Australia’s recycling industry is facing a crisis as the country struggles to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China.

jlawson said 3 months ago:

None of this tries to demonstrate that the plastic flowing out of Chinese rivers was originally from the West.

selimthegrim said 3 months ago:

I wonder what makes glass more suitable

bobthepanda said 3 months ago:

To hazard a guess, I would assume that the type of stuff stored in glass containers in the West tends to be stuff less “soiling” of the recyclable material, and the fact that people are probably more conditioned to rinse glass than plastic.

jogjayr said 3 months ago:

> People just don't get how callous same cultures are about the environment; it cannot be believed until it's been experienced since it's so far outside of the wealthy Westerner's experience

If Mad Men[0] is to be believed, there was plenty of littering in the US in the 1960s.[1] It took many public awareness campaigns by government and private industry, in a country far richer with nearly universal literacy, over multiple decades to make littering socially unacceptable. And I still see plenty of litter in the US today. Change takes time.

0. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roREnVhd_og

1. https://www.reddit.com/r/madmen/comments/4oie71/how_accurate...

jlawson said 3 months ago:

There was littering, yes. But in 1959 America you generally wouldn't see:

-Mothers supervising their kids as they defecate on a city sidewalk, or in the garbage bin in a busy train station.

-Dead mules left rotting and bloated in the sun for days right beside busy streets, with drinking water flowing nearby.

-Restaurant owners throwing garbage out the front door of their establishment onto the street right in front of the restaurant.

You're relating what I said to your own experience, which is Mad Men-style "littering". Only once you actually go outside your bubble can you understand that humans can do so much worse - and billions do.

I think to find a Western example you'd have to go back to horse and buggy days at least, and possibly to before widespread plumbing (e.g. late 1800's London cholera epidemics, the Thames literally full of shit).

jogjayr said 3 months ago:

> Only once you actually go outside your bubble can you understand that humans can do so much worse

I'm well aware of that. I grew up in India. I'm just asking you to place this behavior in the context of the prosperity and levels of education in the places where it happens. America, for all its advantages in material and human development, did not develop an anti-littering culture until very recently.

thatoneuser said 3 months ago:

I just asked this question elsewhere in the thread. It seems that a lot of people just blindly believe it because it sounds good. But as you say between Asia and Africa we have over half the world's population. They're pretty far back in industrialization and they're bound to pollute way worse per person (divided by wealth on some way I'm sure).

Frankly I'm sick of people using environmentalism as their soap box like this. It doesn't make anything better to ignore reality because they want to condescend to the US and Canada and Europe. It's actively making it worse.

mrpopo said 3 months ago:

Humans live of mimetism almost entirely (very little true innovation out of our lives). Historically, the trend-setters have been western countries. If western countries don't clean their own shit, others won't follow (note that I can't for sure argue the opposite implication unfortunately).

baron816 said 3 months ago:

My theory (no evidence) is that the whole recycling movement has been completely counter productive since most of that material has been shipping abroad to countries that are poorly regulated. Had we just stuffed it into landfill (we have no shortage of space to take care of it, despite what the media says), we would be fine.

asark said 3 months ago:

On the landfill topic, I found this Slate Star Codex post very interesting:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/01/01/what-happened-to-90s-e...

I'd been idly wondering about the topic for years—specifically, WTF happened to all those environmental things schools & kids' nature magazines & cartoons had all the students worked up about back in the 90s? Are they fine now? Did it all go poorly so they gave up? You know, save the rainforest, we're running out of places to put trash, and so on.

The TL;DR on "ZOMG we're gonna drown in trash if we don't do something!" is that it was always basically bullshit—we didn't fix it, it was just a made-up problem to begin with. Other things the post covers are less rosy. The rainforest issue... yep, still going on, still very bad, we're just not talking about it as much.

dr_dshiv said 3 months ago:

Save the rainforest is still my main environmental mantra, thanks 5th grade. And I still think the pursuit of biodiversity is the best goal. Way more compelling to the average person than co2. And it it turns out that co2 reduction is necessary to save those lemurs, so be it. But do it for the biodiversity -- to save the rainforest. Not nearly as compelling to save the rainforest in order to reduce co2, or whatever.

Mediterraneo10 said 3 months ago:

> And it it turns out that co2 reduction is necessary to save those lemurs, so be it.

The threat to lemur habitats is 1) Malagasy people practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, exacerbated by a very high birthrate on the island which means there is ever more need for new agricultural land to exploit, 2) Madagascar’s poor using charcoal for cooking because they cannot afford something like kerosene, and 3) rampant logging so that the exotic wood can be shipped to China for the furniture industry. It has nothing to do with the CO2 crisis.

zrobotics said 3 months ago:

I'm curious how CO2 reduction is less compelling? Not to be blunt, but as an average American I'll likely never see the rainforest in person. I find it quite a bit more compelling to mitigate global warming, as that will drastically impact where I currently live. Sure, you can't use cute animals as mascots, but surely the people who live near coastlines should find the possibility of their homes being literally underwater more compelling than an environment they will never see.

dr_dshiv said 3 months ago:

But they see rainforests and lemurs on TV. Two cute cuddly eyes. To empathize with. The equivalent for co2 might be disaster movies (or Al Gore), which arguably are counter productive.

The people living on coast lines are generally rich, which gives them the expectation that they will be ok.

ZeroGravitas said 3 months ago:

Recycling is done by all major governments because all the science and research suggests it is beneficial (in terms of carbon, energy, cost/profit).

It's really weird that this little micro version of climate change denial (promoted by all the same sources) is still socially acceptable in certain circles when the arguments for it are so laughably weak. To see him praise John Tierney's articles is mind boggling to me, I thought his whole schtick was about rationality.

jayess said 3 months ago:

In my school days the main scare problem was acid rain.

greglindahl said 3 months ago:

And now you celebrate it as a success story?

said 3 months ago:
[deleted]
DanBC said 3 months ago:

> The TL;DR on "ZOMG we're gonna drown in trash if we don't do something!" is that it was always basically bullshit—we didn't fix it, it was just a made-up problem to begin with.

Er, we sent all the trash to other countries, and they dumped it in the ocean.

asark said 3 months ago:

The made-up part was that running out of landfill space was something to actually worry about. And a lot of what was shipped over was "recycling". :-/

ZeroGravitas said 3 months ago:

This just sounds like an even more stretched "scientists used to think the globe was cooling" to me. (I've just noticed someone unironically referencing global cooling in another comment)

Most other nations just did a cost benefit calculation and quietly got on with recycling. America, which has lots of space comparatively, also did the same cost benefit calculation, mostly got on with recycling, but with a vocal chorus of detractors whose arguments seems to bizarrely return (across decades!) to what we teach small children not being 100% accurate.

Is this really the level of argument we're looking for in economic topics? Or is using these arguments basically an admission that we've lost and are fighting a desperate retreat using whatever emotionally salient arguments we can muster.

influx said 3 months ago:

Likewise peak oil and global cooling.

zcid said 3 months ago:

A lot of our environmental issues have gone out of vogue because they tend to clash with the trendier value of immigration. It's easier for politicians to grandstand about carbon taxes and straws than face the real problems.

mrpopo said 3 months ago:

The poster doesn't seem to know much about any of the technical problems he's touching, and he's completely out of touch in some cases. I wouldn't pay any attention to his conclusions.

About "6. Peak Resource", which is the topic I feel most comfortable debunking :

- Peak oil is happening right now in many regions of the globe, the North sea passed its peak oil a decade ago, and he doesn't mention it. This peak oil/gas is currently putting Germany at a political risk, being more and more dependent on Russian gas.

- He puts up the price of oil as an indicator of resource scarcity. This might sound true to our small minds used to the "supply-demand" paradigm. But the price indicated is mostly controlled by politics rather than supply and demand. E.g. Gulf states trying to take other countries out of the oil market by artificially deflating prices thanks to their larger supplies.

- He mentions fracking/shale oil as a revolutionary new technique, although it was already researched at the times. He also fails to mention that fracking in the USA is awfully subsidized, not profitable and has not ever been. He also doesn't mention the new environmental impacts caused by this technique. The fracking companies are legally entitled to clean up their mess, but when they go bankrupt, not much they can do...

gnicholas said 3 months ago:

Sure, everyone needs to do their part. But people hear about the pacific garbage patch, and they might think that laws like this will materially affect phenomena like this. But it's possible (I'm not an expert) that a law like this would have very little impact because the vast majority of the trash comes from different regions.

JeffreyKaine said 3 months ago:

I find it's best to look at laws like this as social trends. Look at the way that same sex marriage or legal marijuana spreads through the united states. One or two progressive states adopt the policy, it gains steam, and soon it's the new norm nationwide.

I like to think that the same thing can happen on a global scale.

xsmasher said 3 months ago:

Aside: as far as I can tell, the factoid as usually stated is not true. It should be "90% of Ocean plastic that comes from rivers comes from just 10 rivers" and not "90% of all ocean plastic comes from rivers."

There's a graph from the paper (and the name of the paper) here that shows how much ocean plastic is from rivers; it's a lot but not 90% https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stemming-the-plas...

Amygaz said 3 months ago:

Maybe we could have a country-specific tag on plastic, like doping the plastic of the 10 largest countries per GDP. We would find out within a year where things are going and from whom. Not that it really matters in the end, but politicians and blame games going hand in hand, that be 'entertaining'...

ZeroGravitas said 3 months ago:

I'd prefer to hear about things on a per capita level. What other stats do we hear about per river?

toomuchtodo said 3 months ago:

You either are or aren't dumping waste into moving bodies of water. Whether you're efficient about it ("per capita") is of little concern.

Use economic incentives to penalize countries that allow dumping into their rivers. The first world is no longer able to export their "recyclables" to Asia, and as such, are landfilling/incinerating it. It's time for Asia to clean up its act (regardless of how poor of a country you are).

ZeroGravitas said 3 months ago:

Okay, lets fine them $1000 per river.

toomuchtodo said 3 months ago:

I was thinking tariffs and visa quota reductions. No further first world dollars or access until mitigated.

ZeroGravitas said 3 months ago:

You can't enforce tariffs or visas against a river.

You'd need to apportion the blame to political entities, and then give them some kind of score or grade to decide which ones to punish more harshly based on how much they were contributing.

That score or grade would almost certainly be primarily per capita or it would be meaningless and simply punish larger/ more populous countries.

vkou said 3 months ago:

According to [1], it seems that about half of the third world is taking this issue a bit more seriously than North America.

I mean, I'm all for tariffs, visa quota reductions, and closed borders with countries that pollute, but that would require us to look in the mirror, first. [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plast...

[2] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Co2_emis...

toomuchtodo said 3 months ago:

Please don't move the goal posts with CO2 output versus plastics pollution. They are two distinct issues. If you can apply pressure on CO2 and methane emitters to push down their emissions, I strongly encourage you to do so. First world countries have astoundingly good waste management systems though.

Whether the third world outlaws single use light weight plastic bags doesn't impact their poor waste management infrastructure. People will still throw garbage (plastic bottles, bottle caps, straws, plastic containers, plastic cutlery) in their rivers. Stop people from throwing garbage in rivers, regardless of composition. You're not going to be able to outlaw everything thrown into the rivers.

"Last year, a third of the 1.67 million tons of domestic waste disposed in Singapore consisted of packaging waste, primarily plastic bags and food packaging. The amount is enough to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to a Channel News Asia report."

“Six million tons of non-durable plastics -- basically cutlery -- gets discarded every year. It is estimated that by the year 2050, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish," he adds.

If you're going to outlaw single use plastic, outlaw all of it and mandate paper bags or other fiber products; you're still going to need to implement waste management, landfilling, etc.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahleung/2018/04/21/five-asi... (Five Asian Countries Dump More Plastic Into Oceans Than Anyone Else Combined)

nostromo said 3 months ago:

I really wish they would include exceptions for biodegradable plastics -- which are increasingly indistinguishable from polymer plastics.

When you ban "single use" plastics, people often buy "multi-use" plastics -- which are actually worse for the environment if not used many times, and people often only use them once. There are a number of stores around me where they have thick, heavy plastic bags for purchase for 5 cents that I doubt are actually being reused much at all.

Kluny said 3 months ago:

Biodegradable plastics are not more environmentally friendly than normal ones. Here's some more info about that.

https://vancouverisland.surfrider.org/compostable-plastics-1...

nostromo said 3 months ago:

... according to a "a student researcher from UVic who assisted" a surfing advocacy organization and some other randos.

Yes, litter will still be an issue, and no, you shouldn't just throw compostable things on the beach -- but comparing polymers which will float in the ocean for hundreds of years vs some compressed corn starch is no contest.

Kluny said 3 months ago:

Look, this is my organization (Surfrider) and we put on a talk to learn about compostables. Two of the others were professionals who run industrial composting facilities. If you want a better source you can check out the 5 Gyres report linked in the article (BAN Report). It shows time-lapse photographs of so-called biodegradable items over time.

The term biodegradable is itself problematic - everything is biodegradable including normal plastic. That just means that it breaks down into smaller bits that animals mistake for food and starve on.

There are a lot of things wrong with compostable plastic as well. The idea that it's somehow better is greenwashing, and makes people think it's a good enough alternative, so they can stop putting further effort into reducing their consumption. It's still a single use item that's wasting resources.

Compostable plastic isn't recyclable, so when it gets into plastic recycling streams it degrades the quality of the end product. It also isn't going to break down in your backyard green bin - it needs to be subjected to industrial composting processes, and even then it will take much longer than normal kitchen scraps to break down.

A load of plastic contaminated with PLA items and a load of compost contaminated with PLA items will both end up in the landfill because they are worthless.

There just aren't enough advantages, and compostable plastics need to be included in all upcoming plastic bans.

fouc said 3 months ago:

Might be helpful to classify everything by different levels of biodegradability.

Kluny said 3 months ago:

There are many different standards available. They are useful for petrochemical engineers, but not generally for laypeople. If you want to make an environmentally friendly choice, the safest bet is always going to be bring your own dishes.

hedora said 3 months ago:

I read that something like 50% of all plastic in the ocean is abandoned fishing nets.

Also, the UN says we are a decade or so from fishing all saltwater fish to extinction.

What do you think about banning the production of plastic fishing nets?

Kluny said 3 months ago:

Yes, that's a big target as well. Food containers are a more accessible problem for most people, but we are working with organizations that lobby for improved fishing regulations.

One of the things we do is monthly beach cleanups. While we're cleaning a beach, we'll section off an area and carefully count and categorize the trash we find in that area (such as fishing nets). We share the info with organizations like our local university and department of fisheries and oceans, so that they'll have recent evidence that they can use when asking for regulatory changes.

yardstick said 3 months ago:

Sounds like the price of reusable bags is too low where you are. There needs to be a price floor to discourage single-use. Eg 50 cents minimum per bag?

In the UK we charge 5p for a single use bag, although lots of stores now only sell multi-use bags at 10p or more. I think it’s making a difference, I now actively carry a couple reusable bags around “just in case” I decide to visit a supermarket or spur of the moment shopping. I now hardly ever buy plastic bags (single & multi use), and from what I’ve read, overall the country has seen a massive reduction in plastic bag waste: down from 140/year/person to 25/year/person [1] (this doesn’t track sales of multi-use plastic bags though afaik)

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carrier-bag-charg...

hedora said 3 months ago:

In countries where they actually banned disposable shopping bags, it was even worse.

People end up buying more trash bags (since they had small trash cans to fit the disposable bags), which are thicker, and something like 10x less efficient in garbage removal per pound of plastic than the banned bags. (I’m guessing your stats don’t count trash bags, unless people in the UK use fewer than one a week).

On its own, that was enough to increase plastic in the waste stream.

If you add in other problems (like buying “reusable” bags, then throwing them out), it gets even worse.

So, you need to ban all plastic bags for these measures to actually help.

yardstick said 3 months ago:

Interesting, do you have a source for this?

user5994461 said 3 months ago:

The ban of plastic bag is a joke in the UK. The supermarket gives you the same shitty bag that's tore apart in 3 uses, except it's called reusable and you have to pay for it.

There is only maybe Lidl that has reusable bags, if they still do them, and that's half a pound each.

yardstick said 3 months ago:

I’ve got a variety of 50p bags from Asda, Waitrose, Tescos that I still use more than a year after I bought them.

Asda also a bag for life deal, I have swapped a couple out in the past due to tears (years after originally buying them). I assume but cannot verify Asda recycles the broken bags.

Waterluvian said 3 months ago:

Our grocery stores sell disposable plastic bags for 5 cents and reusable fabric bags for a dollar. These fabric bags are so amazing and huge that I bought 15 just to help me move.

The concept of a 5 cent reusable plastic bag is a head scratcher.

RandomInteger4 said 3 months ago:

Fabric bags are worse for the environment than plastic bags, so they cost more, because of the process to make them.

Waterluvian said 3 months ago:

Except I use them hundreds to thousands of times, they carry twice as much and they don't break.

RandomInteger4 said 3 months ago:

Do you wash them?

Waterluvian said 3 months ago:

Honestly no never thought to bother. They're just holding already packaged merchandise.

One day when I can show up with containers and load up on goods without all the custom packaging, that'll be a different story.

radcon said 3 months ago:

Weren't plastic bags created because they have a significantly smaller environmental impact than paper? You need to re-use a paper bag at least 3 times before it's better than using a plastic bag[1]. And let's face it, no one re-uses those flimsy paper bags from grocery stores, but they're becoming the standard wherever plastic is banned.

Those "environmentally friendly" re-usable grocery bags aren't much better either. Depending on the material, they need to be used anywhere from 30 to 300+ times before they're less harmful than plastic bags[2].

Am I missing something or are regulators overreacting here? Clearly some countries have serious litter issues (sounds like the vast majority comes from Asia and Africa), but does that justify the rest of the world trading one type of pollution for another? Are we even fixing the problem or just making ourselves feel better?

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/life-cycle-assess...

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/to-to...

nostromo said 3 months ago:

It really depends on what you're measuring.

Plastic bags are very bad when they end up in rivers or the ocean.

But yes, plastic bags might be better on CO2 depending on where they are made and how they are shipped.

But paper bags can be made carbon neutral, which is fundamentally impossible with plastic bags.

olejorgenb said 3 months ago:

It's possible to make synthetic petroleum products from CO2, water and electricity, so it's not fundamentally impossible.

xfitm3 said 3 months ago:

I think regulators are overreacting - its a feel good PR move. I require straws and paper straws are total garbage. It's an insult. And no, I am not going to carry a straw in my pocket.

perfunctory said 3 months ago:

> I require straws and paper straws are total garbage. It's an insult.

I didn't know the honourable member of the HN community was so sensitive. That they was in any sense a delicate flower. That they was capable of being a quickly and severely injured soul. If that's indeed the case then I am sorry.

GreenJelloShot said 3 months ago:

Some people with physical limitations do require straws in order to drink anything. I don't think mocking the disabled is appropriate.

Tiktaalik said 3 months ago:

This sort of policy is somewhat of a distraction from the wildly more important goal of reducing CO2 emissions.

A single use plastics ban is fine if it is a minor part of a more comprehensive policy that is focused on CO2 emissions, but by itself, eh, this is not really our most pressing issue in the near term is it? (of course we should reduce single use plastics eventually)

This government has been very uneven on climate issues so I'm not expecting them to announce a ban on CO2 emitting power generation tomorrow or anything. My concern is that announcing this policy so soon after the NDP announced the same thing in their rather bold environmental package is merely part of an attempt to boost their environmentalist cred and blunt the impact of rival environmentalist parties while changing the channel away from their weaker CO2 reduction efforts.

Kluny said 3 months ago:

> merely part of an attempt to boost their environmentalist cred and blunt the impact rival environmentalist parties while in actuality doing the absolute minimum

Yeah, it fully is. The major parties in Canada are slowly, and much too late, getting the message that the environment is the biggest election issue this year. They haven't been taking it seriously at all til now, hence this kind of bandwagon jumping. We're still going to hold them to the promise though.

nickelcitymario said 3 months ago:

> the environment is the biggest election issue this year

Is it? It should be, but I'm pretty sure the biggest election issue is always going to be the economy.

That being said, maybe the advantage is that the environment is becoming less of a partisan issue. Anecdotally, my left- and right-wing friends and family seem to be coming closer to a consensus that we need to act.

Still, it's easy to say "we need to fix the environment". My own city council voted unanimously on a resolution to slash our city's greenhouse gas production. But then when it comes to specific proposals on what that would look like, such as saying "no" to building a new convention centre or new highways, suddenly there's no political will. "Something should absolutely be done... as long as it doesn't cost us anything."

So we'll ban single use plastics (barely effective, but very popular), but we won't cut back on exploiting the Alberta oil sands, or on deforestation for that matter (both of which would have a tremendous impact, but at great economic and political cost).

skosch said 3 months ago:

I'm more curious about the Conservatives' response to this, actually, as talking about waste has been one of their favourite diversion tactics whenever the environment (read: climate change) comes up. Will they vote for this?

joemaller1 said 3 months ago:

We're going to suffocate under a blanket of plastic long before the effects of CO2 kills us. Single-use plastics are essentially a slow-motion, global oil spill.

The goal of these bans is to force use of better materials. The huge majority of plastic pollution comes from the economic fringes in Asia, but demanding goods come in better packaging to be sold in large western markets will hopefully tip the financial scales enough to force manufacturers' hands resulting in less plastic waste globally. I can get behind that.

DINKDINK said 3 months ago:

Will the production of plastic waste reduce when the outlawing of thin plastics is replaced by thicker plastics?

Your politician who benefits from passing feel-good legislation says yes.

Reality might surprise you:

"In particular, my results showed that bag bans caused sales of small (4 gallon), medium (8 gallon) and large (13 gallon) trash bags to increase by 120 percent, 64 percent and 6 percent respectively." https://theconversation.com/plastic-bag-bans-can-backfire-if...

lozenge said 3 months ago:

And the bottom line - "30 percent of the plastic eliminated by the ban was coming back in the form of trash bags". So, the policy was 70 percent successful. Why then all the hand-wringing?

DINKDINK said 3 months ago:

30% by mass not by pollution. The speculative aim of the legislation is to decrease pollution. It's a bit like saying alcohol abuse will go down if we ban alcohol (when the opposite happened, hardcore liquor prevalence and potency increased which increased alcohol abuse).

Coase theorem shows that increasing transaction costs increases externality costs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coase_theorem

If you ban the giving out of thin-plastic bags because they feel bad, and then the market moves towards giving everyone a thick (more environmentally taxing and ecologically costly) 'reusable' bag, you've made the environment worse not better (despite it feeling better). Case in point: the number of times a bag needs to be reused before it was less ecologically costly far exceeds the life of the bag.

Meai said 3 months ago:

I think this really needs to be solved on a human psyche level. Print a QR code on durable plastic/cloth bags that you can buy from stores and then you can check your green score after each visit to the store where you reused your bag. Make bags a fashion statement with customized prints, at that point you can even let people move over their green points to a new bag if they want a new one or it fails on them.

no1youknowz said 3 months ago:

This can only be a good thing.

There are now alternatives to plastic from biodegradable materials such as lobster shells and cactus juice. I'm sure with more research and better methods, mother nature can offer more materials to use for consumption tools.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBSzxQLQSpI

[1]: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-48497933/how-to-make-b...

the_pwner224 said 3 months ago:

PLA plastic is made from just organic materials. It degrades into lactic acid, and is safely used for medical implants. It doesn't degrade naturally at normal temperatures, but can be effectively recycled, composted, or incinerated.

Right now it mostly gets thrown away into the environment like most trash, but is a sustainable plastic if handled properly.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polylactic_acid

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic

NeedMoreTea said 3 months ago:

Not really a recent development though. In the late seventies, or early eighties there were already biodegradable and compostable plastics.

One UK supermarket used one of them for trays and bags around the same time, and printed the fact on every one. I forget whether they were compostable or just biodegradable. Yet eventually that chain switched back to oil derived plastic like everyone else.

Presumably price won.

Here's one from fermented sugars that ICI came up with in the early 80s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyhydroxyalkanoates

barking said 3 months ago:

Canada is not where the problem is at, so to speak

By analyzing the waste found in the rivers and surrounding landscape, researchers were able to estimate that just 10 river systems carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean.

Eight of them are in Asia: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong; and two in Africa – the Nile and the Niger.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluti...

manishsharan said 3 months ago:

Third world countries follow First world countries. In India, not too long ago, cheap roadside restaurants(dhabas) used plates made out of leaves and served tea in cups made out of clay. Now that is considered a sign of primitiveness and poverty. If first world nations change their attitude towards plastics, the third world nations will follow suit eventually.

seltzered_ said 3 months ago:

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/co... covers this topic well.

"I was surprised to learn that the average Bangalorean throws out very little trash: about a pound of garbage per day, or the weight of a grapefruit. The average American generates more than four times that amount, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or more than seven times that amount, according to a more rigorous methodology developed by Columbia University and the BioCycle trade journal. We’ve nearly doubled our per capita output of garbage since 1960, to the point where we now generate 50 percent more trash than Western Europeans and two to three times more than the Japanese."

"As I wound my way through Bangalore’s streets in the Daily Dump van, I spotted numerous American brands out the window: Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut. But the United States doesn’t just export products to India—it exports a culture of consumption, backed by billions in advertising dollars."

einr said 3 months ago:

If first world nations change their attitude towards plastics, the third world nations will follow suit eventually.

Eventually?

Several Indian states have already banned single use plastic bottles and polystyrene food packaging, etc. The Indian government has also already banned lightweight plastic bags nationwide.

So has Tanzania, Eritrea, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda, Mali, Morocco and many other "third world nations". In fact, if you look at the list and map¤, it's saturated with bans in "third world nations" while most rich countries are dragging their feet or ignoring the problem. After all, we can just export our garbage to Africa, right?

¤ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plast...

mmartinson said 3 months ago:

>> For years the country (China) had imported millions of tons of recyclable waste from overseas, but a growing recycling burden at home prompted the government to shift its policy.

Until recently, Canada, like the US, shipped most of its plastic to China. Does making it a different country's problem absolve responsibility?

I found this quite eye opening. https://www.plasticchina.org/

Tiktaalik said 3 months ago:

Not mentioned in this article but worth noting that the City of Vancouver was interested in pursuing a single use plastics ban taking effect this summer in 2019, but backed away when disability rights activists protested that plastic straws are very important for people with mobility challenges, and they considered the non-plastic alternative straws available to be poor and not viable options.

SquareWheel said 3 months ago:

I don't know if this is insensitive of me to ask, but why don't they bring their own straws? I'm sure they would be happier with a premium reusable straw than a cheap single-use one anyway. A good straw could be reusable, sturdy, and even telescopic.

Is there difficulties involved in bringing along accessibility tools like straws that I'm missing? Or is this just a case of the nirvana fallacy?

SolaceQuantum said 3 months ago:

A few immediate logistical difficulties, from an able-bodied person:

1) If you have a cognitive disability, remembering to bring a straw may be difficult.

2) If you have a mobility disability, you may struggle to wash the straw in a suitably disinfected manner after use.

3) How do you reuse the straw on the go?

4) This(bringing your own straw) is another cost added onto an already economically overburdened populace.

davidy123 said 3 months ago:

Restaurants already have requirements around those with special needs (including those with babies), requiring them to have a few washable stainless steel straws on hand is not much to ask. Granted, there may be slip-ups, those should be reported.

tomjen3 said 3 months ago:

The problem is that some of the people with limited mobility also have limited ability not to chew on the straw (they can't control their jaws well enough). You chew on a plastic straw, that is not an issue. You bit down on steel...

Those people btw are the ones who most need them, because they typically also have too limited mobility to drink from a cup.

davidy123 said 3 months ago:

That makes sense. I'm not going to say it should be dismissed due to its relative low incidence, but there has to be a better solution than a straw free for all everywhere.

tomjen3 said 3 months ago:

Well the solution is actually simple, just charge a deposit, then they will be reused.

nickserv said 3 months ago:

What's wrong with carrying your own stainless steel straw? I mean if you know you need one it makes sense to me to have your own.

Not being snarky, just curious.

amyjess said 3 months ago:

* Many disabled people cannot wash their own straws, due to both cognitive load and lack of manual dexterity.

* Stainless steel causes sensory issues for autistic people and can destroy your teeth if you accidentally bite into one. (edit: and lets also add that they conduct heat, so putting a metal straw in hot coffee and drinking out of it could seriously burn your lips)

nickserv said 3 months ago:

Makes sense, thanks for the info.

ahjushi said 3 months ago:

It's tough because sometimes these things can feel like a "tax", i.e. the general public does not need this item so they don't purchase it, but I now have to since there are no longer any alternatives. Seems like perhaps an inconsequential amount for a straw, but it's just another cost most people don't need to consider and shoulder (mobility tools like wheelchairs, maybe specific medicines, etc.). It all adds up.

nickserv said 3 months ago:

If cost is an issue, they should be provided by the health care system for those that need them.

But from the other answers it looks like it's more of a problem that they're stainless per se (hard material, need to be washed and carried).

Tiktaalik said 3 months ago:

I don't know, but I know from articles in the local paper that the existing alternatives weren't considered ideal.

I'd venture that if your dexterity is poor enough that you require a straw to drink instead of being able to drink strawless, a lot of the other tasks associated with carrying around one's own metal straw (ie. taking it out of a bag, putting it in a drink, washing it after) may also be overly challenging.

Robotbeat said 3 months ago:

It'll stab you in the throat.

A real concern for children, and undoubtedly also for some disabled folk: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2016/starbucks-to-recall-stainl...

Just use biodegradable plastic straws.

amyjess said 3 months ago:

Biodegradable plastic has its own issues as well. Nearly all of them are food-based and will set off one food allergy or another, plus you may also have issues with straws dissolving in hot liquids.

Someone elsewhere in the thread mentioned straws made of lobster shells. In addition to shellfish allergies, such a straw isn't going to be suitable for anyone who's vegan, and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't kosher either (TBH, I'm Jewish, but I don't keep kosher, and I don't know enough about the laws of kashrut to say whether or not drinking out of a lobster-shell straw is equivalent to eating lobster).

Robotbeat said 3 months ago:

Hard to drink hot liquids with a straw anyway (stirrers are another story).

The plastics I'm think of are PLA and PHA. Mainly made of corn, but you could synthesize them from pure chemicals as well. Far more common than these "lobster shell" ones.

amyjess said 3 months ago:

Honestly, even in cold liquids, I'd be worried about non-plastic straws getting soggy and/or melting if left long enough.

I haven't specifically looked into PLA and PHA much, but a quick google sees PLA being referred to as "too good to be true" and having "misleading biodegradability". I'm not seeing such concerns about PHA, but I've also only spent like a minute looking it up, and I wouldn't be surprised if some more intensive searching turns up some serious drawbacks. I have turned up some concerns about bioplastic production competing with food for the same agricultural resources, though.

Robotbeat said 3 months ago:

PLA really needs an industrial composter to break down fully, but this is still better than traditional plastics. It's just polymerized lactic acid, which is common and naturally occuring in the human body.

PHA generally breaks down faster in the natural environment (i.e. it's biodegradable, not just compostable) and it has similar properties to PLA.

Straws use an absolutely minimal amount of material. I really don't think concern over agricultural resources is valid for such uses as it is compared to, say, the massive amounts used for biofuels. And of course, it's not as if metals have no resource requirements, either.

A typical straw weighs about .42 grams and thus uses about as much agricultural material as two kernels of corn (about as many calories as two tic tacs). That's not the problem, here. To put that in perspective, the energy in that straw (about 0.005 kilowatt-hours) is less than we just wasted arguing about it online.

ccozan said 3 months ago:

IKEA sells in Germany straws from paper. Kids love them. Very light.

amyjess said 3 months ago:

...and they'll also get soggy and dissolve in your drinks.

remir said 3 months ago:

I tried paper straws a couple of times at A&W and it wasn't that bad. Granted, it was a cold drink, which could perhaps be problematic with hot drinks, but beside a texture difference, I found the paper straw to be an acceptable replacement.

alacombe said 3 months ago:

They were probably coated with wax, which make them... non-recyclable.

jogjayr said 3 months ago:

Wax-coated paper is probably far safer to dispose by burning than plastic.

remir said 3 months ago:

I'm pretty sure platic straws are not being recycled. Paper straws are at least more sustainable.

ccozan said 3 months ago:

Sure, they will be dirty with whatever you drink too. But they are bio-degradable, compared to plastic.

Robotbeat said 3 months ago:

I actually have a 3D printed PLA straw (nominally compostable) that I reuse (single layer so it can be cleaned/dried). Weird, not super feasible for most people, but I needed a straw and didn't have one.

darkpuma said 3 months ago:

They just need more wax then. Cups made from paper work perfectly well; so should straws.

hedora said 3 months ago:

The cups are typically coated in plastic, last time I checked. (This is not obvious from looking at them though).

darkpuma said 3 months ago:

I can't say I'm a cup expert, but I'm quite sure that paper cups (or straws) can be made waterproof if impregnated with wax.

ccozan said 3 months ago:

You don't need to make them waterproof. How long do you plan to drink a soda or whatever else?

My kids are done in max 10mins and they look mostly untouched.

I left it for one hour in a hot cocoa though, and it was not intact anymore but still usable to a degree.

darkpuma said 3 months ago:

Let's say somebody gets served their beverage when they sit down, then neglect it until after they're doing eating. In a cold beverage, I'd want a straw to last at least an hour. I don't think that should be hard to accomplish either.

jimcsharp said 3 months ago:

I think making some waste opt-in would go a long way. Some stingy restaurant owners are doing that any way.

benj111 said 3 months ago:

The UK is planning to ban plastic straws except those sold through pharmacies. That seems like the right balance, they're available to those that need them, but denormalises them for standard usage, and incentivises retailers to stock alternatives.

8bitsrule said 3 months ago:

Everything we buy and throw-away has an energy cost for manufacturing, transport and disposal. We pay more for the energy and convenience and waste ... and so does the only environment we have to live in.

The acceptance of throwaway has to end. We HAVE to find (or go back to) new routines which minimize those costs. Single-use plastics are a start, but we'll need to thoroughly revise manufacture, consumption and re-use across the board.

kilo_bravo_3 said 3 months ago:

Hopefully mankind's addiction to single-use plastics and the negligent disposal of all plastics can be stopped before exposure to, inhalation of, and ingestion of large quantities of microscopic shards of poly-whatever start shredding and poisoning our bodies from the inside.

benj111 said 3 months ago:

"microscopic shards of poly-whatever start shredding and poisoning our bodies from the inside"

Is there any evidence that this could happen? It's the first I've heard of it.

kilo_bravo_3 said 3 months ago:

The effect has only been seen in aquatic animals so far, but they are exposed to much more microplastics than humans are.

But microplastics don't (on a human timescale) go away.

They just continue to accumulate as plastic items degrade in UV light and water, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces.

Microplastics have been detected in the feces of humans: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/10/22/659568662/mi...

And the bottom of the Marianas trench: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/12/micro...

And they're harmful to sea life: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-huma...

And smaller microplastic particles, which all larger particles eventually become, can float through the air.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the problem is going to keep getting worse and worse as time goes on until it gets to a point where every breath we take is contaminated shards of plastics: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Photographs-of-microplas...

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/micro...

I'm not a doctor, or a plasticsologist, or a breathing-things-in-ologist, but breathing in large quantities of plastic shards seems less healthy than not doing so and just from a layman's perspective it seems that exposure to microplastics in the air and water should be minimized to the greatest extent possible.

jopsen said 3 months ago:

We know that particle pollution from coal plants, heavy fuel oil powered container ships, and cars/truck already kill a lot of people.

We know that we have air pollution, I find it unlikely that plastic will be much worse.

Do we have any reason to think so?

Note. I'm not saying it's harmless, just that maybe we have bigger fish to fry first.

brailsafe said 3 months ago:

I'm pretty okay with this as a Canadian. It's been on my mind quite a bit actually. Much of the visible debris comes from momentary indulgences that are then carelessly discarded. Thats the natural way for many people, not that I agree with it. Rather than try and change their behaviour, it's an interesting thought experiment to think about the effects of not allowing such flagrantly wasteful products to be made in the first place. In Canada, much of the visible debris inland comes from cheap coffee cups and shitty packaging design—if I understand single-use plastics correctly, which I may not. It's pretty gross, and I'd like to see more innovation towards non-detrimental disposable goods. Of course, I'd also like to see a cultural increase in having pride for the cleanliness of urban areas, but that might be a pipe-dream in Western Canada outside BC (I'm from a prairie city)

jasonhansel said 3 months ago:

I find it amazing that plastic has only been around for less than a century, but has now become so ubiquitous and commonplace that it's a nuisance. Nearly all the other materials we use (wood, metal, etc.) have been around for many many centuries, but don't seem to pose the same inherent risk.

davidy123 said 3 months ago:

While I fully support this ban, even if it's not that much more than a gesture in the larger issue of carbon and the environment, I think it's largely related to the very public and embarrassing row over badly sorted garbage sent to the Philippines. https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canadian-garbage-from-phi...

That incident is however an indication of how difficult it is to properly dispose of single-use plastics, and this will help solve that problem.

pesfandiar said 3 months ago:

There's a federal election in Canada in October, and based on polls, the governing party is losing some votes to the Green Party. This could be more directly explained by that, but I agree that it's certainly a positive side effect regardless.

fooblitzky said 3 months ago:

Don't forget it's the same government investing billions of dollars in petrochemical plants[1] to manufacture.... more plastic.

[1] https://globalnews.ca/news/4857778/canadian-petrochemical-gr...

mabbo said 3 months ago:

It's an election year. Trudeau wants a second term. But he's turned off much of his traditional centrist base (corruption allegations, many of us realizing he's actually not very smart, etc). He's got new leaders on both the Conservative party (the right) and the NDP (the left) who are trying to squeeze the votes out of middle.

He knows he's got little chance of winning back anyone right of center- the Conservatives will take those votes most likely- so he's going after the votes on the left.

The plastic ban and the finally reopened marine mammal captivity bans are both moves to appeal to the environmentalist left. He'll probably also try to win over unions as much as he can. He wants to eat the NDP votes and hope it's enough to make up his loss on the right.

And I'll still probably vote for him again because the alternatives are somehow worse.

ghettoCoder said 3 months ago:

How are they worse? If he's stuck in a cycle of corruption allegations, appearing unintelligent or poorly prepared like you claim, and is openly and blatantly buying votes I can only imagine the alternatives must be incredibly poor for you to consider voting for him again. Somehow I doubt the alternatives that bad or even that different from. It's like religion, the more two religions are the same the more they hate the other.

Or have you bought into the negativity that every party sows against their opponents in the hopes of securing peoples votes against their better judgement.

sunkenvicar said 3 months ago:

For decades I have meticulously washed and sorted my blue bin recyclables. Now they are banning plastics because people on the other side of the world treat their rivers as garbage dumps.

I don’t litter. Don’t punish me.

I see this as a cynical re-election strategy. The election is in four months and the polls are not looking good for Trudeau. Awash in scandal and forseeing a strong Conservative turnout, he’s trying to grab votes from the Greens and NDP.

srj said 3 months ago:

Your blue bin recyclables were shipped to Asia and then dumped into a river. There's no economic sense to plastic recycling. The only viable strategies are to standardize on reuse or promote materials that are recyclable (i.e. aluminum).

brandon272 said 3 months ago:

Not to mention that plenty of people are not "meticulously washing and sorting" their recyclables and the popular method of single stream recycling is producing contaminated recycling streams filled with trash and non-compliant items.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-era-of-easy-recycli...

mmartinson said 3 months ago:

The problem is, it seems like much of the careful recycling didn't really work. It was never a circular system, just one in which a couple extra uses could be rinsed out due to some extra shipping capacity on container ships making it cheap to get it overseas.

How would it be for you if instead of a ban, a heavy disposal fee was added at the time of purchase to fund extensive waste sorting and recycling locally? How much is single use convenience worth to you? $1 per plastic fork?

It may be an awkward vote grab, but it's an glaring problem nonetheless.

kmlx said 3 months ago:

"How would it be for you if instead of a ban, a heavy disposal fee was added at the time of purchase to fund extensive waste sorting and recycling locally?"

how about the recycling companies pay us instead? we provide them with the raw materials, they profit. see plastic bottles' recycling all across europe. or the (ancient) glass bottles.

lozenge said 3 months ago:

Recycled material isn't worth enough to pay you, due to:

* cost of sorting * contamination, which can cause huge batches to be thrown out * decreasing quality and decreasing possibilities for use - what was once food safe plastic, can become bleach bottle plastic, which then becomes insulation or paving slabs. There is insufficient demand for paving slabs compared to the amount of plastic going into the recycling stream.

The only exception is aluminium cans, as it is much cheaper than smelting new aluminium, and just as useful.

The recycling industry is subsidised because trash is an externality.

rocky1138 said 3 months ago:

Our current recycling methods are not working. Less than 11% of plastic in Canada is recycled.

https://www.narcity.com/news/environment-officials-reveal-th...

deathanatos said 3 months ago:

I feel like "single-use plastics" evokes images of grocery pages, but what about trash bags? How is trash going to be moved with such a ban?

blobbers said 3 months ago:

YES. The minute we accepted garbage as a fact of life, we started down the incorrect path.

Hoping society can start correcting it.

3xblah said 3 months ago:

"Shoppers at East West Market in central Vancouver who decide to pay for a plastic bag are given a bag with an embarrassing logo emblazoned on it like "Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium," "Dr. Toews Wart Ointment Wholesale" or "The Colon Care Co-Op.""

core-questions said 3 months ago:

I'd pay extra for those

Zenbit_UX said 3 months ago:

I find it amazing that in the current political and environmental climate we live in Snapple recently decided to discontinue their infamous glass bottle in favor of a plastic one.

m23khan said 3 months ago:

it really does sound great but as a Canadian, this is what I think will happen:

- Retail will jump right away on this bandwagon and spend massive amounts of money advertising how they have done away with single use plastic

- Retail will introduce alternatives and jack up price for pretty much all their products citing cost of new materials

- The plastics industry will complain about their loss in business (despite majority of single use items being imported from China) and hence will jack up prices of all their products

- All manufacturers now using more expensive plastic will raise price of their products

- The poor ol' Canadian will get slapped on their faces by multiple business layers because of this.

- If alternatives are biodegradable, it means likely some food source or wood product will be used hence causing increase to that source which in turn will cause 'shortage' and 'high demand' and cause domino affect.

Sure, great for environment but the economy over here is such that, all businesses and industries are super opportunistic and will not only pass on cost increase to the consumer, but I suspect that they will also use this as excuse to increase their profit margin.

Because of our oh Canada's 'Governmental' concerns, us oh Canadians will probably end up paying 100s of dollars per year out of their own pocket...

steve_adams_86 said 3 months ago:

For what it's worth, we currently externalize those 100s per year into the commons, which is where this tragedy came from. We need to start paying real prices for living instead of building up a debt of damage to the earth. If that means more subsidies to those in need, great. I'll pay more in taxes _and_ inflated living costs if it means the cost of living is more realistic. I'll gladly forgo so many conveniences in life if it means systemic changes which reduce pressure on the planet.

The reality is that food, energy, and many other natural resources should cost far more than they do. The primary way they've become more affordable is through externalizing costs and it's been a huge mistake.

jayess said 3 months ago:

Can anyone answer whether plastic recycling actually happens? I've tried to search around before but can't find much concrete data on how/where plastic can actually be recycled and what it is recycled into.

fooblitzky said 3 months ago:

About 9% is recycled: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/03/06/only-9-o...

Recycled is really a misnomer though, more of a marketing term. Plastic can only be down-cycled. E.g. used food containers can never be recycled into new containers to hold food ever again. Usually after a couple of hops it's roadbase or landfill.

olejorgenb said 3 months ago:

Plastic bottles are recycled/downcycled when collected properly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PET_bottle_recycling#Global_st...

stronglikedan said 3 months ago:

Perhaps the answer isn't looking towards recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable plastics, but digestible plastics? This is coming from a complete layman on the topic, but something that randomly popped into my head.

rb808 said 3 months ago:

I need bags for a bunch of things and now have to buy plastic bags online. I'd like to buy biodegradable ones, does anyone have any recommendations how to check for bags really will degrade?

fooblitzky said 3 months ago:

You can look for logos showing the product is certified to compost in different environments, e.g.:

BPI: https://bpiworld.org/BPI-Public/Program.html OK Compost: http://www.tuv-at.be/home/

There are others.

Note that for most it still requires industrial composting to really decompose, and a bio-plastic bag in the ocean will be just as bad as a regular one.

bacon_waffle said 3 months ago:

> a bio-plastic bag in the ocean will be just as bad as a regular one.

Curious if you could provide justification for this; do you mean that an animal could just as easily choke on a bio plastic bag as a petro plastic one?

My non-biologist assumption had been that compostable plastic would just take longer to compost without the heat and high activity in a commercial situation. IOW, I think that we need to assume some fraction of manufactured stuff will always end up in the ocean, so it's better that is made from bio- than petro- materials.

JBReefer said 3 months ago:

Waxed paper bags

refurb said 3 months ago:

I’m assuming this is not ALL single use plastic?

Replacing sterile plastic packages for medical devices (for example) would be incredibly challenging.

jkaplowitz said 3 months ago:

No, they're still investigating what the exceptions should be but they are aware that there should be some.

somerandomness said 3 months ago:

If 90% come from 10 rivers, shouldn't we focus on monitoring those?

LinuxBender said 3 months ago:

Does this mean people will have to refill their prescription medications into the same bottle?

rocky1138 said 3 months ago:

This is a great idea and follows many of the behaviours found around the world for refilling existing containers rather than starting anew each time.

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/waitrose-plastic-pa...

makerofspoons said 3 months ago:

Why can't prescriptions come in recyclable paper boxes, or glass bottles for liquids?

OrgNet said 3 months ago:

Can you make an air-tight recyclable paper box? So that humidity/etc doesn't get in the pills

fooblitzky said 3 months ago:

Seems like an ideal use case for a glass jar.

alacombe said 3 months ago:

Glass breaks.

stronglikedan said 3 months ago:

Probably wouldn't work, since a lot of people get refills before they run out. Maybe glass bottles, or bottles made of paper like those insufferable paper straws?

top-news-talk said 3 months ago:

Cool So lets trade plastic for aluminum or paper boxes lined with wax. Trading one trash of another trash!