Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Corn starch bag introduction: poor environmental decision making

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Councillor Gary Hopkins introduction of corn starch plastic bags free to all households that want them is a waste of £100,000 per year of our council taxes and is poor environmental decision making. I sympathise with many of the sentiments expressed by letter writers Bernard Seward, Ambrose Porter and Malcolm Leslie (Feedback: Corn Starch Bags, Post, April 28).

It makes little economic sense to have the council bearing the cost of introducing a manufactured bio-plastic bag into a recycling system where the vast majority of Bristol's public are already managing perfectly well wrapping their food waste in a free, otherwise waste, product. They use newspaper, other waste paper or empty cereal packets etc.

Its makes little environmental sense either, as the bags increase the total environmental impact of the recycling system itself. Even if the bags in isolation are carbon neutral, the farming of the corn to get the starch and the manufacturing and transport of the bags certainly are not. Additionally, land used to grow corn for the bags is land that could be growing food for people! Land may even be cleared to grow the corn, at a cost to wildlife.

Its worrying that environmental decisions like this aren't approached rationally ie by gathering full information and assessing it before deciding. Greens have persistently requested that data on total bag environmental impact should be gathered before their possible introduction. No attempt was made at getting even broad estimates. Poor and incorrect responses were given to questions. One council official claimed, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, that because the bags were made from biomass (material from living origins) they were carbon neutral -mahogany doors are made from biomass but no-one would suggest that its carbon neutral to cut down and process rainforest trees to get them!!

The idea of the bags is to get more people recycling food scraps, cutting council waste costs and cutting environmental impacts. However, since the total environmental impact of bag introduction has not been established we will not be able to calculate whether any environmental gains made from increased recycling fully compensate for the environmental cost of making the bags. Even if they did its a very inefficient and expensive way to cut impacts - £100,000 per year more for energy saving, getting people out of cars and onto bikes or getting people to grow some of their own food, can easily be shown as far better options. Less chance of 'green' publicity and kudos for Cllr Hopkins with these options perhaps?? Or is this all much more about saving money alone??