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Science News

South Africa Bans Plastic Bags 65

orrinrule writes "Yahoo! reports that South Africa's environment ministry bans plastic bags." Life's no fun any more.
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South Africa Bans Plastic Bags

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  • Uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @03:32PM (#5921298) Homepage Journal
    I better dump my stash in this nearby ravine.
  • by BigBir3d ( 454486 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @03:39PM (#5921370) Journal
    Why not punish those those citizens that choose to litter? Tazer to the genitals seems about right in line with this new legislation ;)
  • Not banned... (Score:5, Informative)

    by quandrum ( 652868 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @03:52PM (#5921480)
    if anyone had RTFA, they are banning bags of less then 30 *MICRONS* thickness. (The current bags are 17) Of course the consumer gets the to pay the cost of that extra .01 gram of plastic
    • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @05:11PM (#5922166) Homepage Journal
      "if anyone had RTFA, they are banning bags of less then 30 *MICRONS* thickness. (The current bags are 17)"

      Makes you wonder why Slashdot Submitters feel the need to sensationalize their stories. There must be aspirations to work for CNN. "Hi Mom. My description of a story is in print!"
      • Everyone's complaining that the headline and posting was incorrect. But notice

        South Africa Bans Plastic Bags

        Technically it's still correct! Sure someone may assume that it means all plastic bags but it can just as easily mean all bags below a certain thickness. It's not /.s fault that you're making ungrounded assumptions. Come on it's just like CNN saying they're giving unbiased reports, it's your fault if you assume the unbiased reports they're given are on anything more important than the availabi
  • by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @03:52PM (#5921490) Homepage
    I bet there is some lawyer in Africa who has a thing for topology who is laughing his ass off right now.
  • they banned plastic bags below a certain thickness.
  • by kfx ( 603703 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:02PM (#5921566)
    Pity the men whose small sacks are now illegal...
  • Ban hands (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Nobody likes litter. I think this ban on plastic bags is short-sighted. Unless South Africa bans hands, they won't be getting to the root of this litter problem.
    • Read the article -- the point is that these thin bags are more difficult to recycle. They are trying to favor plastic bags that can be recycled, not eliminating bags altogether.
  • My Physical Education bag used to be a plastic bag, which means I could not attend in gymnastics.
    Now, where is the bad news?
  • plastic or paper? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bowling Moses ( 591924 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:06PM (#5921593) Journal
    I can see how they want to get rid of the unsightliness of plastic bags blowing around everywhere, but this solution may be flawed. In a book I read on University of Arizona's famed garbology project (official website here [arizona.edu]), plastic has some advantages over paper. Easier to recycle, compresses better, and in a sanitary landfill, well, decomposition's bad. You'd prefer it to dessicate and sit there more or less inert and stable. The only landfill where there's much decomposition is going on is at Fresh Kills landfill in New York, conveniently located on the coast so it stays wet and the tides agitate the toxic sludge. However the problem facing South Africa looks like its going after is a litter problem, which maybe could be better fixed by building up the infrastructure to handle the garbage problem. While that may be a better, more permanent solution its also harder and more expensive to implement. Although it does remind me of one of Iraq's current problems, that being piles of trash that haven't been picked up in months and are still a low priority. Too bad it's also a recipe for a cholera epidemic.
    • Easier to recycle

      Interesting. The Ecology Center [ecologycenter.org] argues the opposite: Plastic is harder to recycle, the recycling process is more toxic, and plastic can only effectively be recycled a handfull of times before the chemcical structure begins to break down.
      • If the plastic is reduced to monomers, it's hard to see how degradation of a few molecules could affect the usability of the result; they'd be filtered out during the separation process. I'm sure the same thing happens when monomers are made in the first place.

        If you're just trying to re-melt and mold (or blow, or extrude) the same polymer again, I'm sure you're right.

        • "Paper or plastic" is a false dichotomy. The best shopping bags are made of cloth. Natural fiber cloth bags can last a very long time-- obviating the need for single or limited use bags. And waste reduction (through reuse) is far more important than any level of recyclability. Natural fiber cloth bags can also theoretically be recycled into paper.
    • Although it does remind me of one of Iraq's current problems, that being piles of trash that haven't been picked up in months and are still a low priority. Too bad it's also a recipe for a cholera epidemic.

      Yeah, but THEY'RE FREE NOW. Who cares? Onward to Syria!

      Seriously though, if we just make some commercials that say "garbage helps terrorism", people will just stop making garbage. Problem solved.
  • My boss, a fellow from South Africa did not understand the reference to "national flower". I get the impression, where ever the author of the story is from considers the "plastic bag" the national flower.

    I know it makes it sound interesting, but why can't the press just report the news instead of making commentary on it?
  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Strange Ranger ( 454494 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:09PM (#5921614)
    now only criminals will use.. ah forget it.

    On a serious note, here in the US we use those bags for everything. Then we stuff them in a drawer or next to the fridge and reuse them much of the time. You don't see them littering our streets much at all. If South Africans feel it's okay to litter these bags everywhere, then they'll feel fine about littering other things too. The law might help a little, but you can't clean up your town or country without first cleaning up the prevailing attitude about littering.

    For an example check out American Samoa. The whole island looks like New Orleans after Mardi Gras. Trash everywhere. You can't drive down a road without the car in front of you tossing crap out the window. It's disgusting. If you ask about it the locals just smirk like you're the foolish one... Hey the storms and ocean eventually wash everything away right? How silly to actually collect it and put it somewhere out of sight! A strong littering law there would certainly generate some cash for the government, but it would be even worse than speed limits here; no one would really believe in it, and no one would really follow it.

    First they would have to do a huge public awareness campaign and market cleanliness as COOL and responsible, and market littering as ignorant and old-fashioned. They'd have to teach school children to yell at their parents (like they do here about smoking), and give awards to clean-up crews. Then the law would MEAN something, other than fine revenue for the state.
    • Plastic bags are only a problem in other countries where everybody's too lazy to pick them up? Jingoistic nonsense. America is drowning [ourbeach.org] in litter, much of it plastic. Not only is it expensive to go around picking it up (when was the last time you saw a freeway without a "cleanup sponsored by" sign?), we're rapidly running of landfill space. If other countries don't hide the mess as well, it's because they're broke, not because they're lazy.

      Any way, if you had read past the stupid Slashdot headline, you'd

  • my local coop... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by an_mo ( 175299 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:13PM (#5921643) Journal
    has posted information with reasons why they are advocating the use of plastic bags instead of the standard paper bags. It claims plastic bags are much more environment friendly, for example it takes 6 truckloads of paper bags to deliver one equivalent truckload of plastic bags. Reusability is also an issue with paper bags.
    • I have a question (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ApharmdB ( 572578 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:25PM (#5921751)
      Why doesn't your local co-op advocate the use of resuable bags? I bought 3 mesh bags about 4 years ago and they have done their job well this whole time. They ball up small, and I just keep them in my car so that I don't forget them. Also, they can hold a lot if you can carry it. I finally broke the handle on one once by putting 5 half-gallons of milk and juice into it. I just sewer the handle back on. I've probably saved hundreds of bags over the last 4 years of grocery shopping by doing so.
    • it takes 6 truckloads of paper bags to deliver one equivalent truckload of plastic bags

      Not here at the local Wal-mart. Most of the checkers load each plastic bag with two items. And I'm not talking milk here. Often I'll get home and find 50 bags each containing something like a can of beans and two envelopes of kool-aid. No kidding.

      Occasionally I'll run into a checker that makes an attempt to fill bags more optimally. One would even use that 6 bag turntable thing they use to hold 6 partially full ba
  • by Celt ( 125318 ) * on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:14PM (#5921657) Homepage Journal
    Best they we ever did, 15c for every carrier bag given out.

    The country is a cleaner place now.
    I think every country should follow us, (UK take note)
    • Is that certain stores or is it all stores?

      That really isn't a bad idea. Here in the states (some anyways) we have bottle deposits for soda and beer. Basically when you buy a case of soda here it will say 4.00. But when you actually pay it will be 5.20. Then you can return the bottles or cans for your "refund". Maybe something like that should be implemented.

      Now to my original point. If only one store passed on a cast like this to their customers, it'd be death to that store. Perceiveable costs, ev
      • In every store/shop/supermarket in the country.

        The 15c per bag is passed onto the goverment, the send inspectors round randomly to check this.
        • 15c per bag is passed onto the goverment

          Oh, that is bad form. The last thing the world needs is more government. If anything the government should take that money and earmark it for recycling programs. Best case the stores should be required to put the money towards recycling.

          Some of the local supermarkets around here will allow you to use old paper bags and get 5 cents for each off your reciept.
          • No, it is (as the original poster said) one of the best decisions that the Irish government has ever made.

            It is a simple, straightforeward tax aimed at preventing litter. And (now pay attention - this is the important bit...) IT WORKS.

            People have started reusing plastic bags. The don't thow them away, or drop them on the street. They reuse them.

            In the South African case, the country has a major problem in some areas of litter from cheap plastic bags. The bags are made as thin as possible, to make them as
            • Yeah but atleast its a start, even if it is a tax.

              Its better then the way things are, I will admit better things could be done
              But atleast its something, atleast its helped in someway.
              People are now more aware of plastic bags because now they have to pay for them.

              The ironic thing about all of this IS, back in the 70's people had to pay for bags here and it was supermarkets that introduced the idea of free bags.
    • The fistfight to come to the 15c conclusion must have been a doozy...
    • Yes, this is one of the great things I noticed in Europe, and I think they are bringing this into Australia, at least SA.
    • That'd be Euro 0.15, right? About 17 cents, U.S.

      Environmentalists keep trying to do stuff like that in the U.S., but nobody wants the inconvenience. In California, after a lot of noise and confrontation, we have a "recycle value" of 3 cents per container. Any more would cut into soda pop consumption, and drive 7-11 out of business! Of course, such a small deposit has no effect at all.

      • Yes, you also have to keep the cans intact in order to get the full value out of them (so the bar codes can be read) or else you just have to sell them for their weight in aluminum. Ditto for glass. What an inconvenience! This means that the people who buy the most canned/bottled beverages or other products lose the most money and/or time due to this tax, even though they return more recyclables than, say, both their neighbors who don't recycle throw away.
  • If I understand the article correctly, in order to reduce the amount of plastic bags floating around their cities, they're going to...require stores by law to have thicker bags? Is there some sort of relationship between bag thickness and the propensity to not recycle it or stick it in the trash? Or maybe they're just so light they float out easily. ;-)
    • Is there some sort of relationship between bag thickness and the propensity to not recycle it or stick it in the trash? Or maybe they're just so light they float out easily. ;-)

      Ding ding ding! Right answer. The problem with the very thin plastic bags is that they blow around, even blowing out of trash dumps. This has nothing to do with individuals littering.

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @04:50PM (#5921995) Journal
    (I'm pretty certain the site I plagiarized this from plagiarized it from the Wall Street Journal. I read it there, in essentially this form.)

    Back in 1990, pet-store owner Stuart Thomson ordered new plastic bags for his store in Glasgow, Scotland. Within weeks, a stack of flimsy white sacks stamped with a red parrot and his Pet Shop's address showed up on his doorstep.

    Mr. Thomson didn't give the matter any more thought until a letter arrived years later from a German trekker reporting odd tales from the sun-scorched bazaars of Central Asia. That was only the beginning. One by one, youthful backpackers, European diplomats and rugged mountain climbers started turning up at his shop like disciples, guided by the address on a plastic bag.

    None had any interest in cat litter, poodles or aquariums. They had come to Glasgow in search of an answer to a mystery they had encountered on their travels thousands of miles away: Why, from the blue-tiled mosques of Uzbekistan to the hairpin turns of the mountainous Karakoram Highway, were so many people carrying bags adorned with Mr. Thomson's red parrot?

    Border guards in Pakistan use them to hold their lunch. Kyrgyz shoppers stuff them with pickled fish, speckled rice and malodorous meat. Camels once traversed the sandy paths of Central Asia's legendary trade route, the Silk Road. But today's traders think nothing of carrying their wares in a Scottish parrot sack.

    Without knowing it, Mr. Thomson had turned his cramped pet shop into one of the best-known brand names in Central Asia. In this age of global capitalism, the parrot sack is a bizarre mutation, a peculiar byproduct of the big bang that has led the planet's most diverse peoples and cultures to be united by nothing more substantial than the Nike swoosh, the Golden Arches or Mr. Thomson's red bird.

    "I was really flummoxed at the beginning," the pet salesman says, adjusting his spectacles as an employee vacuums birdseed from the rug. Soon after the German wrote, a group of merry Scots having a dinner party in western China rang up. "We'd be happy if you'd settle an argument," they giggled into the phone. "How did these bags come to be here?"

    Good question. A reconnaissance mission to the tiny, mountainous republic of Kyrgyzstan suggests western China itself is the source of all that is plastic and parrot-festooned. The traders bringing the bags here are Uighurs, the Muslim minority group from China's restive desert region of Xinjiang. They sell their wares at a giant, muddy market in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, lunching on dumplings and noodles as shoppers paw through brightly colored fabrics, stacks of buckets and rows and rows of parrot bags.

    "We don't talk to journalists," one mutters in broken Russian when asked about the bags, disappearing into a metal hut before his picture can be snapped.

    These secretive agents, Mr. Thomson believes, buy the bags from a giant plastics factory in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The plant prints about 150,000 bags for the pet shop a year and churns out millions of variations on the side for extra profit, he says, adding that some of his business associates suggested to him that the sacks may be part of an elaborate scheme to milk subsidies from the Chinese government. "The machines are going 24 hours a day, I'm told," he says.

    Mr. Thomson's sacks carry the classic design -- a red parrot on a white bag with the address 992 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow. Most of the bags in Central Asia once copied the same motif, only on a yellow sack. But a stroll through the Alamadeen food market in Bishkek shows the parrot has begun to mutate wildly. One knockoff boasts two red parrots, the wrong address on Pollokshaws Road and, oddly, the words "More, More, More!" Another shows two red robins clearly inspired by the parrot and the message "The Plastic Bag Shop. Welcome Patronage."

    Mr. Thomson can't fathom why his parrot became the subject of such admiration. He's too busy with squawking birds and barking dogs to get to
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @05:31PM (#5922284) Homepage Journal
    Are all the editors too busy playing The Sims to actually read the articles before posting them? South Africa hasn't banned all plastic bags, or even most of them. They've only banned plastic shopping bags. And not even all of those -- just the super-thin ones that aren't worth recycling.

    Which sounds pretty sensible to me. If these bags had even a tiny monetary value, they'd soon be scavanged up by SA's huge impoverished underclass. By forcing merchants to use recyclable bags, the solve an ecological problem and inject a little money into the lower economy too.

  • by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Friday May 09, 2003 @06:07PM (#5922547) Homepage
    Here's a story [anchorage.com] about it.

    "Outside the Western Alaska village of Emmonak, white plastic shopping bags used to start appearing 15 miles from town. They blew out of the dump and rolled across the tundra like tumbleweeds. In Galena, they snagged in the trees and drifted into the Yukon River. Outside Kotlik, on the Yukon Delta, bags were found tangled around salmon and seals. No more. All three villages banned the bags."

    Typing monkeys produce 5 pages of gibberish [slashdot.org]

  • I read an article in an old early 50's magazine where they were warning people of the hazards of plastic. They knew then it would be a horrible problem.

    Plastic lasts all but forever in the wild, in your house it lasts about 20 seconds.
    Nobody hardly recycles it. It fills the dumps, it blows everywhere, it's terrible.

    I don't remember seeing too many brown paper bags blowing around before these damn things took over. Junk (toys, houseware, car parts, etc.) made of plastic is just plain junk, it breaks and
  • So, you go to the grocery and the kid puts the 12 things you bought in 13 plastic bags. You put the bags in your car and, of course, everything you bought rolls out of the bags as soon as you brake or turn a corner.

    Or, the kid puts that gallon of milk into one little bag. Of course, the bottom of the bag breaches on your way out.

    Or, the cute little handle breaks as you walk out of the store, dumping the contents.

    Or, you say "Paper, please" and the kid says "We're out". You look 5 feet to the right and
  • This is another one of those legislative solutions to sociological problems that the current South African regime is so apt to dream up. The problem is that a sizeable part of the population (who incidentally also make up most of the voters for the party of the honorable comrade minister who initiated this) care not about walking to the closest rubbish bin to dump their stuff in it - I think somebody once mentioned something about stimulating the economy by creating jobs for janitors. Unfortunately, only th

  • by eugene_roux ( 76055 ) on Saturday May 10, 2003 @03:13PM (#5926864) Homepage
    Local testing here in South Africa found that the 17micron bags were very difficult to near impossible to recycle.

    Between the thinness of the bags and the ink used on the plastic bags by the shops and supermarkets, attempts of recycling the bags just caused the plastic to be contaminated beyond use.

    Additionally the 30micron bags, beyond merely being easier to recycle, will also encourage reuse, since the amounts paid by the consumers out of their own pockets, while certainly not excessive, are quite noticible to the majority of South Africans.

    It had been observed that people tend to value what they pay for somewhat more than that which they receive for free...

  • corn starch (Score:2, Interesting)

    by poptones ( 653660 )
    No one harping on the evils of plastic bags seems aware that so many of these "useless" plastic bags are now made from a corn starch blend that allows them to break down quickly in the rain or sun.

    Banning these thin, useless bags seems rather stupid . The "better" thicker bags will NOT break down like the thin corn starch bags, which will just make the problem worse. Seems more logical to require ALL shopping bags be of the corn starch variety. Or, better still, require all shopping sacks to be of cloth

  • Actually, I think the most interesting part of the Slashdot post is

    Life's no fun any more.

    Given the rapidly spiralling quality of slashdot in the past months, I suspect this reflects the opinion of most of the editorial staff..

  • Balloons are much more dangerous, if you know what i mean.

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