As predictable as a sausage sizzle on Australia Day, the Keep Australia Beautiful mob used the weekend to call for a national tax on supermarket plastic bags which I suppose is the soft option compared with Clean Up Australia wanting them banned altogether. Too bad it’s nonsense.

It’s also too bad that about the only rational examination of the plastic bag issue received very little media coverage while the usual suspects continue to chew up newsprint with their irrational attacks on the convenient and unfairly maligned bags. Which reinforces suspicions about environment writers tending to “go native”, becoming captives of the various green lobbies.

As covered in Crikey at the time, the Productivity Commission’s report on litter last month pretty much cleared supermarket plastic bags of the charges made against them.

The report was hugely un-reported elsewhere. Google the issue and you’ll find the commission getting a footnote now in stories about plastic bags, but the big headline opportunity came and went: Plastic Bags Not Guilty.

The draft report earlier last year had a minor run around the ridges, a mention on the ABC and not much else while the anti-bag people march on regardless. Invited by the commission to point out any flaws in their argument, Planet Ark et al came up with nothing.

So it goes. Never let facts get in the way of a feel-good campaign that lets people think they’re saving the planet. Actually, don’t do much to let the facts get anywhere.

That plastic bags are only a minute fraction of landfill, that they might actually help landfill operations, that they are a tiny part of the general litter problem, that there is no evidence that they pose a serious threat to marine life, that supermarket bags are down by 45% but there’s been no reduction in litter – well, they’re all just inconvenient and unpublicised truths.

Peter Fray

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