Another dot in the blogosphere?

Beyond the headline

Posted on: October 21, 2020

 
If there ever was a headline that created dissonance, it might be this one: Single-use plastic bags have ‘lower environmental footprint’ compared to paper and cotton bags in cities like Singapore.

Why dissonance? It counters the message that we need to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But there is more nuance to all sides of the environmental argument.

The “save the earth” message is heralded by the 3Rs as principles to practice. But this does not discount that context matters. If we take into account the environmental impact of bag “production, distribution, transportation, waste collection, treatment and end-of-life disposal”, single-use plastic bags could be “the most eco-friendly option” by this research project’s numbers.

Here is one more number. According to the principle investigator of the research project, “reusable plastic bags are the best option, provided that they are re-used many times – over 50 times to be precise”. These are better than single-use bags and even paper and cloth bags.

See? Dissonance.

To add to the discomfort is another caveat. Single-use plastic bags, if incinerated (like they are here) are the “best option that is currently available, provided that there is no significant leakage of waste into the environment”.

But all these figures and practices does not mean that we take a non-nuanced stance of doing what we already do: Use once and burn. What the article did not turn to is how the interpretation of such research affects human attitudes.

I would wager that most people cannot tell if they are using single-use or multiple-use plastic bags. Most Singaporeans still expect to get plastic bags and demand them if they do not. Service staff reach for plastic to wrap and bag with muscle memory. Just buy several buns at a local confectionary and watch the plastic bag version of Inception play out. The attitude is one of indifference, not nuanced use of bags.

No one is going to count the number of uses of every plastic bag. Very few care what happens to a plastic bag once they dispose of it. Tell any of these people that single-use bags are best here only entrenches ignorance (don’t know) and apathy (don’t care).

We need news articles that go beyond facts and figures. We need readers who are information literate so that they can tell the difference and make a difference.

1 Response to "Beyond the headline"

pain: Why did you call Jeffery Perkins Jeffy Weffy?

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