Harm to wildlife from plastic bags is a fraction of what we have been told

Bans on plastic bags at the grocery store and tremendous hoopla advocating reusable bags is all because the massively huge amount of plastic in the oceans kills massively huge numbers of birds and marine mammals.


Maybe there isn’t even a fraction of the harm to wildlife we’ve been told about.

Article at SFGate explains Garbage-patch tale as flimsy as a single-use plastic bag.

The scientist who calculated there is 1,000,000 tons of plastic debris floating on the surfaces of the oceans has a new study out, found here. I only browsed it, but the conclusions in the paper support the SFGate article.

His new study calculates there is between 7,000 and 35,000 tons of plastic floating around the world. Notice the consistency of the item measured – tons floating on the surface.

That means his earlier estimate is off by a factor of somewhere between 29 and 143 times. He overestimated by a factor of somewhere around a hundred.

Phrased differently, he has dropped his estimate between 96% and 99%.

On a related topic, the article points out one typical estimate is 1,500,000 marine mammals are killed by plastics every year. The article says the purveyor of that stat has revised the estimate to 100,000, which is linked back to a UN study that itself doesn’t have any sourcing.

So, maybe there are 1,500K marine critters killed a year. No, wait, its only 100K. No, wait, that is an unsourced number.

So based on an unknown number of marine mammals killed (but which estimate varies by a factor of 15) and a 96% or 99% drop in the amount of plastic on the ocean, we have bans on plastic bags in California?

So what, you may ask?

Recycable bags hurt and kill people.

Injuries and deaths of humans from plastic bag bans

In August 2012, I discussed that reusable bags are a source of nasty bacteria that make people sick:  2 more unintended consequences.

The bacteria cross-contaminates other food you bring home, which increases the chance of getting sick. One commentator somewhere said that storing bags that held meat in the back seat of your car where it can cook at over 100 degrees for hours at a time is a great recipe to get sick.

How sick?

In February 2013, I asked How many people die from reusable grocery bags?

The answer is 5.5 per year in San Francisco County. The rate of hospitalization and fatalities increased in the county after a ban on plastic bags went into effect. The researchers isolated other factors and determined the link of deaths due to reusable bags was 5.5 per year.

I will keep my eyes open for more data and firmer data than discussed in the SFGate article. When I find something, I’ll go back to the ratio of lost human lives to saved bird lives. Need to get better data before opening that discussion. The existing data isn’t pretty. Any revisions will move us into the immoral range.

PJ Tatler pointed me to the SFGate article. His discussion is Plastic Bag Fantasy Island Vanishes Like Atlantis, Scientist Corrects Million-Ton Floating Estimate. He has observed when growing up in the woods that birds are quite picky in what they eat, thus he has always doubted that very many birds die from eating plastic.

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