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Breaking down the plastic bag issue

The innocuous plastic shopping bag is at the centre of a fierce debate.

As Chiara Francavilla reports for MRW, biodegradable packaging is likely to be exempted from the levy on bags proposed for 2015. ‘Likely’ because, while existing bags are not considered by Defra to be of the required standard, it expects that to be achieved by next year.

Many were taken by surprise when Defra announced the proposed exemption. There has also been concern about Defra-commissioned research by two unnamed companies into what it would take to make a decent bag.

But the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association, whose members stand to be hugely affected by the research, has questioned the expertise of the researchers.

Defra will not name either until contracts are signed. But it seems to be an unnecessary lack of transparency when 8.5 billion bags are at stake.

On a completely different tack, I am currently enjoying a fascinating book on the global trade in waste which was published on Thursday. Junkyard Planet is written by Adam Minter, who grew up in a family of scrap dealers in Minneapolis and is now the Shanghai correspondent for Bloomberg.

He paints a vivid picture of big business across the world: according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, in 2012 the US processed 135 million tonnes of scrap metal, paper, plastics, WEEE, textiles, glass and rubber and exported 47 million tonnes of scrap commodities valued at nearly £17bn to 160 countries.

According to Minter, the trade between the US (as a consuming giant) and China (now a manufacturing giant) is one of globalisation’s “great, green successes”. His conclusion comes despite honest recognition of the often appalling working conditions by which western excess is turned into tomorrow’s products.

This pragmatic and practical approach from Minter is refreshing to read.

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