Add "Garbage Patch Skepticism" to my long list of sins

Another day, another heresy.

California is on the verge of banning "single use" plastic bags in all stores.

California would be the first state to ban plastic and most paper bags from grocery, convenience and other stores under a proposal that appears headed for a major legislative victory this week.

Shoppers who don't bring their own totes to a store would have to purchase paper bags made of at least 40 percent recycled material for a minimum of 5 cents or buy reusable bags under the proposal, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2012. A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supports the bill, which will be voted on in the Assembly this week and could go to a Senate vote this year.

The measure would go further than plastic bag bans in at least five California cities, including San Francisco.

San Francisco's ordinance applies only to chain supermarkets and pharmacies, but the state measure would bar the items from all food and convenience stores, and it would also restrict retailers from handing out free paper bags.

"AB1998 would ban all of the single-use bags that have been polluting our oceans and waterways and threatening marine life," said the bill's author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica.


While this is not the biggest deal in the world, it occurs to me that maybe I should defend my right to keep and bear this foul and toxic substance against people who mainly seem interested in cranking out feelgood legislation which seems designed mainly to inconvenience ordinary people.

Reading the text of the legislation, I was somewhat relieved that it does not make a crime out of simple possession or use of plastic bags. (Not yet, at least.) But as these things tend to become trends, I simply imagined how I would adjust if they did the same thing here. As it is now, I like to get in a little exercise when I go grocery shopping, and as my local supermarket is a half a mile away, I walk there and then back with my groceries -- something that is only possible because of the very convenient plastic bags. Offered the choice between plastic and paper, I always choose plastic, because I simply can't carry two or three paper bags full of groceries that distance. No, not even the ones that have the little handles, as they are very prone to break off. But the plastic bags are perfect. They weigh nothing, they envelop themselves around whatever is in them, and I have never had a handle break.

Best of all, they do double duty for doggy doo! Perfect for picking up Coco's droppings, and long enough to easily tie the mess up into a knot before throwing it away. (Which is what the powers that be want all us peons to do with our dog droppings, lest they cause outbreaks of "E Coli.") Anyway, for me the plastic grocery bags are not "single use." I stuff them in my pockets whenever I walk dogs. They're also handy for carrying other stuff I might encounter, such as nightcrawlers which I bring home for the fish.

If Michigan adopted a similar ordinance, I would simply be inconvenienced, which I suspect is the whole idea. Make people feel as if they're criminals against the environment. I notice that the text of the law does not ban the sale of these bags inside the stores, though, nor does it prohibit people like me from carrying and using them. But I have a feeling that if I did walk into a California store with one of my bags to use as a tote bag, some busybody might object. Because it's plastic, and plastic is evil! What they want is for me to do what all nice little environmentalists do and lug around a heavy canvas (or hemp) bag, and use that for my groceries. Sorry, but I won't. I don't carry around canvas tote bags when I walk about in my daily business, and I don't plan to start. They are ridiculous and inconvenient. The plastic ones work better, crumple into nothing and fit in my pocket.

Besides the heavy canvas bags are no good for picking up dogshit. For that you need plastic.

And plastic is the enemy -- make no mistake about it.

As the legislation itself declares, there's a huge patch of floating plastic (aka "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch"), and it is now said to be larger than the United States:


SECTION 1. The Legislature finds and declares all of the

(a) The prohibition imposed by this act, pursuant to Section
42281 of the Public Resources Code, is necessary for the
environmental, public health, and societal burdens imposed by
the use of single-use plastic carryout bags.


(d) The North Pacific Gyre in the Pacific Ocean is home to
largest garbage dump of plastic trash, now estimated to be
the size
the largest accumulation of plastic
pollution, now estimated to be the size
of the United States
and is increasing rapidly.

OK, right there, I'm skeptical. And I am not alone. Some environmentalists are skeptical that wild claims are being made. Skeptoid calls the claim "ripe for scientific inquiry" and notes that descriptions of the area claimed to be full of floating plastic had morphed from two football fields to an area the size of Texas, and to an area bigger than Texas, and he concludes,
Bringing attention to the issue is good; presenting an overdramatized representation of the facts to do so, not so much.
Except the claimed area has continued to grow exponentially, from larger than Texas to the size of the United States, and finally to a size much bigger than the United States.

Who does the verifying? And how? Aren't these claims supposed to be independently verified before they're written into laws? Or are we just to accept the claims of "experts"? Who might they be?

The discoverer (I'd hate to say "inventor") of Great Pacific Garbage Patch Theory is a man named Captain Charles Moore. Here he is talking about the patch, and I admit, he has a great flair for the dramatic.

But who is this guy? Virtually every discussion of the Patch cites him; the Wiki page on the Patch cites him as a leading authority, but little seems to be known about him (not even a date of birth) other than the fact that he was a boat racing enthusiast who became a committed environmentalist after finding the Patch.

What is known but doesn't seem widely publicized is that he's an heir to oil money, and more of an activist than independent oceanographer:

The patch of garbage, which has actually expanded into two connecting areas known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches, was first discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who was "taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race."

As Moore navigated through the rarely traveled North Pacific gyre, "a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems," he became perplexed that there, thousands of miles from shore, was an endless stream of debris:

"Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by. How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?"

The spectacle both galled and galvanized Moore. Heir to an oil industry fortune, he sold his business interests and became an environmental activist, founding the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Is it not possible that such a man might have ample reason to exaggerate his claims?

Who checks this stuff? Has it been independently verified that the Patch is now the size of the United States and getting ever larger? How do we know? I mean, at its present rate of growth, pretty soon the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be larger than the Pacific Ocean itself.

Where are the layers of MSM fact checkers when you need them?

How do we know this isn't just "garbage in, garbage out"?

posted by Eric on 06.04.10 at 04:30 PM


China banned disposable plastic shopping bags years ago, but for a reason unrelated to the environment. China banned plastic bags to free up the petroleum for other uses. I can't say this sounds irrational to me. China has very little oil, and their demand for gasoline is growing by double digits.

chocolatier   ·  June 4, 2010 5:56 PM

Same as you, I use plastic bags to pick up after the dogs. I also like them to carry home all the raw meat I buy at grocery stores for my dogs. If I had to use those canvas/material bags, I would have to wash them after each use because I wouldn't want 'meat gunk' to possibly get on my veggies/fruits the next time I went shopping. So that means using more water and more energy, not to mention wasting my time. And I bet those crappy $1 bags won't hold up through too many washings, so I'll have to keep replacing them.

Doggie finger to California politicians.

Karen   ·  June 4, 2010 10:37 PM

Is California "too big to fail"?

Sorry...That was merely a "rhetorical" question.

Penny   ·  June 5, 2010 12:01 AM

Someone pointed out that the plastic bags are made from oil refinery waste products. So if they're banned, the waste products will simply be wasted - most likely, into the environment.

This is just another loony idea from a Santa Monica Democrat.

Like others, I use my bags for other things (so they're not "single use"). At home, trash can liners, mostly.

"... some busybody might object."
I would strongly suggest that "some busybody" not do that in my presence.

If banning the bag is a good thing, then government should convince us by logic and reason, not by ramming some silly law down our throats.

When plastic bags are banned, only criminals will have them.

Here's one of the more brilliant parts of the law (thanks for the link!):

"Article 1. Definitions
"(c) "Single-use carryout bag" means a bag that meets all of the
following conditions:
(1) Is designed for one or more uses, but fewer than 100 uses."

So a "single use" bag is one that may be used up to 99 times.

Solution: buy plastic bags in quantity from a supplier in South America. (The shipping should be cheaper than from Europe.)

Speaking of Europe, for decades, people have been using their own shopping bags. There are none at the store (at least, when I was there). Mainly, they're made of a fishnet material, so they scrunch up into a little ball when they're not being used.

On that other subject, has anyone seen a satellite photo of this gigantic floating trash heap? The whole ocean has been covered (with photos, that is); it should surely show up somewhere.

ZZMike   ·  June 5, 2010 4:58 AM

Somewhere on the intertubes is a vid I saw of the "patch" there did appear to be some small bits of plastic in the water column, but Nothing on the surface,zip,zero,nada,just my 2c

Bobnormal   ·  June 5, 2010 12:38 PM

So Eric, you hate Gaia, is that it?

You need to understand, once a claim of how evil people are destroying the environment is made you're supposed to accept it and act as if it's true and work to fix it, even if such a fix dramatically lowers the standard of living of everybody (poor hardest hit).

Geez, it's like you haven't learned anything from Silent Spring and global warmmongering.

Veeshir   ·  June 6, 2010 10:05 AM

So if "Captain Charles Moore" (what the hell is he a captain of, anyhow?) is so concerned about these huge Pacific Garbage patches, why doesn't he DO something about them? Hell, put all of that "evil" family oil money to some good use! Buy yourself a old tramp freighter, stick a big vacuum on it, and "hoover" up all that trash out of the "pristine ocean", instead of just running around complaining about it!
I also force my "single-use" bags to multitask. They come in handy for all kinds of stuff, including my dog-walks. But, I usually shop at a grocery store that still provides "single-use" PAPER bags, which I also re-use. Not because I like to hug trees or anything, but just because I'm "thrifty."

cas   ·  June 7, 2010 11:42 PM

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