There’s nothing like a good ban!

The ABC announced the other day that the ACT Government was considering a total ban on single-use plastics, like plastic bags, knives, forks and other picnic and fast-food essentials. The relevant Minister said that the Government thought a ban was a good idea, but the community ought to be involved, so there would need to be a discussion paper. We in Canberra have a lot of discussion papers. What effect they have on public policy is rarely clear.

Before I could gather my own voice, I heard my wife say, loudly, ‘What a silly idea!’ and I agreed. It is a stupendously silly idea; in defence, it may be part of the ‘keeping-the-Greens-onside’ position of the otherwise Labor ACT Government. Very few in their right mind would see this ban as something the Territory needs right now, or in any likely future. We don’t seem to have a plastic-knives crisis. The Minister himself said that plastic bags make up less than one per cent of the rubbish in ACT landfills, but it was only the tip of the problem (his play on words, not mine). What exactly is the problem below the tip? He did not enlighten us.

It happens that South Australia is proposing such a discussion paper in January, while the EU said something similar last year: a ban on anything plastic for which there was a readily available alternative. Perhaps the ACT Government wants to be in the van with its ban, and provide a lead to the rest of the nation, SA excepted. Our Minister also said a cotton bag equivalent would require 7,000 uses to break even with its little plastic brother, which suggests that he is unsure about the real point of the ban. Altogether this is a solution looking for a problem. If ACT Labor and its Green supporters want to make a difference about plastic bags, they should help the countries in Asia where plastic detritus really does clog up streams.

Here, for those who like images, are two waterways, the first in Bangladesh, the second in Cambodia. Try as you might, you’ll find nothing like that in the ACT nor, I should imagine, anywhere else in Australia. Ours is a comparatively clean, ordered and tidy nation.


Where does this banning push come from? I have no evidence, and what follows is simply my speculation. First, there is an environmental movement whose members see things like plastic as human-made, disposable, not sustainable, and just bad. Some of them won’t wear leather, some won’t eat meat, some won’t drive cars, and so on. They think the rest of us ought to be like them. How the world would actually work if what they wanted were to occur does not seem to have occupied them. Some think there are too many humans, as well, though one assumes that stricture does not apply to themselves.

There is a religious element in all this, and it comes, I think, from the steady decline in church attendance since the end of the second world war. I’ve written about this in the past. Women made up the majority of church attenders in the past, and still do. But the absorption of women into the contemporary workforce has reduced the numbers available for church support and church attendance. Our culture has a strong element of ‘doing good’ in it, and going to church was once part of this culture. It probably still is, for those who attend.

How much one feels that way is probably unique to the individual. My own spiritual, ‘doing good’ sentiment is satisfied by good music, good literature and good art, which make me feel how creative and beneficial humans can be. And I support financially a few entities that I think carry on that work. I can see that others feel the need to do more themselves. There are scads of community groups with worthy aims, and membership and activity in these groups make people feel that they are doing good things.

At a more elevated level there are those who want to ‘save the planet’. They help to do this both by running their lives so that they feel that they have helped in the saving, and of course through hectoring other people and governments to follow what they believe is the necessary planet-saving therapy. That they rarely understand the science that is thought to underpin the therapies is of little concern. They believe ‘the science’, or what ‘scientists’ say. That there are plenty of scientists, almost certainly the majority, who don’t think the planet is in great danger, or in need of some of the extreme therapies, also doesn’t concern them. They are in the world of belief, not the world of science, where data always trumps belief.

Another element in the increasing desire to ban things and people, I think, is the much greater wealth of our community, which allows people to belong to organisations, help them financially, attend meetings, and the rest. Plus the greater education that members of our present society have in comparison with past generations, which seems to lead to a widespread sense that one’s own opinions are as good as, and probably superior to, the opinions of others around one. And the ubiquitous social media of our time, which allows, indeed encourages, rapid communication between sympathisers. Organisations like GetUp can decide to push for a ban on this or that, and generate what appears to be a great deal of public support. If they have media-savvy members, they can attract the attention of TV and radio news, which gives them even more apparent influence.

Sixty or so years ago, the then Coalition Government wanted to ban the Communist Party. A necessary referendum in 1951 did not give it the power to do so, and that desire to ban faded away slowly. Banning seems to have thrived as a public policy goal in the last decade or so. From time to time I wonder if the root cause is simply the desire of parliamentarians to be seen to be doing something. Our collective parliaments do seem to be generating more and more laws, and lots of them are about bans of one kind or another. You might think that as our society gets wealthier and better educated the felt need for more laws should dissipate. We ought to be able to get rid of some laws. But no. It seems that we are adding thousands of new laws every year. I’m not sure of the need; in fact, I don’t think I know of the purpose of the laws, only of their number, which the IPA, no friend to new laws, provides every year. The Commonwealth, six States and two Territories together generate a lot of new law. Yes, a lot of it is amendment to existing laws.

The ACT is actually pretty good at keeping things tidy, partly because Canberra is a well-planned and beautiful city. Yes, we have landfills, and there is a cry to so arrange human life that we have no need of them. But we don’t have any kind of crisis there. There is super-abundant land that could be used for a new landfill, and after thirty or forty years we could cover it with soil and trees and construct yet another one. Plastic knives and forks serve us well, and my advice to the ACT Government, not that my advice has been sought, is to find something more sensible to do with its time, energy and money. It could ban bans, for example.






Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Don, good to see you back online and in good form.

  • Peter Ridd says:

    Agreed Don. The ban is a non-solution to a problem that barely exists in Australia. But somebody will feel good about it which is the main thing. I like your points about why we seem more inclined nowadays to support these bans – church decline, and affluence etc. Peter

  • Colin Davidson says:

    Plastic spoons and forks could be banned, but I use plastic knives as veggie plot markers (when my disobedient, faithless dog is not nicking them). Perfect when marked up with one of those indelible marker pens. So I will suffer great hardship if placcy knives are included in the Liebah guvermint’s new fad. Perhaps they could look at banning melons instead?

  • spangled drongo says:

    Don, it’s like the bed wetters with CO2.

    If we set an example with our 0.0001% of the worlds litter it MUST solve the world’s litter problems.

    And if it just so happens to reduce our SOL, well, so what?

    So much the better.

  • Aert Driessen says:

    Well done Don, your second post after a fairly long absence. I see this as the classical example of virtue signalling. If the ACT Greens, and with the balance of power they run the show, were serious about battling pollution (in this cased plastics) on a global scale, they would financially support Cambodia or wherever on the front line. We just don’t have this problem in the ACT. But the people in Cambodia or wherever cannot vote here, so what’s the point of spending money without any chance on an electoral dividend? It’s the way of politics these days, and probably has been for a long time. Looking forward to your next post.

  • Boambee John says:

    “How the world would actually work if what they wanted were to occur does not seem to have occupied them.”

    Much like the CAGW proponents?

  • Stu says:

    It makes even less sense than the ban on single use plastic bags for groceries. Some years I have helped around where I live on the clean up oz day and found the claims about a problem with bags, bottles and cans to be grossly overstated. And of course now we have to buy bags to put the garbage in as per the council instructions.

    Also I was visiting a country town recently and quizzed the guy emptying the recycle machine. He grudgingly admitted that at least from that part of NSW they were all going to landfill. Crazy business, especially now that China has told us where to stick our waste.

  • Mike says:

    If a government is powerful to give you everything you want it’s also powerful enough to take everything you have. I think that remarks attributed to Thomas Jefferson

  • Neville says:

    I’ve tried my best for a few years now to only use my green bags for groceries etc and I haven’t worn them out yet.
    I bought them for about $1 each and I’m quite happy to keep using them and find it no burden at all.
    But I do have some plastic cutlery, plates and cups and they also seem to last a long time, so they don’t worry me very much either.

  • Chris Warren says:


    I thought plastics caused micro particles in the sea and represent a reliance on fossil fuels.

    So a general campaign against plastic products seems reasonable.

    Except for bakelite – plastics are pretty much a recent development and we all lived perfectly happy without them.

    • dlb says:

      Ah! micro plastics the marine scare de jour.

      Now I can understand junky bits of plastic playing havoc with turtles and sea birds. But microplastics, where’s the science on how bad it is? Sure these fibres are everywhere, but colour me sceptical on them being a problem.

      • Chris Warren says:


        Scientists have known about it for years.

        It looks like you have made no effort to resolve your pretend “skepticism”.

        Do you deny this?

        • Boambee John says:

          You do so love using the denier label, don’t you?

          And contrary to your statement on an earlier thread, it is clearly aimed at smearing those with whom you disagree by linking them to Holocaust denialism.

          Is the science “in”, as they say, about plasic micro particles? I hope so, then there will be no more need for research grants to “research” the “consensus.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          I’m puzzled by the great ocean garbage claim too. If you go to Google, the first score or so of references are all from the alarmist domain, but there is no easily available link to how the estimates have been formed. There is a widespread claim that the Pacific garbage patch is twice the size of Texas. Again, a claim without argument or evidence. But if you go to a piece by an Oregon State University oceanographer, you find that she claims that the estimate is just rubbish, with the amount of plastic covering an area less than one per cent the size of Texas. Who is right? Her piece is reasoned and well-argued. That doesn’t make it right, but I prefer argument and evidence to great claims without either.

          Since the plastic waste is said to be microscopic, and to be present 50 cm below the surface of the sea, I wonder how valid any estimate can be. There are certainly no photos showing a Texas-sized aggregation of plastic in the Pacific. No are there Murray/Darling river system groups of dead fish. Altogether, it is a puzzle, but there’s no doubt that the international environmental movement believes it is all true, and we are doomed.

        • dlb says:

          Well that article from “The Con” didn’t enlighten me much. Seems like no one really knows whether these particles are having much affect on living organisms, just the usual alarmist suppositions and precautionary mays and coulds.

    • Boambee John says:

      “plastics are pretty much a recent development and we all lived perfectly happy without them.”

      So are antibiotics? And modern dentistry? And cardiac surgery? And polio and smallpox vaccines?

      Even by your dubious standards, that is pathetic.

  • spangled drongo says:

    And our number one bed wetter comes forth right on cue.

    If we put our plastic waste into land fill and don’t litter, which we do, how is it a problem, blith?

    Why don’t you go and preach your religion to the plastic-sinners.

    But make sure you have made your own Damascene journey first.

    Fully converted of all your plastic-sins.

    That way you can be really religious without sounding like a hypocrite.

  • Tezza says:

    All your comments make sense to me, Don.
    I find increasing power in the religious explanation of environmental fervour. Why are almost all environmental gestures of the last 40 or so years mostly wasteful, counterproductive policy failures, or at best completely useless?
    It is because they were never seriously intended to pass tests of policy efficacy in meeting stated objectives. They were intended as religious sacrifice, a bargain with the goddess Gaia to secure the future. The point about sacrifices in religion is not that they work, but that that have to hurt the giver. Jordan Peterson is fascinating on the nature of sacrifice in religions down through the ages.
    Of course the priests in religions also gain personal status from ensuring others sacrifice, and enforcing sacrifice binds the religious community together under the priests’ authority.
    Effective environmental policy that actually achieved something worthwhile would not meet the religious purpose of sacrifice.
    Was it Chesterton who observed, “When man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing; he believes in anything.”?

  • dlb says:

    I didn’t know there were dolphins and sea turtles in Lake Burley Griffin?

  • Typos by editor says:

    Hi Don,

    You asked where does this banning push come from.

    This a central question. I noticed only just a few years ago, that the fashionable ideas of environmental protection via bans, they appear in the public discussion of Western countries in a synchronous, almost orchestrated manner. The wordings are equivalent in different countries and languages. Very seldom these wordings can be tracked to their originators, but the operation looks often very much arranged and sometimes, as in the case of Greta Thunberg, you can name some names in the ladder of organizations behind these stunts.

    In some cases, you can track the path to The Daily Kos, but oftentimes media seems to parrot something of which they have no willingness to reveal origin.

    So the common talking points are often carefully injected hit phrases which don’t have to have any particular connection with reality. They can be red herrings, advocacy science, or just fake news so difficult to debunk and juicy to publish they go viral among activists journalists. I call them talking points, because the discourse carefully avoids discourse. It is more a thesis, a poster, something to change public image rather than initiate a discussion on upsides and downsides.

    If I were a feminist I’d say the hidden structures of the patriarchy are behind. The truth is rather that there is some big money and a swarm of ideologues working on to do stuff like banning whatever they please. We call them liberals though retarders would match better. Thry want to retard technological and economical development. Often they’ll get support from opportunistic appeasers like paper bag makers, wind mill installers, to name two groups who make their money based on the bans.

    Thegroup working on ban is heterogenous and depends on several components: donors, the UN, politicians like Trudeau, activism, scientists, journalists. The journalists are a key component, since Western media employs a lot of activists. Get rid of the idea that a journalist is an independent actor, you’ll get rid of the activist camps inside the large media. Require some personal responsibility for telling fake news.

  • Boambee John says:

    Via Jo Nova

    “researchers in Britain are reporting that they have cloned an adult mammal for the first time.

    The group, led by Dr. Ian Wilmut, a 52-year-old embryologist at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, created a lamb using DNA from an adult sheep. The achievement shocked leading researchers who had said it could not be done. The researchers had assumed that the DNA of adult cells would not act like the DNA formed when a sperm’s genes first mingle with those of an egg.”

    Another scientific consensus collapses!

  • Boambee John says:


    “plastics are pretty much a recent development and we all lived perfectly happy without them.”

    The el3ctrical wiring in your home, place of work, shopping centre and even street/traffic lights is almost certainly plastic. Are you happy to use uninsulated wires in the name of de-plasticising the world?

    Don’t type your answer on a computer, which also contains plastic.

    Weapons grade stupidity.

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    “plastics are pretty much a recent development and we all lived perfectly happy without them.”

    Possibly the most idiotic comment ever from someone who appears to be vying for a Master in the Art. How about the hundreds of millions of records over all musical genres, sold over the past hundred or so years?

    • Chris Warren says:

      Bryan Roberts

      You need to mend your speech a little. Your IQ is showing.

      • Boambee John says:

        So you do not have any substantive answer to tbe points made above about the stupidity of your statement, which suggests that we should revert to a mid-20th C (at best) lifestyle?

        Conservatives used to be criticised by so-called “progressives” for allegedly wanting to take us back to the 1950s, it seems they were too modern!

      • BB says:

        The first plastic invented in 1907 about 110 years ago.

        • Chris Warren says:


          CO2 was accumulating in the atmosphere in 1907 (ie exceeding the Earth’s carbon sink in 1907).

          Bio-plastics can be developed so that we do not loose significant utility from plastic products.

          The criteria is to ensure that CO2 (and methane) emissions do not exceed the Earth’s capacity to reabsorb an equivalent amount at the same rate.

  • spangled drongo says:

    If only blith would consult Jordan Peterson on his foolish efforts for social justice.

    He would tell him, “You first have to grow up and solve your personal problems”.

  • BB says:

    I’m very glad to see that you are back Don. I have not been looking at this or the usual newsletter for quite a while. Ban single-use plastics? Well yes sounds like a good idea to me. I think the focus needs to be on condoms and a concerted effort should go into policing this. Henceforth you will have to get a prescription to buy them and every one accounted for as to the number of uses. Perhaps they should be manufactured so that one can tell how many times they have been used. Heavy fines should apply for those that do the wrong thing.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Remember the stupidity of the same SJWs banning DDT?

    Last year 70,000 Ugandans died from malaria.

    And in Africa generally, 1.5 million!

    And there are many more that don’t die but suffer serious inabilities, mental and physical, for the rest of their lives.

    In 65 years, DDT never killed anyone.

    • Boambee John says:

      ” we all lived perfectly happy without them.”

      Well, except for ths millions who died from malaria, infections, diseases, food poisoning and other minor irritants.

      But don’t worry, “Bio-plastics can be developed”. I wonder what the Environmental Impact Statement would say?

  • TFX says:

    On the assumption that there is a specific pollution problem from plastics, which I generally accept should be addressed in the least cost method possible. Governments in Australia are not designing policies to minimise the problem at minimal cost. Admittedly there are difficulties. I am aware of a California study which I cannot find the link to right now which showed that 1 stream recycling bins are terrible at minimising the cost and achieving the aims of reducing plastics and other packaging from causing pollution. The California study showed that increasing the number of streams i.e. different coloured bins for different recyclables could reduce costs and achieve greater efficiencies in recycling. The maximum number of bins from their study was 5 different sets of recycling. It was economically inefficient. 3 bins of recycling streams were the most economic and achieved the greatest reduction in waste going to landfills.

    A hard issue but surely all governments should look at the appropriate options and costs for both consumers and users of waste and actually achieve something rather than being seen to be good.

  • George says:

    Even in relatively undeveloped areas in SEAsia, the Pacific and parts of Africa that l know of, the plastic pollution has never been surpassed by Australia. This is due I think by history and demographics.
    The forward thinkers who introduced the regime to reduce litter to a generally biddable and co operative population in Australia affected major behavioural change before the disposable revolution that took hold in the last 30 years.
    The domestic anti-pollution virtue signallers of today remind me of the bra burners of Women’s Lib in the late 1960’s and 70’s who thought they were radical and fresh, neglecting to acknowledge or being unaware of the Suffragettes who laid the path for them.
    None of it matters in the case of thinking that an example will be set in the minds of citizens of other Countries. To be frank, it is my experience that people generally are insular, being occupied with the day to day exercise of their lives.
    The alternative is that the virtue signallers are ignorant, wilfully or otherwise, or unaware of the sources of global plastic pollution.

  • Chris M says:

    It’s sad to see all this plastic go to waste – In Africa and Asia it ends up in the rivers and sea, in Australia buried in dumps. Plastic is really just solid oil and is a valuable fuel. Combustion using high temperature incineration creates no smoke and very, very little pollution – it’s just a great way to generate cheap electricity. Ditto with unwanted paper and wood based waste. Crazy that we are just tossing all this valuable material.

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