The bag's out of the cat

Times: Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain

Scientists and environmentalists have attacked a global campaign to ban plastic bags which they say is based on flawed science and exaggerated claims.

The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times. They pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds…

The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.

Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to "plastic bags".

This is not to say that we shouldn't try to use fewer plastic bags—I understand they're pretty disastrous for marine turtles, which eat them, mistaking them for jellyfish—but it is an interesting example of far too much being read into a single, flawed scientific study. Remember MMR?

Still think spinach is good for you because it's full of iron? Think again.

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.


  1. "more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds".

    I do worry about the standard of journalism/education at The Times

  2. Do you know, I never spotted that.

    That's almost as stupid as the time on QI when Stephen Fry scoffed at someone for suggesting that marsupial are mammals (which, in case you were in any doubt, they are).

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