The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Things That Should Have Been Done Yesterday, #1

Ban of all consumer goods, worldwide, that are made with non-bio-degradable or otherwise non-naturally break-downable materials. Phase in period with increasing taxes, 20 percent per year for five years, at which point ban is in place.

Companies with life-saving or critical infrastructure items may apply for temporary exemptions.

All plastic packaging. Phase in, one year. It’s not necessary, it’s killing the oceans and overflowing landfills.

If it won’t biodegrade, it shouldn’t be in widespread use.

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Slow Posting


Climate Change and Heat


  1. Tom

    I can get with that.

  2. EGrise

    Well, yeah.

  3. Peter VE

    On the other hand, we are just speeding up the evolution of bacteria who will be able to digest plastic. In another 100,000 years or so, it’ll all be gone. Too bad we won’t have any descendants able to appreciate the beauty of the world which remains.

  4. SnarkyShark

    And no more fiberglass cigarette filters(butts). I don’t want to do away with smoking at all. I want all you smokers to get all of tobaccos benefits in a pure unfiltered form and die as fast as possible. But your right to throw those freakin butts everywhere is over. Immediate execution for anyone caught selling filtered cigarettes. There will immediately spring forth a market for non disposable aftermarket filter devices so the invisible-hand(TM) can keep jerking off the 1 %.

  5. different clue

    Can we expand the concept of “bio-degradable” to include “or otherwise recyclable” as well?
    That way we could keep using glass jars and metal cars which won’t biodegrade at the end of their useful lives, but whose broken carcasses could still be melted down and recycled into new metal cars and new glass jars.

  6. Karen

    It is infuriating trying to find products not in plastic. I did an experimental year of no plastic. Baked my own bread, found milk in glass, made fabric bags for produce and bulk goods etc. You simply have to make your own or go without.

    Many items are made with cheap plastic parts rather than metal so we go without. Then there are the multiple layers of bulk buying… save money by making more garbage. Individual plastic packs, in cardboard with a plastic shell wrapped in shrink wrap….. and why the heck are they allowed to call food organic when it’s stuck in plastic?

    We survived the test year and are now in a habit of bulk foods and the milk in the bottle is excellent, your eye goes to the bulk produce and the specials that aren’t wrapped in plastic, you remember to request butcher paper when you order, etc. Making bread is natural but if you don’t stay on top of the yogurt you need new culture and yogurt only comes in plastic. I am now trying to learn to make tofu because it only comes in plastic.

    We still have one small bag of garbage a week and that’s typically plastic. Stop delivering unbreakable items in plastic.

  7. Ian Welsh

    Yes, of course, I should have said “broken down by the world in a reasonable amount of time”. Metal rusts or corrodes in most cases (aluminum not so much, but corrodes in time in salt water, which is fine.)

    If all glass must be recycled, then fine.

    Waxed cardboard holds fluids well enough. There are some issues w/that around forests, but… seems better than most alternatives.

    The damn plastic has to go.

  8. DMC

    We ARE making progress on this. I’ll bet the last time something came in “packing peanuts” it was the puffed vegetable starch jobs that dissolve in water rather than the familiar Styrofoam “cloud farts”. The externalities to things like plastic packing materials are catching up with the industrial scale players, so we are beginning to see the transition away from non-biodegradable/not-easily-recyclable containers and packing materials.

  9. S Brennan

    Realistically, I think we could manage a steep tax/tariff plastic packaging, with a discount for truly recyclable plastic HDPE within a three year time frame. Essentially we are imposing a tax/tariff on a externality that exporting countries impose on others.

    16 Diesel ships burning bunker fuel produce as much pollution as all the vehicles in the world, they can do so on the open seas, but what about when they dock, they pay a tax for all the people they kill each year?

  10. Jeff Wegerson

    @different clue – It is my understanding that glass is already bio-degraded as far as it can be. Physical degradation returns it to sand. My understanding of the problem with non-biodegradable plastics is that physical degradations yield various organic chemical results that are antithetical to life in specific and life in general, including our own in various cancers and disorders, genetic and otherwise, even in utero.

  11. Consumer electronics seem like a big problem. I would love to see my beloved ancient ThinkPad encased in hardwood instead of plastic. Perhaps the keytops could be make of wood as well. But the machine is filled with other parts that are not biodegradable: ICs, the big LCD, circuit boards, disks, etc. And since most electronic devices are designed to be obsolete nearly instantly (I keep my old laptops alive by running Linux), the cybertrash just keeps piling up. I have never owned a TV, but I see people all around who own gigantic flat panels that will probably break or require replacement soon. What to do?

  12. Great idea of course but the time it would take to extract the industry infrastructure embedded in government that profits from this would still be going on by the time plastics did biodegrade

  13. different clue

    @S Brennan,

    I remember reading once on Reddit an article claiming that one super cargo ship emits as much carbon as 750 million cars. If that is true, then 16 super cargo ships would emit even more carbon than all the land based vehicles in the world. In any case, it goes to show that Free Trade is a major cause of Global Warming, and simply abolishing Free Trade, and going back to making all the things used in a territory within the territory in which they are used would suppress a lot of carbon skydumping right there.

    And if we couldn’t shut Free Trade all the way down and perma-dock all 16 super cargo ships, we could still shrink Free Trade to half its current size and perma-dock 8 of those super-cargo ships.

    And then we could study up on which of the items still being trade-transported by ocean are so imperishable as to not need the speed of shipment which engine driven super cargo ships provide. We could use modern technology to design truly huge sail systems to let the over-ocean winds drag those ships to their destination on pure solar energy ( which is what wind is produced by, after all).

    That would be putting Buckminster Fuller’s doing-more-with-less approach in the service of shrinking the global economy by doing way less with almost nothing at all.

  14. Shh

    Well, we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. If ubiquity can be interpreted as an indicator of efficient resource allocation (not a very good idea, I know), then maybe the all in cost of plastics is actually cheaper than alternatives? I dunno.

    One of the very difficult conundrums is trying to factor in the true cost of externalities in product pricing. I think you’ve pointed out that one of the tricks of Capitalism is to maximize the transfer of costs to somewhere else in the chain, whether that be the price of dead fish and toxicified soils as a result of “higher yield crops,” or ruined aesthetics and compromised ecosystems as a result of the rampant over-consumption of non-necessary product components, such as packaging. What would a package of Dixie cups cost if we factored in how ugly National parks are after a national holiday celebration and the average number of marine animal deaths per thousand?

    For my money, banning unsolicited mailers, like coupon books and credit card offers, is first, but in principle, we should have started doing with less two generations ago. Like why the hell does anyone need more than one cup, one spoon, one fork, and one knife? Take them everywhere you go if you want to eat. That’ll cut down on plastic use, metal use, manufacturing waste water, and all the other waste that goes into producing however many billions of plastic disposable widgets that end up choking dolphins or what have you.

    The jobs argument no longer outweighs the total cost argument…unless we consider humanity and perhaps the entire biosphere disposable. Sadly, I think the hypnosis of easy convenience will not break under the pressure of gentle ministration. It will take nothing short of calamity…which in my view is simply inevitable at this point.

  15. Shh

    @ different clue…link to relative carbon emissions for various carrier options..

  16. S Brennan


    I went to that Shipping industry website and found the use of skewed metrics that one would expect from the coal industry talking about “clean coal”…are you really so clueless?

    “As ships get bigger, the pollution is getting worse. The most staggering statistic of all is that just 16 of the world’s largest ships can produce as much lung-clogging sulphur pollution as all the world’s cars. We’ve all noticed it. The filthy black smoke kicked out by cruise liners, container ships, oil tankers and even tugboats. It looks foul, and leaves a brown haze across ports and shipping lanes. But what hasn’t been clear until now is that it is also a major killer, probably causing thousands of deaths in Britain alone. Because of their colossal engines, each as heavy as a small ship, these super-vessels use as much fuel as small power stations. But, unlike power stations or cars, they can burn the cheapest, filthiest, high-sulphur fuel: the thick residues left behind in refineries after the lighter liquids have been taken. The stuff nobody on land is allowed to use.”

    And to address your websites disinformation:

    “There is a perception that cargo transport by ship is low in air pollutants, because for equal weight and distance it is the most efficient transport method”, but a “ship lets out around 50 times more sulfur than a lorry per metric tonne of cargo carried. The growth in tonne-kilometers of sea shipment has averaged 4 percent yearly since the 1990s.[14] And it has grown by a factor of 5 since the 1970s. There are now over 100,000 transport ships at sea, of which about 6,000 are large container ships.”

  17. Shh

    merely presenting information and enjoying the show. Of course the Daily Mail is highly reputable as are those who argue with insult. Enjoy the day!

  18. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Shh, I’m coming to realize that one should not post here at “Scolds R Us”; rather, one should simply lurk and be amused. 😈

  19. Shh

    @Ivory Bill W.

    No doubt, Ian’s posts are great but the pundits do express a wee territoriality. I was wondering where you went. Now I know.

  20. DMC

    Seems we need to go after the burning at sea of bunker fuel as a means of marine propulsion. Do note that the above comparison of “16 super tankers>all the cars in the world” is specific to SULFUR pollution. Cars don’t add that much in the way of sulfur as gasoline and car grade diesel need to be highly refined compared to bunker fuel. But it does seem to be approximately equivalent to burning high sulfur coal and as such, something we could be moving more quickly away from. Just switching those 16 supertankers to alcohol or natural gas(not to even speak of hydrogen or ship-sized thorium reactors) would go a long way. Perhaps the International Law of the Sea Convention could take up the question of minimum standards for emissions for marine trade, phasing out the the dirtiest fuels/technologies first.

  21. Peter*


    I’m glad you brought a little reality to this spreading Cargo Cult Hysteria and there are some other interesting if unverified claims about shipping emissions.

    First the SOx pollution like that from ships is what is being considered for injection into the upper atmosphere to counter GW with reflection so very tall smokestacks may be a solution or the low sulfur bunker fuel being developed may come into use soon and we can bake the planet, by other means, with a clear conscience about that pollution.

    Another intriguing claim made by the OECD is that the massive emission of NOx by these ships is actually adding to Global Cooling counteracting and overcoming the effect of their CO2 emissions by attacking methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas.

    Your idea about Nuke powered ships isn’t new but the Thorium reactors will require a whole new industrial infrastructure and all the destruction and pollution that entails but we might get to see three eyed Sea Bass at the local market.

  22. S Brennan

    “Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars.

    Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760m cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel (or fuel oil) has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

    Pressure is mounting on the UN’s International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.

    The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.

    The new study by the Danish government’s environmental agency adds to this picture. It suggests that shipping emissions cost the Danish health service almost £5bn a year, mainly treating cancers and heart problems. A previous study estimated that 1,000 Danish people die prematurely each year because of shipping pollution. No comprehensive research has been carried out on the effects on UK coastal communities, but the number of deaths is expected to be much higher.

    Europe, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, has dramatically cleaned up sulphur and nitrogen emissions from land-based transport in the past 20 years but has resisted imposing tight laws on the shipping industry, even though the technology exists to remove emissions. Cars driving 15,000km a year emit approximately 101 grammes of sulphur oxide gases (or SOx) in that time. The world’s largest ships’ diesel engines which typically operate for about 280 days a year generate roughly 5,200 tonnes of SOx.”

  23. S Brennan

    Emissions from shipping making ocean more acidic, researchers report

    8:02 a.m., May 15, 2013–Shipping pollution along major trade lanes can rival carbon emissions in contributing to the increased acidity of the ocean, according to a new study by an international team, including researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Delaware and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.

    A research team led by Joe Feser in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Delaware has developed a new approach to simulating nanoscale heat transfer in materials.

    Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause a steady acidification of the ocean as carbon dioxide dissolves into the water and produces the weak acid carbonic acid. Other gases can also cause acidification, for example sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which dissolve to give the strong acids sulfuric acid and nitric acid respectively.

    Ocean acidification has been shown to harm the health of coral, squid, mussels and other sea life.

  24. S Brennan

    “We’re shifting goods around the world in a way that looks really bizarre,” said Paul Watkiss, an Oxford University economist who wrote a recent European Union report on food imports.
    More important, Mr. Watkiss said, “we are not paying the environmental cost of all that travel.”…The economics are compelling. For example, Norwegian cod costs a manufacturer $1.36 a pound to process in Europe, but only 23 cents a pound in Asia…The ability to transport food cheaply has given rise to new and booming businesses.

    “Unfortunately,” he said, “we’ve educated our customers to expect cheap food, that they can go to the market to get whatever they want, whenever they want it. All year. 24/7.”

  25. V. Arnold

    Ivory Bill Woodpecker
    April 11, 2016

    Oh wah, boo hoo…

  26. different clue

    If we got marine bunker oil sulfur emissions down to zero, the carbon skydumping itself would still be a problem. That problem could be solved by shrinking ocean-borne trade enough to retire some or most of these ships from service. That would substantially reduce the carbon skydumping right there.

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