back to article Dissolving the plastic bag problem

By rights the world and its dog should now know the name Daniel Burd. For Daniel Burd has an eco-friendly solution for disposing of the plastic bag menace. About half a trillion plastic bags are produced globally each year, but they take up to 1000 years to decompose. In the meantime they can migrate to the oceans and be …


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  1. Jolyon Ralph

    Plastic Bags as an enviromental issue.

    I've always wondered why it's regarded as a bad thing that oil (which could be burned and emit CO2) is instead being used to create disposable plastic bags which end up buried in landfill where their carbon is conveniently trapped for a thousand years or so. Sure no-one wants landfill near their house, but are plastic bags really that bad?


  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can we make use of the bacteria

    If you can find a use for the bacteria after they've been grown on the plastic, then you could make the plastic a raw material. Just as waste cellulose is a raw material of compost.

    Also, I don't think plastic bags to capture carbon makes sense. Taking oil out of the ground (where's it's carbon is captured) expending huge energy (producing co2) to make a plastic bag which only captures a fraction of the carbon.... doesn't seems to make sense.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    May I say, brilliant article!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Good Reading

    Agree with Johan, Good reading.

  5. lvm

    What? Haven't read Mutant 59???

    Here is the only fitting place for this news :)

  6. Gary F


    Good point about trapping carbon but I think the other issue are the litterbugs who drop bags outdoors where they end up an eyesore in streets and beaches and trap or choke wildlife. (Hey Jolyon, good to see your name appear on El Reg! How's your stone collection? ;-)

    How do we dispose of the bacterial goo that has digested these plastic bags? What damage can the goo do to the environment if it's poured down our drains? Will it start eating plastic pipes? Has anyone considered that?

  7. david

    One way to degrade them... to hang them im my shed with something important in them. They collapse into a small pile of crumbs within months. I'm guessing this is UV breaking the polymers.

    Not sure I've got room to rot down a trillion of them though....

  8. Jolyon Ralph
    Thumb Up

    I agree with Mr Coward

    ... that the most efficient form of carbon sequestration is to simply leave the oil where it is. But human nature being what it is, that will never happen.

  9. Steve Hosgood

    Interesting, but.....

    ..hasn't this guy ever read "Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater" by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis? Be afraid... be very afraid!

  10. John

    Germs Eating Plasic bags. What else do they eat?

    Although superficially, its seems like a very good idea indeed for Plastic bags to be digested in this way, what else does this bacteria breakdown?

    My basic understanding of Proteobacteria lead me to believe that its possible for these bacteria to mutate and or interact with other organisms.Possibly leading to the breakdown of other nearby Plastics like the PTFE in the nearby Electric pylons and components in Garbage/Rubbish trucks that deliver the refuse. Also there is no mention of what remains after the degradation of these polymers.

    Maybe this leads to worse pollution than it solves, although the sight of geese dressed in Tesco , hedgehogs in Waitrose AND Sparrows using Salisbury's Carrier bags for waterproof clothing never ceases to amuse all.

    It will be a shame to see it disappear.

  11. dervheid
    Thumb Up

    Great article...

    needs promoting.

    Only one but. Are these poly-bag-munching bugs safe?

    Seen some stuff on phages before, not surprised that 'Big Pharma' would try to get in the way there.

    Vested interests and big bucks rule yet again.

  12. frymaster

    re: Can we make use of the bacteria

    even if we _can't_ it's still worth it for the reduced landfill required

    if we can, then woot :)

  13. Roger Greenwood

    BBC Bias

    The BBC favours stories as follows :-

    1. Got pictures (no pictures, not interested).

    2. British subjects involved (not "foreigners").

    3. BBC reporter on scene.

    Tick all 3 of the above and your story has a good chance on TV, items 2 and 3 only may make it to the radio. None of the above :- it didn't happen.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What happens if the bacteria decide to start eating all polyethylene, not just the plastic bags we want them too? Imagine if everything made out of polyethylene, or all plastics maybe, disappeared in less than a year.

    As for why the bags are bad, besides the general problem of any trash added to landfills, thin plastic bags tend to blow away easily and wind up scattered everywhere being ingested by wildlife, causing the death of the wildlife.

  15. Herbert Fruchtl
    Thumb Down

    The answer to the wrong question

    If you have the plastic bags collected and isolated, you may as well just burn them and use the energy, instead of burning coal/oil, producing the same amount of CO2. OK, you could add those bacteria to the landfill and make things rot a bit faster.

    The problem with plastic bags is that you don't get them nicely isolated (I know, some supermarkets try via recycling boxes). If you're lucky, they end up as part of general trash. If you're unlucky, they adorn a tree near your home or are worn around the neck by a dolphin.

    Ban them!

  16. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
    IT Angle

    You wonder why the BBC didn't report this...?

    The BBC don't report this for several reasons:

    1) Bad news (we're all going to die of a surfeit of plastic bags) gets more readers than good news (plastic bags can be easily disposed of)

    2) The BBC has a lot of intellectual capital tied up in the Green position. It will therefore not report any controversy over Global Warming, and is very unhappy about any proposed technological fix for environmental issues.

    3) The BBC is just plain bad at finding things out. I don't think its journalists do very much work - they prefer to read the news feeds and use a pin...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Jolyon Ralph

    And after a few thousands of years, your landfill becomes a new oil field. Problem solved.

    And yet bloody Asda and bloody Co-op no longer supply plastic bags; and have at least one less customer as a result.

  18. Martin


    OMG - wasn't the very first episode of the Doomwatch series about a microbe that ate .. plastic! Causing aircraft to fall out of the sky and other such fun things.

    It's all coming true, I tell you!

  19. Dave Ashe
    Thumb Up

    Its the problem of where the plastic bags end up

    In the ocean, marine life get caught up in it - not a pretty sight. There is a soup of plastic from hawaii to japan (see

    Disolving it with bacteria is a better idea than sticking it at the bottom of a landfill site, as the composted plastic bags can be used to grow trees, food, etc. by using special types of mushrooms to convert the resultant mess into a habitable breeding/growing ground! (see

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Are plastic bags really that bad?"

    Easy - Yes they are. Forgetting the environmental and carbon issues, which are thin arguments at best, they're a bloody eyesore. Youre never going to stop the seasoned chavs from chucking them out of their cars, so tax them out of existence or ban them (the bags (and the chavs, thinking about it)). They really are ugly strewn all over the pavements and trees. (The bags again) (and the chavs, I suppose).

    Anyway, we dont need them and the same can be applied to almost all fresh food packaging.

    On a separate note, that was one of the better written articles on the Reg of late, and theres no "Rate this article" thingymajig that you keep surveying us about.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    And here's one we made earlier...

    It's amazing the BBC failed to spot this eco-story. It doesn't fit the template - so safest to ignore it, eh?

    The BBC prefers the role of Auntie To The Nation, dishing out paternalistic advice, rather than reporting "News and Current Affairs" (sic). Lots of scope for Blue Peterish make do and mend advice on how to use "greener" alternatives to plastic bags.

    Perhaps by sacking every science correspondent it has (eg Susan Watts, Roger Horrible) the Beeb might have a chance of getting its credibility back eventually. But I wouldn't count on it.

    People have discovered the internet, and found they don't need a £3 billion quid a year, useless Auntie.

  22. Mark
    Paris Hilton

    Plastic eating bacteria - fantastic potential

    This reminds me of a Judge Dredd comic from my childhood. A plastic eating bacteria was destroying civilisation (mostly by eating buxom wenches plastic clothing). Fantastic stuff - where can I get some?

    Paris for obvious reasons.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Plastic eating bugs, sounds familiar...

    Could this be what will evolve into the Andromeda strain?

  24. Solomon Grundy

    Andromeda Strain

    The "space bug/virus/bacteria" in the book Andromeda Strain evolved in the upper atmosphere to eat plastic - resulting in the crash of at least a few planes.

    The idea of using bacteria to eat the bags sounds great, but kind of scary as well. Humans suck at controlling things and sooner or later a huge plastic eating monster will be spilled off a train or dropped of the back of a delivery truck and then we're all screwed.

    Look at all the invasive/exotic plants and animals that have been brought in to deal with another plant/animal. It almost always ends up in disaster and totally destabilizes the system.

  25. GettinSadda
    Thumb Up

    Plastic bags can be recycled!

    Plastic bags can be turned into a long-lasting material that can be used for many of the things that wood is used for. In this area I frequently see park benches and fence posts made of it.

  26. matt

    Busy Boy

    lol, so at the end of his Biog it says "and I enjoy spending free time with my friends"

    That wont be very often then :)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    other plastic waste

    I wonder if bacteria can be found that will eat fischer price plastic toys and other horrible voluminous plastic waste. (corvettes)

  28. Darren Woolston

    Martin, Don't forget the Andromedia Strain

    That eat plastic as well.

    We're doomed i tell ya!

  29. Dunstan Vavasour


    Spot on. It doesn't take three months in a bacterial soup to burn 'em, and you get useful heat out

  30. max allan
    Thumb Down

    Why rag on the bags?

    Why does everyone complain about plastic bags, not the content of the bags. Each bag has a miniscule mass, being quite flexible and thin. But by the time it's filled with groceries, there is probably 100 times as much hard plastic, almost none of which is recyclable by my local council (only plastic with certain numbers (6 or 7 from memory) can be accepted).

    So, why is nobody whingeing about the hundreds of times more tons of plastic that is used as packaging?

    I actually find carrier bags useful, for filling with soiled cat litter. If I didn't have a ready supply of bags at the supermarket, I'd have to buy them separately. (see the "litter locker" product for an example of how carrier bags are actually saving the environment)

    It's just typical of our government to hit out at the easiest target : carrier bags, motorists, people without ID cards, etc... Plastic carrier bags can only be a fraction of the waste problem, but they are the easiest to complain about. Just make everyone use reusable card boxes, hessian or hempen sacks for carrying their shopping home instead. Then let them fill the carrier with a load of hard plastic wrapping a tiny item (e.g. a 1 inch long USB memory stick with plastic wrapper that is about A4 sized)

    What alternative is there to individual product packaging? Expensive recyclable plastic instead of cheap last a million year stuff, glass (breakable, heavy), 'tin'/aluminium cans (probably ideal for most products, it's widely recyclable, probably more expensive than plastic though).

    Someone please start an "anti plastic packaging on products" campaign.

  31. Nick

    Garbage in, ??? out

    There is no input without output--What do these pe eating bugs poop/exhale besides an allegedly insignificacnt amount of CO2?

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Why not...

    ...just recycle them?

  33. Andrew Norton

    re: doomwatch

    yeah, and don't forget the Andromeda Strain ate all the plastic in that F4 (I'm not going to comment on the travesty that was the sci-fi channel paranoia+corruption fest. (oh, how far things have fallen in 35 years)

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice try...

    ...but most of the plastic carrier bags I get end up being used as bin liners, so I can't make use of this.

    Besides, you haven't told us what the end product of the process is.

  35. Olaf

    Now if...

    If he'd found bacteria that would eat plastic bags and produce petrol I'd be impressed.

  36. Quirkafleeg

    Never mind the plastic bags

    Years ago, supermarkets used to recycle their recently-emptied cardboard boxes by making them available for customers to fill with their shopping, and some would be re-used again at home.

    Perhaps we should go back to that…

    And as for packaging: agreed. Far too much of it, though it's not just the quantity and the size relative to the (useful) content – much of it isn't really reusable.

  37. Anonymous Coward


    I find plastic bags disintegrate very rapidly in cardboard box's stored in my house.

    Plastic bags full of computer cables....

    In an airing cupboard....

    That doesn't smell.....

    That isn't full of bacteria.....

    all that's left in confetti....

    I even remember reading that modern plastic bags are supposed to do this and a lot of plastic packaging and supermarket bags degrade so rapidly that they can be put in your "green wast" bin.

    The situation is so bad that I have to buy non biodegradable dustbin bags for storing stuff. Still as long as people are working hard to solve a problem that hasn't existed for at least ten years we will all be saved and the world won't end.

    won't somebody think of the children!

  38. The Badger

    Wrapping it up

    david: "They collapse into a small pile of crumbs within months. I'm guessing this is UV breaking the polymers."

    I've stored the lightweight Tesco bags in clean, dark places and in months they've disintegrated into small pieces reminiscent of candle wax, so I doubt that it's UV at work. There are, of course, different kinds of plastic bags, and I doubt that this kind is the one that causes all the problems.

    max allan: "So, why is nobody whingeing about the hundreds of times more tons of plastic that is used as packaging?"

    Indeed. There's an obscene obsession amongst the supermarkets to take a small quantity of fresh produce and to box it up in fairly heavy plastic. Most of this plastic probably ends up in landfills in the name of convenience and fancy presentation (with patronising spend-happy consumer prose on the labels in Britain, too). Somewhere there must be a tax loophole (or opportunity, depending on which side you're on) which lets people continually churn out tons of plastic for short lifespan purposes, all in the name of a "healthy economy", nice cars, big houses and knighthoods, the CBI, "vote Tory/Tony", and so on.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    plastic bags...

    See thing is, if I leave a tesco bag in a cupboard for a year, pull it out, all you get is a pile of confetti.

  40. Adam Williamson


    "So, why is nobody whingeing about the hundreds of times more tons of plastic that is used as packaging?"

    Er, people do. Frequently. It's a topic of concern to many environmental organizations. Some major suppliers and supermarkets have already made a few token gestures towards reducing unnecessary packaging.

    The main problem is that there is a certain constituency of people who won't buy some products unless they're "securely" sealed - i.e. sealed in such a way that they couldn't be tampered with without it being evident. Hence tamper-proof seals and bottle tops that pop up when opened and so on. It's quite hard to do this without using lots of unnecessary material. So if supermarkets reduce excessive packaging, they get a few 'green' customers but lose a bunch of 'paranoid' customers. That's the deal they're weighing up.

  41. Alan Esworthy

    Missing the obvious

    The proper solution is to get the bacteria to live in the gut of a goat and feed the goats all the plastic they can take. Might take a bit of GM, but we're getting good at that.

    Now, I wonder if you can make shopping bags from goat droppings?

  42. Anonymous Coward

    @Anonymous Coward with title @david

    You've got mice mate.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's so easy ...

    to recycle them into other plastic products as per GettinSadda's post.

    Think of how many trees that can be saved if we made a simple thing like a fence or a gate out of waste plastic? Oh what if your fence or gate breaks??? Simple, just unbolt it and send it back to be recycled.

  44. Boris

    Plastic Fantastic

    It's an interesting article but basically the approach is little better than burning plastic bags in that the material is still converted into C02 and put into the atmosphere.

    What would have been really clever was if he could have found a bacterial combination that could chop the polymer back to the original momomers with a reasonable degree of efficiency. If this was possible then you would have the ultimate plastic recycling system...

  45. matt beard

    I'll get my coat....

    Mine's the plas... oh... where's it gone?

  46. Martin


    Supermarkets like packaging fresh food so much because it greatly reduces wastage. Where apples, for example, are displayed loose, customers pick only the best ones, leaving a great many second-rate apples for the supermarket to throw away. When the apples are packaged, not only do they keep fresh for longer, but also customers are forced to take away the 2nd rate apples in a pack along with the best ones.

    There's an environmental angle as well as the cost issue- packaging prevents huge quantities of food from being produced and transported to stores only to be thrown away.

    As for plastic bags being a major issue- DO piss off. Your computer's electricity requirements have probably produced more CO2 while you've been reading this than a fortnight's supply of Sainsburys bags. Anyway, didn't plastic consumption for supermarket bags actually increase in Ireland after they eliminated disposables?

  47. Jonathan Richards
    Thumb Up

    Pseudomonas spp

    ...typically smell, if I remember microbiology practicals correctly. Or as Dr Jonson would have pointed out, they stink. Unless this is a particularly atypical species, or the Sphingomonas/Pseudomonas combo somehow manages not to produce an odour, that in itself is going to limit the practical domestic use.

    Furthermore, what does one do with the biomass?

    Having tracked down the article on The Record, though, it seems to have been an excellent bit of student scientific investigation. Good work.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    @Why rag on the bags? (and others)

    For such a well informed audience there is a bit of, ahem, rubbish being talked about plastic bags, and plastic packaging in general.

    Why plastic packaging? Try this for a quote 'Societies without sophisticated packaging loose half of their food before it reaches consumers. In the UK, waste in the supply chain is about 3%. In India, it is more than 50%.'

    And are some of you confusing recycling with biodegradeable (but don't in your recycling bin, because they are almost impossible to tell apart and so make the recyclate unuseable).

    If you can get hold of it, I suggest you read the article 'Plastic. The Elephant in the Room' in the FT Weekend Magazine, April 26/27 2008.

  49. Michael

    RE: David Ashe

    I followed David's link to - a story about the plastic soup in the Pacific Ocean. One thing in particular caught my attention:

    "Professor David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, said more research was needed to establish the size and nature of the plastic soup but that there was "no reason to doubt" Algalita's findings."


    This is the kind of crap that the Green movement is doing to us. One guy does some research, and another guy is willing to accept it as truth, without doubt, because it promotes the Green agenda. If the tables had been turned, the world+dog would be screaming for independent validation, rather than saying there's "no reason to doubt".

    If we continue on this path, the Cult of Green with be the death of real science...

  50. Badminstyles
    Thumb Up

    Good Article and Neat Science.

    Nuff said.

  51. Jeffrey Nonken

    A tip of the hat...

    ... to the two gentlemen who have mentioned "Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters". It's a much better cautionary tale than "The Andromeda Strain" for this context.

    I first encountered it in the local public library when I was in high school, probably about 1972. Good story, not spectacular, but I enjoyed it enough to remember it decades later and pick up a copy in a used bookstore.

    I'm guessing the authors are Brits, most of the story takes place in England.

    I recommend you all read it -- if you can find it. :)

    Short synopsis: Somebody develops bacteria to eat a certain kind of waste plastic. It mutates into something that a) is prolific and b) eats common plastics.

    Then all hell breaks loose.

    P.S. The hero gets the girl.

    Skull and crossbones 'cause we're all gonna die.

    (I'd get my coat but a) I didn't tell any real jokes and b) mine's the plastic Mac with the suspicious bubbling areas -- I don't think I want it back. :)

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Embed the bacteria in the bag

    As others have pointed out, if the bags are used as bin liners, they can't be chucked in a 'soup'. I wonder if the bacteria could be embedded into the bags themselves, so that no matter what happens to them they get eaten up eventually. Might be some problems with storage if the bags aren't used immediately though.

  53. joe
    Paris Hilton

    Question for you Brits

    The CBC here in Canada has David Suzuki, the US has Gore; who is the moron you guys have at the BBC? I would love to send Suzuki somewhere else. If you don't have a dipstick like him we could pack him up and send you him, postage paid. I think most Canadians would love to get rid of that idiot.

    On another note i totally agree that this is one of the best stories El'Reg has cocked up in a long time.

    I read something on Depolymerization at a poultry processing plant somewhere, i can't remember, in the eastern US. Basically you take the waste and plop it in a coker and it breaks it down into oil. The wonderful thing about this technology is if it is carbon based, David Suzuki and Al Gore for example, can be turned into something useful. In my quick google search i noticed that the group that invented the procedure is busy setting up patents more than flaunting their answer to OPEC 's extortion racket.

    On that note its good to see someone trying to solve a world problem and not try to patent something thats growing in your back yard as we speak. I guess some troll in east Texas is drooling over the idea right now. Scary isn't it?

  54. Anonymous Coward


    you could use that amazing concept and recycle them! No idea why this bloody simple idea is published more. If you can recycle your plastic milk bottle and pop bottle, you can do most poly bag. Ye syou can, have a look, most have the little 2 in the triangle, the same as you pop bottle.

    But of course if we publish this, the supermarket a) can't make money from selling "reusable bags" or b) slash costs by not issuing them.

    But of course where is the headline.

    "Shock! Horror! Plastic bags can be recycled. Read the full artical today!"

  55. Secretgeek

    @AC '@Jolyon'

    Thanks for the surreal mental image of chavs strewn over trees.

    That's tickled me for some reason.

    Chav Trees

    Homeboy Hedgerows

    Blinged Bushes (?) Not sure about that one

  56. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    God's already tried this. It doesn't work.

    Since these are naturally occuring organisms, presumably there is some ecological reason why the munchers haven't already overrun our litter-strewn planet.

    Of course, you could probably genetically modify the bugs to increase their robustness in a natural environment, but that might upset the greenies and turns the whole scheme into a 21st century equivalent of introducing cane toads to Queensland.

  57. N

    Burn it all!

    Since we're now not going to be allowed to generate 6, 8, or even 10% of our power from the Bristol Channel (depending on who is making up the statistics at the time), why not use furnaces to burn rubbish and generate power? Plenty of potential in them thar bags.

    Incinerators which use secondary air injectors and re-burn are reasonably clean, and any nasties remaining in the exhaust could be trapped and buried for later generations to discover.

  58. andy


    Never mind the non-issue of CO2. Doesnt burning plastic bags cause all sorts of toxic fumes?

    I think getting bacteria to eat them is a great idea.

    They already persuade bacteria to eat our poo in big vats at sewage plants, and the world has not yet been devoured by a giant poo monster so I doubt if the plastic eating bacteria is too much of a danger. Besides, eating plastic will be like a gourmet meal for them compared to all that poo...

  59. Maliciously Crafted Packet

    RFID tag all plastic.

    Currently there are too many different types of plastic to make recycling practical.

    But with RFID the problem at least has some chance of being solved.

    That's my bright idea anyway, any reason why this would not work? Barring government sticking its nose in and completely ballsing things up.

  60. Chris
    Dead Vulture

    Only one question...

    ... how long's it going to take for the Tree Huggers to come up with a reason why this apparently sensible idea will be bad for 'the environment'?

    Because it seems to me these days that the 'Tree Hugger' industry is more concerned in perpetrating itself by raising objection to virtually everything.

  61. Trevor Watt

    no title. (why does it need one?)

    An Anonymous Coward said:

    'Why plastic packaging? Try this for a quote 'Societies without sophisticated packaging loose half of their food before it reaches consumers. In the UK, waste in the supply chain is about 3%. In India, it is more than 50%'

    I think there is probably more to this than just the packaging, we have produce that has been hybridised to provide for a better shelf life ) often at the expense of flavour etc.), a far better harvesting and storage system, a vastly different climate and a far better distribution network.

    Richard Drysdall said:

    'I wonder if the bacteria could be embedded into the bags themselves, so that no matter what happens to them they get eaten up eventually. Might be some problems with storage if the bags aren't used immediately though.'

    Cross contamination onto things you don't want eaten may be a problem though!

    Ken Hagan said:

    'Since these are naturally occurring organisms, presumably there is some ecological reason why the munchers haven't already overrun our litter-strewn planet.'

    There would have to be sufficient quantities in the right place at the right time. Typically at landfill sites the hole in the ground is filled up and covered over with soil or more rubbish, meaning the bacteria have to increase their number to a suitably large amount in less than ideal conditions. Perhaps introducing them into the waste before dumping it at the landfill site may be an option.

  62. Ivor

    FT article

    Link to the previously mentioned FT article:

  63. Faye Berdache
    Paris Hilton

    Old News Surely?

    I remember that years ago, when the BBC thought the public would be interested in science, that there was an item on Tomorrows World about research into bacteria to eat unwanted plastic, pretty much along the lines that this Guy has managed to do. What happened to that? Did the Plastics Industry stomp it out of existance.

    There was also research into biodegradable plastics, which I think was successful, so why do supermarkets insist on giving us non-biodregradable bags, and even worse threaten to charge us for them to make their conscience clearer!!! Again, who is stopping the use of Biodegradable plastics? The plastics Industry perhaps?

    Paris because she is the ultimate in biodegradable plastic.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A lot of bags I've seen recently claim they'll "self-destruct" in less than two years anyway. I currently live in a country where plastic bags are no longer given out so it's not really an issue for me.

    I've also noticed that there's a lot less packaging here and slightly less loss in the food supply chain so it does seem that there is over packaging in the UK.

  65. The Badger


    "Supermarkets like packaging fresh food so much because it greatly reduces wastage. Where apples, for example, are displayed loose, customers pick only the best ones, leaving a great many second-rate apples for the supermarket to throw away."

    Yes, the punters are forced to take home items which are often mouldy because they can't properly inspect the produce. That's what happens when the supermarkets have a bunch of people pack the produce into black plastic boxes. I don't have a problem with putting stuff in lightweight transparent plastic bags, and I'll always choose stuff packaged in that way over pretty, "value added", "nanny teach you that A is for apple" boxed produce which the supermarkets seem to love.

    "When the apples are packaged, not only do they keep fresh for longer, but also customers are forced to take away the 2nd rate apples in a pack along with the best ones."

    Indeed. I don't object to lightweight packaging; I do object to excessive packaging.

    "There's an environmental angle as well as the cost issue- packaging prevents huge quantities of food from being produced and transported to stores only to be thrown away."

    So you make a load of synthetic materials and because this takes up more space in your truck, it's good for the environment? I suppose if you make your logistics as oil-intensive as possible, you might be more frugal when the oil price goes up, but I'm not sure that this is a great sustainability policy. Maybe it makes sense to people in Britain where instead of trying to understand supply and demand, people picket oil refineries when oil gets expensive.

    "As for plastic bags being a major issue- DO piss off."

    One major issue was the observation that wild animals happen to ingest plastic bags or are immobilised by them. Maybe this isn't an issue for you, but that doesn't mean that others haven't learned to join the dots.

    "Your computer's electricity requirements have probably produced more CO2 while you've been reading this than a fortnight's supply of Sainsburys bags. Anyway, didn't plastic consumption for supermarket bags actually increase in Ireland after they eliminated disposables?"

    Total plastic consumption may have increased, probably because people presumably decided that they needed to encase everything in yet another layer of heavier plastic.

  66. John Stag

    "Are plastic bags really that bad?"

    "Are plastic bags really that bad?"

    Not when they're actually *in* the landfill, no.

    The problem is that a lot of them end up in the sea, in hedgerows, etc.

  67. James Pickett


    I'm not often an apologist for the BBC, but at least they occasionally make use of Prof. Philip Stott, who talks a lot of sense...

  68. Martin

    @The Badger

    I believe that for small electronic items at least, the oversized difficult-to-open packaging is intentional as a means of preventing theft, not that it always works.

    In terms of food, making plastic packaging, I would suspect, is outweighed by the reduction in the transport of food that will be thrown away (did another poster say up to 50% in India?). The space actually taken up in a truck by is negligible for all but the most ostentatious packaging, as lorries are limited to 44 tonnes maximum, and certainly for 'heavier' produce such as most fruits and veg, I would strongly suspect that a fully-laden lorry is less than full in volumetric terms.

    People often overlook that supermarkets and other retailers do have a very strong cost incentive to reduce waste and lorry-miles (HGV fuel currently costs about 60p/mile). As an operator of a fleet (industrial equipment supplier, NOT any kind of supermarket or retailer) it amuses me when certain people bang on about road haulage (I do know that you weren't). Trains are utterly impractical for 95% of haulage work, and will always be unless there was some kind of nationalised, subsidised pallet freight network using the railways for long distance movements (think Post Office for pallets). Even then local deliveries would have to be by lorry. There is also very little practical alternative to diesel-based power available AT THE MOMENT. Some large hauliers use LPG or CNG (with the attendent loss of power and fuel capacity), biodiesel is a very thorny issue that has been well discussed in other articles.

    What would appeal to me (for HGVs at least) would be motorway electrification, in the same manner as the railways. The alignments of a motorway aren't very different from rail, it would be easy enough to string overhead cables over lanes 1 and 2 of the major stretches. Series-hybrid HGVs could pick up power off the cable (through a transmitting meter for billing) when on the M1, have a battery cover any blips in the supply (including lane changes) and have a 'normal' engine take over in hybrid mode on leaving the motorway. The pantograph would be controlled electronically, to detect the presence/absence of a cable, for example or the driver steering off the cable. Each HGV would wait for 'permission' to draw current, to prevent a situation of absurd loads on the grid due to thousands of lorries accelerating on electric power at the same time (eg due to the end of a traffic jam). The HGVs could even have regenerative braking (a big win on such a heavy vehicle) and could pump juice back into the grid on deceleration. All this electrical and control equipment could be inspected regularly, in the same way as speed-limiters and tachographs are inspected now.

  69. Anonymous Coward


    One of the earlier posters stated that the Co-Op no longer uses plastic bags, but that is not true: for quite some time all of their bags have stated on the side that they bio-degrade in 18 months.

    On a similar note, almost all of the ones that I get are re-used as rubbish bags - surely much better than buying black bags?

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Not NEW bacterias, existing ones

    A lot of the people up here ask "Are these bad for us?" or "Will these destroy the world"

    Well, sad news friends, those are already here. He did not INVENT them, he discovered them. Now let me be clear. This does NOT diminish his discovery (note here, a DISCOVERY). If anything, it makes him a real scientist.

    These bacterias are already present in landfills. He just got them from there and let natural selection do the rest. Feed them only plastic, only those that eat it will survive.

    His discovery is great as it means breaking down an environmental problem in a natural and safe way. What is left behind after? Same stuff as if the bags had decomposed themselves most likely, just faster.

    You are right, we need to find out what that is. Maybe we can use some of it? Think of the recycling potential if we could turn this into something useful on top?

    Paris, cause she is also useful on top.

  71. mr.K
    Dead Vulture

    How is this the solution to anything?

    The reason it didn't reach your media is because it really is a non-story. Don't get me wrong, he did a nice bit of science and knowledge is never bad. However, he did not invent a new bacteria, he just discovered something that is already there. This isn't something we can release a few milli litres of into the ocean and the problem is gone. We would have to collect all the plastic floating out there, pile it together, introduce the bacteria and wait for six weeks. I imagine that it is the collecting part that is the problem. I also imagine that just burning the plastic and extracting the energy must be a much better, quicker and simpler solution. It will release exactly the same amount of CO2, but we will recover some energy and we won't have to wait for six weeks. If we want to be even smarter we can recycle the bits that can be recycled and burn the rest. Thus leaving us with less oil needed for new plastic products, some energy and saved time.

    This is so not a story. It doesn't even have Paris Hiltion in it.

  72. Steve Mann

    Self-Destructo Carrier Bags

    Spar supermarkets pioneered the use of "bio-degradable" carrier bags in the mid 1970s. The actual result was a bag whose handles would snap unexpectedly without the usual stretchy phase to warn the shopper that the carpark would soon be covered in rolling fruit and/or broken glass. I kept one as a test. It showed no signs of biodegrading in the three years I had it.

    A question: If these bacteria love to live it up on poly bags, why aren't the landfills total bacterial raves? Why aren't we seeing "Landfills Overrun With Plastic Eating Super Germs Outrage" headlines? Are these obvious threats to democracy only available in Canada?

    Another question: Is it safe to cook up a batch of plassy bag munching germs in a Home Depot orange "Homer" bucket or do we need to buy a stainless steel containment facility for the little darlings?

  73. Rob Davis
    Thumb Up

    Open Source Biology and DNA Computing

    It's a shame that intellectual property law and patents stifle progress in phages.

    Is there a way that development in this field can be Open Source, so there could be an Apache, Linux or GNU of the biological science world?

    After all, phages and other viruses are DNA computers.

  74. Tim Hogard

    Aren't knee jerk bans great?

    The green canvas bags are starting to show up in large numbers in Aussie waterways and beaches. So we have replaced one type of bag for a "green" option that I expect will be worse in the long run. In my house the "canvas" bags last about 100 uses yet they have more than 100 times the plastic as the old type bags and take far more energy and effort to manufacture. Some of them contain 6 types of plastic including nylon that may never break down.

  75. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    In fact, ban all the jerks.

  76. CockKnocker

    how far could this go

    Ok so the bacteria eats plastic which is made from oil, right? Now im not saying that this is a bad inverntion but... What is to stop this bacteria speading, reproducing and going for all plastics and perhaps even developing a taste for our dwindiling oil reserves? Im not a scientist type but I imagine the boffins would want to tinker with something like this. Is this possible or should I just go put my tinfoil hat back on?

  77. Onionman

    1000 years?

    Given my personal experience of bags falling to bits pretty quickly, I suspect this is an "In perfect circumstances, their life could be as much as" figure that has become a universally quoted (but unqualified) number. Oddly, it's normally quoted like this by greens.

    In the interests of balance, this is just like the "one CCTV per 14 people across the UK" figure that proves to be based upon a survey of a couple of shopping streets in South London. This number is typically quoted by civil libertarians.

    Received wisdom is a strange thing. Don't believe everything you're told by someone with an agenda.


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