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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Industry hits back in defence of plastic bags ]

Industry hits back in defence of plastic bags

DISABUSE yourself of any false beliefs you may have about plastic bags being harmful to the environment: they’re the best solution we have.

This was yesterday’s message given by the Association of Plastic Manufacturers at the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Speaking on behalf of the Association, Christodoulos Papadopoulos, who is also President of Papadopoulos Plastics, cited recent media reports about the harm caused by plastic bags as the reason behind the press conference.

Green Party leader George Perdikis had brought up the issue of plastic bags at a House Environment Committee meeting late last month.

Perdikis wants to reduce their numbers by pushing for a change in the law where they will no longer be offered free of charge.

The Greens estimate that an adult in Cyprus uses an average of 300 bags a year and argue that a change in the law would force consumers to think in a more environmental way.

The press conference was spearheaded by a presentation given by George Apostolopoulos, a chemical engineer with 29 years of experience in the field.

He argued that plastic bags are often the target of unscientific and denigrating attacks which often influence politicians and well-meaning citizens.

According to Apostolopoulos, two of the claims made by those who campaign against the use of plastic bags are that plastic bags take ages to decompose and that their decomposition releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere.

Apostolopoulos exposed these claims as “myths”.

“Plastic bags are made of high density polyethylene or polypropylene,” he explained.

“They decompose within one and a half to two years because of ultraviolet sunlight.

“There is no practical or scientific basis to the claim that plastic bags take 80 or 200 or 400 or 1,000 years to decompose,” attested the scientist.

As to the harmful toxins plastic bags purportedly release into the atmosphere, he had this to say:

“Plastic bags are made up of polymers which contain carbon and hydrogen which give off carbon dioxide and water when they burn, which aren’t toxic.”

And even if carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, “it is emitted when paper or wood or cloth is burned as well.”

Further claims were made to strengthen the case of using plastic bags.

“From a natural resource consumption perspective, plastic bags are the most effective and energy efficient option in comparison with other alternatives such as cloth, paper or metal.

“This is because plastic bags need 40 per cent less energy to be manufactured than paper or cloth bags do.”

Apostolopoulos added that if we were to switch from using plastic bags to another material, the mass of waste would increase, not decrease.

Plastic bags are also more easily recyclable than paper bags: “You need 91 per cent less energy to recycle one kilo of plastic bags than the energy required to recycle the corresponding weight of paper or cardboard.”

And since plastic bags can sustain more weight than paper bags, then you would need more of the latter if you were to carry the same weight.

“Where would we get the necessary paper to cover the needs of consumers? From our vanishing forests?” he asked rhetorically.

Moreover, “current research demonstrates that paper in today’s landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic does.”

Where Cyprus is concerned, “only 1.3 per cent of landfill waste is plastic in Cyprus.”

Another advantage of plastic bags vis-?-vis paper bags, is that they can be recycled more times than their counterparts.

“Paper cannot be recycled for more than 4-5 times since it would release harmful toxins… plastic bags, however, can be recycled 15 times, each time requiring one tenth of the energy and only four per cent of the water needed for an equal weight of paper.”

Papadopoulos heralded two imminent measures on behalf of the Association:
“Recycling bins which will collect plastic bags only will be places in supermarkets, while biodegradable plastic bags are also due to make an appearance in the market as well”, he said.

In his 2007 report, Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou also sided in favour of introducing biodegradable bags in supermarkets.

According to Theopemptou, the fastest way to introduce these would be to use the dynamism of the market.

“If the customers demand biodegradable plastic bags, businesses will have to respond positively to this demand.”

Although Perdikis was not so keen on the use of biodegradable products, he emphasises his antithesis to single-use products.

“We are more concerned with reuse, rather than with what type of bag consumers will be reusing,” he told the Mail.

“We are happy that plastic bags are reused in rubbish bins, but arguments in favour of plastic bags discourage consumers from thinking environmentally.”

Perdikis was strong on the triple ‘R’ principle: Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

“This is the order in which we should approach the matter.

“We ought to encourage reduction by placing a price on plastic bags, while shop-owners should be obliged to provide their customers with the right to choose among bags made of different materials.”

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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