The Blog

Just One Word: Plastics

4:53 PM, Jun 3, 2008 • By RICHARD STARR
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Writing at TNR's reliably misinformed Environment & Energy Blog, Dayo Olopade lauds the Chinese government's ambitious program to eliminate plastic bags:

The move, which bans outright ultrathin plastic bags and puts a price on all others, is said to save China 37 billion barrels of oil annually.

That's a typo--the China Daily http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-01/09/content_6379872.htm target=_blank>report actually reads:

Residents in the country use up to 3 billion plastic bags a day and the country has to refine 5 million tons (37 million barrels) of crude oil every year to make plastics used for packaging, according to a report on the website of China Trade News (www.chinatradenews.com.cn) .

Does all that oil go to plastic bags? Obviously not. Packaging here seems to include every piece of plastic in China, for domestic consumption, export, and otherwise. That's a lot of plastic. According to this http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=2935417&page=1 target=_blank>report from ABC, the United States uses 12 million barrels of oil to produce ten times as many bags annually. Figure the Chinese are using one-tenth as much oil, 1.2 million barrels, in which case 37 billion barrels is off by a factor so big we can't even do the math. China's action on plastic bags is about as trivial as you would expect. But hey, they still have that super eco-friendly one-child policy!