London, Mar 9: Leading scientists and environmentalists in the UK have dismissed claims that plastic bags are responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of animals every year. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared plans to start charging supermarkets for using the bags in a bid to stop the rate at which they are handed out. The announcement came after it was claimed that the huge number of plastic bags thrown away throughout the world had led to huge numbers of seabirds, turtles, seals and fish being killed.
However, several experts are now saying that there is not any direct evidence to support these figures and have blamed the Government for 'jumping on a bandwagon based on poor science'. "The Government is irresponsible to jump on a bandwagon that has no basis in scientific evidence," the Scotsman quoted Lord Taverne, chairman of Sense about Science, a charitable trust, as saying. "This is one of many examples where you get bad science leading to bad decisions which are counter-productive. "Attacking plastic bags makes people feel good but it does not achieve anything," Taverne added.
In 1997, Dr David Laist wrote a study on the effect of plastic bags on the environment and now he said that his findings were totally at odds with claims that they kill animals when discarded. "Plastic bags do not figure in entanglement. The main culprits are fishing gear, ropes, lines and strapping bands. Most mammals are too big to get caught up in a plastic bag," he said.
"The impact of bags on whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals ranges from nil for most species to very minor for perhaps a few species. For birds, plastic bags are not a problem either," he added. People who support the clampdown on plastic bags claim that they kill up to 100,000 mammals and one million seabirds are killed every year. However, this is based on a study published in Canada in 1987, the findings of which have been misinterpreted, according to critics. The research, conducted between 1981 and 1984, found that during that period, 100,000 marine animals were killed because of discarded nets.
However, it did not mention plastic bags. After 15 years, the Australian government carried out a report into the impact of discarded plastic bags and its researchers, using the previous Canadian inquiry, mistakenly attributed the deaths to plastic bags instead of 'plastic litter'. Dr David Santillo, a marine biologist for Greenpeace, said: "It is very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite." "We are not going to solve the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags. "It does not do the Government's case any favours if you have got statements being made that are not supported by the scientific literature which is out there," he added.