300 million pelicans? Pah. What 6 billion plastic bags really weigh

How many Jubs? What number of chicken's eggs? You demand answers – we give them

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The splash story on one Sunday newspaper breezily informed us Brits used six billion fewer plastic bags this year than last, and that these weighed the same as “three million pelicans” – a grave naughtiness committed before El Reg's Standards Soviet.

Last Saturday's edition of the Daily Mail featured the screaming splash headline: “Your plastic bag victory”, loudly trumpeting the reduction in plastic bag use by 85 per cent year-on-year after the government imposed a 5p tax on each new plastic bag.*

But ministerial spokesmen committed a massive blunder by failing to express the weight of the six billion non-existent bags in the correct, approved El Reg units.

Speaking to the paper of reactionary Middle England, ministers variously compared the weight of the bags, which weren't used and therefore quite probably never existed in the first place, to:

  • three million pelicans (which, according to National Geographic, weigh up to 13kg each)
  • 300 blue whales
  • 300,000 sea turtles

This all makes perfect sense to the man on the Clapham omnibus, doesn't it?

Properly translated into El Reg Standards Soviet units, the six billion bags** would weigh 7.857 kiloJubs. As any fule no, one Jub is the standardised unit representing the weight required to crush an Australian beer can at sea level – or, in real world units, 984.6 Russian zolotniks.

3 million what?

Er, three million what now?

Commentards requiring the means through which to correctly codify the world around us can find the El Reg Standards Soviet's Official Calculator here, with explanation of the units here.

Your average 140-gauge supermarket carrier bag*** (with gusset, natch) occupies a whopping 2.18 regular Reg footballs in volume terms, once opened up. Therefore, if opened up, six billion plastic bags would fill approximately 30,340 Olympic swimming pools, or a measly 22 if you left them packed flat.

As your correspondent's headache begins to take over, the open bag figure, quite appropriately, corresponds to 69 standardised chicken's eggs. Now, who's going to buy six dozen and put that through a real world test? ®


* Sainsbury's still hands out plastic bags but classes them as “long life” bags, which neatly gets around the 5p bag tax; it only applies to single-use bags. They still price them at 5p and pocket the difference for themselves instead of handing it to the ever-greedy taxman. By its own admission, Sainsbury's will exchange your long-life bag for free if it breaks, no matter how old it is. Give it a go.

** Stanford University (for it is they) reckon a standard gusseted placcy bag weighs 5.5 grams.

*** 375mm x 450mm + 75mm BG x 35mu, according to one leading British bag manufacturer's spec for medium, coloured carrier bags.


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