law"Hurrah!", shouted the green world, as the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed by everybody (except their producers and their political allies) for the worrying decline in bee numbers.

Bans work. Some major environmental problems have been pretty much fixed by banning the substances involved:

  • The Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFC refrigerants, leading to a stabilisation and slight closure in the hole in the ozone level.
  • The ban in leaded petrol has been credited for great improvements in local air quality - and even for the steady reduction in violent crime which has occurred since the ban.
  • Restrictions on DDT use have been attributed to the rebound in Bald Eagle numbers in the US (although eggs shells remain thin). A ban in lead shot fishing weights led to a massive increase in swan numbers in the UK.

What is inevitable, however, is that those threatened by a ban (and those who are against any environmental protection as a 'cost' to business) will resist, producing their own research to prove that, in the memorable title of a book on the subject, "toxic waste is good for you." This happened in response to the call to phase out DDT in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and it is happening in the neonicotinoid ban now.

This economic barrier is bunk as bans lead to innovation which is good for the economy. We still have fridges despite the CFC ban. Non-toxic 'sharkskin' anti-fouling paint was developed in response to a ban on toxic TBTs. So we shouldn't listen to the voices of 'no change'.

You don't have to wait until international authorities act, of course. Many organisations run black and grey lists of undesirable chemicals and other materials. Black listed substances must never be used, and whoever proposes a grey list chemical must make the case why it should be used over alternatives. This pre-empts legislation and makes sure the company is ahead of the curve. Some companies have added green lists of preferred chemicals too.

InterfaceFLOR deleted quite a number of carpet tile lines because of the flame retardants required by the other raw materials. The company sees ruling out toxic materials as a drive to innovate and maintain competitive advantage, so they're quite gung-ho about it.

So, over to you. What would you ban, if you could?


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