Banning single-use plastics won’t solve Florida’s pollution problem. Chemical recycling will

In early January, Democratic Florida lawmakers Linda Stewart and Mike Grieco introduced a bill to greenlight local plastic bans, previously prohibited by state statute. While the desire to keep plastic waste out of the environment is understandable, the fact is that plastic bans often do more harm for the environment than good.

Banning single-use plastic products can be more environmentally damaging because alternatives are even more wasteful.

When Denmark considered a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags, their studies found that they were far superior in comparison to alternatives. The Danes came to that conclusion based on 15 environmental benchmarks, including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion and ecosystem impact. They calculated that paper bags would need to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. For cotton, the figures were even worse. A cotton bag has to be reused 7,000 times, while an organic version would need to be used 20,000 times to be on par with a single-use plastic bag.

Clearly, consumers do not reuse plastic alternatives anywhere near the number of times necessary to make a positive difference. Given the energy expended to make these alternatives, forcing consumers to use them because of a ban on plastic is a net negative if we care about the environment.

Beyond that, prospective local bans miss the mark on how we can actually deal with plastic waste. When we are talking about plastic waste in our environment, we are really talking about mismanaged litter. If plastics are ending up in Florida’s parks or on its beaches, that is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. Luckily, there are a variety of innovative ways that plastic can be responsibly handled, that doesn’t involve banning entire product categories.

Rather than clearing a path for future bans, legislators should be narrowing their sights on better processes to reclaim plastic waste and investing in recycling through chemical depolymerization. Through depolymerization, virtually all plastic products can be broken down into their original building blocks and repurposed into other products. This means that traditionally single-use plastic products can have their lifespan extended indefinitely. This isn’t hypothetical — there are countless examples across North America where innovators take plastic waste, especially single-use products, and turn them into everything from resin pelletstiles for your home and even road asphalt.

Of course, the timing of prospective bans shouldn’t be ignored either. The pandemic has been devastating for bars and restaurants. Local bans on single-use items would force them to switch to costlier alternatives at the most inopportune time. Bans on plastic bags, cutlery, take-out containers or even bottles would be kicking these business owners right as they are trying to get back on their feet. The bans also impact consumers, not just by limiting consumer choice, but also by inflating business costs, which are more often than not passed on to consumers via higher prices.

Outside of restaurants, the prospect of a patchwork of local bans could be incredibly disruptive for supply chains in Florida. Different cities with vastly different rules could mean that manufacturers have to repurpose production lines based on Zip code, which, of course, is incredibly costly and time-consuming. Those costs are again, often passed on to consumers.

Florida’s communities can’t afford to wage a war on plastic with local bans. Instead, state government should show leadership on proper waste management. Leaning on innovative processes to deal with plastic waste ensures that plastics stay in the economy rather than ending up in the environment and avoids the trap of pushing consumers to high cost, and high impact, alternative products.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Philadelphia should reverse its plastic bag ban

Philadelphia’s pending ban on disposable plastic bags won’t just annoy consumers — it will actually hurt the environment. Alternatives to plastics have a much bigger eco-footprint.

The city of Philadelphia has officially paused its plastic bag ban, which will now be phased in over the next year and enforced by city officials in April of 2022. While consumer advocates appreciate the delay, the prospect of a bag ban is misguided — and will ultimately do more harm than good, including for the environment.

Why is that the case? Well, it’s largely because alternatives to single-use plastic bags come with serious negative environmental externalities. That might sound far-fetched to some, but that was the conclusion of Denmark’s Environment Ministry when it evaluated plastic bags versus reusables. 

Danish government researchers using 15 environmental benchmarks (including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion and ecosystem impact) concluded that single-use plastic bags are often superior when compared to paper or cotton alternatives. So much so that paper bags, a common plastic replacement, needed to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. 

When it came to cotton alternatives, the numbers were even higher. A conventional cotton bag alternative needed to be used over seven thousand times to outpace a plastic bag in ecological effects, and an organic cotton bag had to be reused over twenty thousand times. Consumer usage patterns of those alternatives clearly show that they never get reused at the rate required for them to be environmentally advantageous, which means that in an effort to protect the environment, city officials are in fact passing a ban that will do more damage. The ban ends up being more environmental symbolism than environmental protection. 

And the Danes aren’t alone in their conclusions: The British government’s impact assessment on this very question drew the same conclusion.

Consumer usage patterns of those alternatives clearly show that they never get reused at the rate required for them to be environmentally advantageous.

Not only is the bag ban bad for the environment, it is bad policy for local retailers and their consumers. The pandemic has had an absolutely devastating impact on the food service sector, and the ban will ultimately make that impact worse by further inflating costs as retailers are forced to switch to higher-cost alternatives. After all, the reason plastic is so ubiquitous is that it’s easy to use, cheap and preferred by both consumers and retailers. When the full force of the ban takes effect in 2022, the inflated costs will be shouldered by consumers through higher prices.

Beyond the impact on the environment and the economy, the ban completely ignores viable methods to reclaim plastic waste to ensure it doesn’t end up as pollution or in landfills. As part of the city’s justification for banning plastics, it claimed that it takes ten thousand hours to sort the plastic bags out of waste piles, because the bags are not recyclable. That claim sidesteps the fact that once these bags are actually reclaimed, they can be repurposed through a process called chemical depolymerization, which for the layman, is the process of chemical recycling, where plastic is broken down into its original building blocks and repurposed into new products. 

Through recovery and chemical depolymerization, we can turn every piece of discarded plastic back into the same molecules it started from — and these transformations aren’t hypothetical. Across North America there are countless examples of plastics being repurposed into resin pellets, which extends the life of these plastics exponentially, and potentially, indefinitely. For single-use bags specifically, there are innovative projects underway where scientists take these items, alter their chemical bonds and bind them with bitumen to be used to pave roads. The end result is lighter asphalt made with recycled plastic that won’t leach into the soil or waterways. Giving plastic waste a second life in this way creates jobs and fosters innovation — the true solution to so many of our environmental ills. Just as importantly, it ensures that plastics remain in the economy rather than ending up in the environment. 

Simply put, plastic usage can be something we deal with and even benefit from, without having to resort to heavy-handed bans. Leaning on innovators to better deal with plastic waste is a solution that avoids high-impact alternatives, maximizes consumer choice, manages waste properly and actually benefits the environment.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Le Québec peut être un leader du plastique sans Trudeau

Au cours de la pandémie, le plastique est devenu un mal nécessaire pour répondre aux contraintes sanitaires.  

Qu’il s’agisse de l’équipement de protection individuelle, des boîtes de repas à emporter ou encore des cloisons en plexiglas dressées afin de protéger les clients au restaurant, il est devenu omniprésent. 

L’ubiquité de cette matière n’est pas nouvelle, mais son utilité dans l’ère de la COVID est marquante. Pourtant, cela ne change rien quant à son caractère polluant. Personne ne souhaite répandre cette matière dans la nature, surtout pas dans nos fleuves et autres cours d’eau. 

C’est la raison pour laquelle le premier ministre du Québec François Legault a annoncé l’élargissement du système de consigne. Ce faisant, il cherche à mieux recycler les bouteilles de plastique. Le ministre de l’Environnement, Benoit Charrette, a aussi révélé des plans afin de réduire la consommation de plastique des entreprises dans l’espoir de mieux recycler leurs déchets. 

Il y a aussi des centaines d’entrepreneurs québécois dans l’industrie du recyclage qui deviennent de plus en plus efficaces et grossissent à vue d’oeil. L’usine de Lavergne à Montréal en est un bel exemple, tout comme Plastiques GPR de Saint-Félix-de-Valois. Ces deux entreprises comptent des clients partout à travers le monde et aident à faire rayonner le Québec. 

La popularité de ces initiatives est le fruit des efforts de l’industrie et du gouvernement du Québec. 

Le plastique n’est pas toxique

Il semble aujourd’hui qu’Ottawa cherche à aller se chercher une part de cette gloire. En octobre, le gouvernement de Justin Trudeau a déclaré qu’il désignerait le plastique comme une substance toxique selon l’annexe 1 de la Loi canadienne sur la protection de l’environnement. Cela interdirait l’utilisation d’articles en plastique à usage unique tels que les sacs en plastique, les pailles, les bâtonnets à mélanger, les ustensiles et les récipients de polystyrène. 

Cette décision du gouvernement nous inquiète pour deux raisons. Tout d’abord, nous savons tous que les produits en plastique ne sont pas toxiques. Ce n’est pas comme l’amiante et le plomb, deux autres produits déjà identifiés par cette loi. Pourquoi reléguer une matière d’une si grande utilité au même statut que des substances cancérigènes ? Cela ne fait aucun sens. 

Ensuite, cela fait fi du travail des entrepreneurs et entreprises innovantes cherchant des solutions concrètes pour résoudre le problème de pollution, notamment en travaillant sur le cycle de vie de ces manières. Bannir ces matières ou les considérer « toxiques » vient éliminer les solutions privées qui ont été développées par nos entrepreneurs et innovateurs locaux. Ce rejet des solutions innovantes est inquiétant. 

Qui plus est, Ottawa vient empiéter une fois de plus sur les efforts des provinces pour lutter contre ces matières résiduelles. Le Québec et l’Alberta ont déjà mis en place des plans afin de réduire la consommation de plastiques. Ces plans conçus localement répondent mieux aux besoins de leurs citoyens que ceux imposés par Ottawa. 

La reclassification du plastique est loin d’être une bonne solution. C’est plutôt une démarche cynique du gouvernement Trudeau visant à justifier son empiétement sur un domaine de compétence provinciale et répondre maladroitement aux demandes des groupes environnementaux. 

Un bien indispensable

S’il est nécessaire d’applaudir les efforts pour réduire la consommation de plastiques, il est tout aussi important d’être réaliste : le plastique est un bien indispensable, et la pandémie nous l’a rappelé. L’important est de s’assurer qu’il ne se ramasse pas n’importe où et puisse être réutilisé ou bien recyclé. 

C’est grâce au génie québécois que nous pourrons disposer de notre plastique de façon responsable, et non grâce à une prohibition du gouvernement fédéral. Au lieu de laisser les provinces gérer leurs approches et les innovateurs trouver des solutions efficaces, le gouvernement fédéral a choisi la voie paresseuse de l’interdiction pure et simple de certains produits. Cela nuit à tout le monde, et particulièrement à nous tous, consommateur. 

Cette reclassification vient aussi créer une réelle incertitude sur ce qui pourrait être ajouté à la liste des produits toxiques dans un futur rapproché. 

Le Québec a montré qu’il est un leader dans le recyclage du plastique. Il est crucial qu’Ottawa lui permette de le demeurer. 

Yaël Ossowski, Directeur adjoint à L’Agence pour le choix du consommateur, un groupe mondial de défense des consommateurs

Originally published here.

The problem with the plastic debate

Plastic taxes are good intentions but bad economics.

The European Union’s new plastic tax has come into effect on January 1. You’ll see this new tax often described as an EU-tax that you pay directly as a consumer into a treasury in Brussels. While that indirectly true, it’s important to understand how it works. The plastic tax charges a tax of 80 Euro Cents per kilo of plastic packaging — so that doesn’t mean everything made out of plastic, just plastic packaging, and only applies to non-recyclable plastic packaging.

So who exactly pays this tax? The EU does not give clear directions on that, because the EU cannot implement taxes in member states. It seems reasonable that member states tax the manufacturers, but theoretically, they only need to send the required annual amount to the EU, which calculates the amount based on the amount of non-recyclable plastic packaging that was consumed in each country. 

The tax was decided at the European Council Summit back in July when EU leaders were struggling to find new revenue streams to fund the biggest budget in EU history. This tax will raise between 6 and 8 billion Euros per year, but that is hardly enough to make up for the needed money to fund EU programmes.

It is questionable whether the tax will have the desired effect. Those EU countries with industries producing non-recyclable plastic packaging will find a way to subsidise these companies, possibly even with EU funds. The people who will actually pay this tax are the consumers who will once again pay more for food, drinks, or hygiene products. 

What we should do is be tougher on plastic pollution. The pollution, that is the actual problem that people are trying to address, and which should have tougher fines for those who do the actual polluting. If you’re dumping plastic packaging into a river or the sea, you need to be held accountable for those actions.

This entire conversation is oddly similar to the discussion of plastic bag taxes, or all-out plastic bag bans. In 2011, the UK’s Environment Agency published an earlier-drafted life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags. The aim: establishing both the environmental impact of different carrier bags which are in use and their re-use practice. The intention was to inform public policymakers about the impact that a crackdown on plastic bags could possibly have. Needless to say, politicians had little concern for the actual assessment the report presented.

When analysing the global warming impact of each bag, the agency assessed the environmental impact according to abiotic depletion (the disposal of products produced by crude oil), acidification (impact on soil, freshwater bodies, and the oceans), eutrophication (nutrients contained in water), human toxicity, freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity, marine aquatic ecotoxicity, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and photochemical oxidation (air pollution).

The researchers then looked at the number of times that a bag would need to be reused in order to have the same environmental impact as the conventional HDPE (High-density polyethylene) bag that people are used to. They reach the following conclusion:

“In round numbers these are: paper bag – 4 times, LDPE bag – 5 times, non-woven PP bag – 14 times and the cotton bag – 173 times.”

The attentive reader will now ask the correct deductive question: so what are the re-use levels that we experience in practice? Or: do people’s behaviour reflect the environmental impact of shopping bags accordingly?

The report used two Australian studies that state the following life expectancy for the carrier bags mentioned earlier: paper bags (kraft paper) were found to be single-use, LDPE (low-density polyethylene) between 10 and 12 times, while non-woven PP (polypropylene) bags weren’t included (only woven HDPE bags had their life expectancy included), and cotton bags had 52 trips on average.

These findings may be an approximation, but even if we informed the public and doubled the re-use of alternative carrier bags, then paper and cotton bags wouldn’t even break even.

The bottom-line is: the EU’s new plastic packaging tax is motivated by the ambition to raise revenue, and is not necessarily informed by the best science. Not all that appears sensible on the surface will end up being the best policy to implement.

Originally published here.

A plastics ban will only make the pandemic consumer pinch worse

Plastic bags, stir sticks, straws, cutlery, six-pack rings and certain takeout containers — the six single-use plastic items that the Trudeau government is going to ban is a short list but the consequences of this policy will be long-lasting.

On the surface, banning these items may seem like a small step, but the government’s proposal uses Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), which means plastics would be improperly classified as “toxic” substances.

Let that sink in. The plastics we’ve used for months to wrap our takeout food, have items safely shipped to our doorsteps, and provide a barrier between health-care workers and the COVID-19 virus through N95 masks are now, according to the Canadian government, going to appear on a list of toxic substances.But we all know plastics aren’t toxic—they’re the opposite of a harmful or dangerous substance, something Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson admitted himself when the announcement was made in October. Nevertheless, regardless of what Minister Wilkinson’s intentions are, with this new classification “consumers would assume that every day and essential products that contain plastic are now toxic,” as noted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

So why is the government using Schedule 1 of CEPA? Because it provides the quickest and easiest pathway to product bans. There are effectively no hurdles ahead, and the Canadian government is running, and running fast.

The comment period on the federal government’s discussion paper, which outlines its plans broadly, closes on Dec. 9, providing industry, trade partners, and, most importantly, everyday Canadians a mere 60 days to provide comments – the bare minimum for a federal proposal of this nature.

This unilateral approach the government is taking could have broad ramifications that could actually undermine its policy goals and hurt consumers – not just in Canada, but also in the United States.

First and foremost, the federal government will not have to consult anyone if and when they decide to add new plastics products to this list down the line. That can mean anything from bottle caps to IV bags to car bumpers.

While it’s not necessarily clear what will be banned next, it’s certainly clear who will be bearing the financial burden of using plastic alternatives: consumers. Product bans require businesses to incur new costs for alternative products, and those costs are always passed on to consumers through higher prices.And the timing is particularly challenging given that consumers are already facing price increases in their daily lives. For example, as a result of an estimated 300 to 400 grocery stores closing in the coming year due to economic challenges, consumers will need to spend 5% to 7% more on groceries. During this critical moment the government should not enact measures that only magnify these burdens.

It’s also important to note that many alternatives to plastics have worse environmental impacts than those plastic products themselves. That can be for a number of reasons, including the weight of a product, which is an important factor when considering shipments of goods and the subsequent emissions, or the production and manufacturing of products themselves. Nonetheless, the government needs to slow down and conduct a more critical scientific assessment of the alternatives.

Ultimately, plastic waste is a problem that needs to be managed – both in Canada and abroad. Unfortunately, the Government’s approach to plastic completely forgoes the management side of waste management, and instead opts for banning entire product classes. Those impacted the most by this poorly timed and heavy handed ban will be you and I, who are simply consumers trying to safely navigate our way through this pandemic.

Originally published here.

Trudeau’s ‘plastic ban’ won’t help the environment. It could actually harm it instead

Opinion: Alternatives have a significantly higher total impact on the environment, while inflating costs for consumers

By David Clement

This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government will seek to ban many single-use plastics starting in 2021. Although the final list of banned items is still undetermined, it will likely include plastic bags, takeaway containers, cutlery and straws. To further justify the ban, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna cited images of marine wildlife being injured or killed as a result of plastic in our oceans.

It’s a hard-to-resist pitch. No one wants to contribute to marine deaths as a result of plastic, and most of us don’t like the idea of plastic items taking over 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. These concerns ultimately stem from worries about climate change, and the environmental problems that could arise as a result.

Unfortunately for the environmentally conscious among us, a ban on single-use plastics does almost nothing for the issue of plastics impacting ocean marine life, and does very little in terms of environmental impact. Canadians are not significant polluters when it comes to marine litter. Up to 95 per cent of all plastic found in the world’s oceans comes from just 10 source rivers, which are all in the developing world.

William Watson: After banning disposable plastics, Trudeau may be a disposable prime minister
Rapidly growing backlash to plastic has oil companies worried
Terence Corcoran: How green activists manipulated us into a pointless war on plastic
Canada on average, contributes less than 0.01 MT (millions of metric tonnes) of mismanaged plastic waste. In contrast, countries like Indonesia and the Philippines contribute 10.1 per cent and 5.9 per cent of the world’s mismanaged plastic, which is upwards of 300 times Canada’s contribution. China, the world’s largest plastics polluter, accounts for 27.7 per cent of the worlds mismanaged plastic. Canada, when compared to European countries like England, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France, actually contributes four times less in mismanaged plastic. The only European countries on par with Canada are the significantly smaller Sweden, Norway and Finland. A plastics ban might sound productive in terms of plastics pollution, but the evidence doesn’t suggest that Canada is actually a significant contributor for mismanaged plastic, which means that a Canadian ban will do little to aid marine life devastatingly impacted by plastic pollution.

However, proponents will say we should still support the ban on the basis of trying to curb climate change. Although noble, banning plastics doesn’t necessarily equate to better environmental outcomes. In fact, some alternative products, although branded as green alternatives, have a significantly higher total environmental impact once the production process is factored in.

Take plastic bags for example, which are public enemy number one. Conventional thinking suggests that banning single-use plastic bags will result in people using reusable bags, and that this reduction in plastic use will have a positive impact on the environment. Research from Denmark’s Ministry of the Environment actually challenged that conventional wisdom when it sought to compare the total impact of plastic bags to their reusable counterparts. The Danes found that alternatives to plastic bags came with significant negative externalities. For example, common paper bag replacements needed to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. When it came to cotton alternatives, the numbers were even higher. A conventional cotton bag alternative needed to be used over 7,100 times to equal a plastic bag, while an organic cotton bag had to be reused over 20,000 times. We know from consumer usage patterns that the likelihood of paper or cotton alternatives being used in such a way is incredibly unlikely. These results were also largely confirmed with the U.K. government’s own life-cycle assessment, which concluded that these alternatives have a significantly higher total impact on the environment.

While Canadians might support the idea of a plastics ban, they don’t want to pay for it. A Dalhousie University study showed us that 89 per cent of Canadians are in support of legislation to limit plastics. However, that same study also showed that 83 per cent of Canadians were not willing to pay more than 2.5- per-cent higher prices for goods as a result of plastic regulations. This creates a significant problem for Trudeau’s ban, because higher prices are exactly what we’d see.

There are simple solutions available to us that don’t involve heavy-handed bans. First, we could focus more strictly on limiting how plastics end up in our rivers, lakes and streams. Better recycling programs and stricter littering prohibitions could go a long way to curbing the plastic Canada does contribute. For those single-use products that otherwise end up in landfills, we could follow Sweden’s lead, and incinerate that waste. Doing so creates a power source for local communities, while capturing airborne toxins, limiting toxic runoff, and significantly reducing the volume of waste.

Good public policy should address a real problem and should make a meaningful impact on the said problem. Unfortunately, Trudeau’s proposed single-use plastics ban would have little to no impact on overall ocean waste, while promoting high-impact alternatives, and inflating costs for consumers. All three of these factored together create a fairly toxic policy mix.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Read more here

Ah … because oil is the problem, eateries (and patrons) pay the price

Jeff Stier of the Consumer Choice Center says all Americans are affected by what happens in the oceans and should all work to reduce pollution – but that doesn’t justify banning all uses of products, he argues.S “And it’s not only to ban plastics because they claim it winds up in the ocean,” he adds, “but [also] […]

Das Luftballonverbot hilft Schildkröten nur wenig

Das Europäische Parlament hat mit überwältigender Mehrheit am 24. Oktober für ein Verbot von vielen Produkten gestimmt, die aus Einwegplastik hergestellt werden. So sollen zum Beispiel ab dem Jahr 2021 Einwegteller und Besteck aus Plastik, sowie Q-Tips oder Luftballonhalter verboten werden. Ferner sollen Hersteller vieler Einwegprodukte direkt für die Entsorgung dieser Produkte zahlen, obgleich sie […]

We can fight climate change without hurting consumers

If you haven’t clocked that we’ve really got it wrong on the environment, you must have been living under a rock. In the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than we did in the last century – and we only recover 5% of the plastic we currently use. Hurricanes, droughts and coral deaths […]

Emerging markets should oppose plastic bans

The European Commission’s new plastic strategy is moving closer to final completion, after the European Parliament added an even longer list of banned plastic items. However, the consequences for emerging economies should not be ignored. The European Parliament’s environment committee’s version adds thin plastic bags, products made of oxodegradable plastics, and takeaway boxes and cups […]

Scroll to top