Study: Plastic packaging bans hurt environment more than they help

By Jason Hopkins

Outright bans on plastics have an overall negative effect on the environment, and recycling initiatives make for better solutions, according to an Independent Institute report.

As climate change becomes a larger political issue, more consideration is being given to bans on plastic products. France became the first country in 2016 to ban plastic plates and cups. The entire European Union is currently working to ban single-use plastic products among its members. More than 100 U.S. cities and counties have enacted ordinances that ban or restrict the use of plastic foam containers, packaging materials, and utensils. Bans are the most “effective” way to combat plastic pollution, a Tuesday report by the United Nations stated.

However, a new report by the Independent Institute is calling into question the validity of this popular perception.

The Oakland-based think tank recently published “Plastic Pollution: Bans vs. Recycling Solutions,” an analysis on the effectiveness of plastic bans. The study determined the negative environmental consequences of such bans outweigh the benefits. For example, paper substitutes to polystyrene products typically produce more waste, causing greater water and air pollution.

“Biodegradable plastics are not yet a feasible alternative to polystyrene. Nationwide, there are only 113 recycling plants for composting biodegradable plastics and only about 28 accept municipal food scraps,” according to a press release of the report. “In California, half of all major cities have access to Styrofoam recycling, but only 15 percent have access to recycling programs for alternatives.”

The solution? The study finds the most productive strategy in alleviating plastic waste is to encourage recycling innovation. Across the U.S., there are only 113 recycling plants for composting biodegradable plastics.

Half of all major cities in California have access to Styrofoam recycling, but just 15 percent have access to recycling for alternatives, indicating that even one of the most environmentally-minded states is not ready to handle plastic alternatives.

“Private-sector entrepreneurship, not government regulation, will eventually solve the plastic-waste problem,” the authors of the study concluded.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Trevor Stone

3 thoughts on “Study: Plastic packaging bans hurt environment more than they help

  1. I agree with David and George, in the sense that plastic pollution is out of control (and in our oceans). Even on Vermont roadsides plastic cups and bags are semi-permanent incubators for mosquitos. So just what ARE the free market solutions? I’d love to hear them. And meanwhile how about:

    1) incarcerated/sentenced Vermonters are put to work picking up litter.

    2) Vermont holds a second, business-sponsored Green Up Day in September, call it the Fall Foliage Cleanup. We should look our best in our premiere tourist season. This is a sweat-equity investment that will pay off in dollars and cents protection of the Vermont brand at “peak” tourist visitation and spending.

    3) Under cooperative direction of VBSR, Chamber of Commerce, and Vermont Grocers and Retail Association, our businesses engage in waste and litter reduction campaigns. It could be as easy as passing out free litter bags and cloth shopping bags at the counter, for starters, and charging a penny a bag for the plastic freebies. This could all be voluntary, no legislation needed.

    4) Gov. Scott issues a state proclamation, holds a press conference, and offers a free state park pass for a one-time group event to all of the organized “pickers”, like the Montpelier seniors who pick up trash once a week, bless them.

  2. I sometimes order pancakes at McDonald’s and it amazes me the amount of plastic you throw away after eating. There has got to be an answer to this problem and I am not going to stop eating pancakes.

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