06 June 2018

As pressure for plastics regulation increases, new report says bans harm environment

US think-tank urges less regulation, as banning plastic packaging can harm the environment and leads to economic loss.

As global pressure grows for bans on polystyrene packaging and other plastic products, in the hope of reducing environmental impacts, a new report finds that plastics prohibition may cause more ecological and economic trouble than it is worth.

Bans detrimental
Coinciding with yesterday’s World Environment Day 2018, the US-based Independent Institute issued ‘Plastic Pollution: Bans vs. Recycling Solutions.’ The report argues it would be better to enable and encourage innovation in the recycling of plastic debris, instead of discouraging innovation with costly and detrimental bans and restrictions. The authors state, that while they agree on the scale of the problem, ‘Private-sector entrepreneurship, not government regulation, will eventually solve the plastic-waste problem.’ The report states the US is the twentieth largest contributor of plastic marine debris, while China ranks first with between 1.32 million and 3.53 million metric tons. The authors argue, ‘the main lesson is that poor countries and those without well-developed market institutions (often the same) are the world’s biggest plastic polluters.’

Property-rights issue
They argue that at its core, expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly known as Styrofoam, pollution is another ‘tragedy of the commons, a problem caused by the absence of well-defined property rights. No one owns the pollution, and therefore no one has a responsibility to do something about it.’ The report explains that ‘simple’ solutions like banning food-service foam and plastic straws won’t make much of a dent in mismanaged plastic waste, and impose disproportionate compliance costs on minorities and small business owners. The authors conclude ‘rather than taking what seems to be the most straightforward path, regulators should examine the incentives of everyone involved in the EPS supply chain and then adopt other policies to better manage the pollution problem. Local governments and groups that lobby to ban EPS products should consider both the economic and environmental impacts of such bans before proposing or implementing them.’ A copy of the report can be found here