Saturday, May 18, 2024

Examining the High Costs and Questionable Gains of ‘Green’ Policies as Earth Day Approaches

As we approach Earth Day, it is time to evaluate how green policies have performed. One such policy is the New Jersey bag ban, which was ostensibly designed to tackle plastic pollution, requiring stores over 2,500 square feet in size to replace disposable plastic bags with reusable ones.

The ban bag is an example of “extended producer responsibility,” which is a waste policy that forces companies to use only reusable or recyclable products. Advocates of extended producer responsibility champion measures such as plastic bag bans, but the real-world implementation has only fueled inflation with minimal environmental benefits.  

Despite the ban effectively being a regressive tax on poorer residents, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy praised the state for “addressing the problem of plastic pollution” that will “help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment.”

Unfortunately for the governor and other advocates of extended producer responsibility policies, a new study by the Freedonia Group has found a threefold increase in plastic consumption since the beginning of the May 2022 ban—from 53 million pounds to 151 million pounds—to create heavier, reusable bags (despite a 60% reduction in disposable plastic bag use). In addition, Freedonia found a $42 million increase in profits from a single 50-store retailer from selling these reusable bags.

Researchers concluded that 90% of these reusable nonwoven polypropylene plastic bags are used only two to three times before being thrown away or lost. To add insult to injury, reusable bags use 15 times more plastic and emit five times the greenhouse gases during production compared to regular plastic bags.

Additionally, reusable bags contain little to no recyclable materials and are often not recyclable themselves. These bags would need to be used 11 to 59 times just to break even on the increased greenhouse gas emissions from production.

The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, an association of plastic bag manufacturers that commissioned the Freedonia study, argues that the environmental effect of disposable plastic bags is being overstated. The alliance claims that plastic bags account for less than 0.6% of litter cleanups and less than 0.3% of municipal solid waste.

Instead of forcing everyone to use reusable bags that emit more greenhouse gases, the alliance argues that disposable bags should be properly recycled. These disposable plastic bags are then more easily used to create new bags. The alliance has a goal of 20% being made of recyclable material by 2025.

California’s Carpet Stewardship Act provides another example of extended producer responsibility leading to suboptimal outcomes. The law has been imposing an increasing fee schedule on new carpets to support carpet recycling efforts. The enforcement of this extended producer responsibility in California raises input costs for producers, increasing the cost of carpeting, and substantially leading to increased costs of housing, which disproportionately affects poorer residents.

The Carpet America Recovery Effort is the organization in charge of the stewardship program, and its executive director, Bob Peoples, admits that the tax “undoubtedly is a serious burden for the approximately 2,000 California carpet retailers and the 79 carpet mills with operations in the state.” In January 2023, the price of carpet tiles increased by almost half. Naturally, the cost of the tax falls on consumers, who now pay nearly 50% more for their carpets.

Extended producer responsibility policies often result in regressive, inflationary pressures without delivering on their environmental promises. Americans are grappling with soaring costs, from new homeowners needing 80% more income than they did four years ago to credit card debt reaching all-time highs. This is all while the federal deficit and interest rates soar.

Inflationary pressures will continue to increase further if the Environmental Protection Agency’s push for Americans to buy expensive zero-carbon emission vehicles and trucks becomes law. Simultaneously, electricity costs have risen 20% since 2020 and will rise by another 20% in some states to meet renewable energy requirements imposed by state lawmakers. California residents alone have seen an 11% rise in electricity prices just over this past year.  

From Earth Day to every day, it is crucial to recognize that green policies like extended producer responsibility are often touted as beneficial; however, many of these initiatives are simply using green code-phrasing to justify inflating the cost of goods while ignoring their minimal environmental impact.