Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reports Released On Economic, Environmental Impacts Of Single-Use Plastics Bans/Fees

On June 30, the
Legislative Budget and Finance Committee and the Independent Fiscal Office released studies on the economic and environmental impacts of bans and/or fees on single-use plastics, reusable plastics, auxiliary containers, wrappings and polystyrene containers.
The studies were required by amendments to the Fiscal Code in 2019 which also prohibited the adoption of bans or fees on single use plastic containers until July 1, 2020.  The ban was extended to July 1, 2021 in amendments to the Fiscal Code this year.

Environmental Impact

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee was directed to report on the “environmental impact and any impact” of single-use plastics on residents.

The Committee found there are about 3 billion single-use plastic bags used in Pennsylvania annually and account for 0.7 percent of all collected litter in Pennsylvania in 2019.

[Note: The 0.7 percent figure was taken from a Keep PA Beautiful report on litter.  However, the report was not on ‘collected litter,’ it was on total ‘visible roadside litter’ and while empty plastic bags comprised just 0.7 percent of visible roadside litter that is 3.6 million bags and likely just a fraction of bags out in the environment as they get blown and swept away due to their light weight.]

The report said only one municipality, Narberth Borough, Montgomery County, regulates single-use plastic bags. Other municipalities including the City of Philadelphia, and West Chester Borough, had enacted proposed ordinances.

Those ordinances were preempted by the one-year ban on bans and fees enacted in 2019 and reenacted in 2020.

The Committee surveyed all 2,560 municipalities in the state asking about single-use plastics regulation.  The survey was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Among the findings--

-- 39.1 percent of the respondents said plastic bag bans and fees were an effective way to minimize harmful environmental impacts, 39.6 percent said they were not;

-- 69 percent said bans/fees should be enacted at the state level for the sake of uniformity; and

-- Asked to rate how important implementing a plastic bag ban/fee was-- most respondents said implementing a plastic bag ban or fee was not “very important.”

The report also outlined what it called three unintended consequences of bans or fees-

-- Sanitary concerns with reusable grocery bags;

-- Alternatives like paper bags have greater environmental impacts than single-use plastic bags; and

-- Reducing litter is important, but research indicates single-use plastic bags are not a major source of litter and have useful secondary uses for pet waste disposal, for example.

The report concluded by saying, “Whether bans and fees on single-use plastic are effective depends upon perspective and desired outcome. 

“If the goal is to change human behavior and use, then bans and fees can be effective, and have resulted in reduced single-use plastic bag litter.  However, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, these actions are not without cost and possible unintended consequences. 

“To this point, Pennsylvania continues to emerge from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, the pause of any further restriction on single-use plastic until the state is on more steady footing should result in more informed decision-making that may avoid unintended consequences as have occurred in other jurisdictions.”

Click Here for a copy of the reportClick Here for a summary.

Economic Impact

The Independent Fiscal Office released a report on the economic impact from the regulation of single-use plastics. 

The report considers three types of regulation that have been enacted by other states and local jurisdictions: a ban, a fee and a ban-plus-fee. The report examines potential outcomes if these regulations were implemented statewide for plastic retail bags. 

Notable findings include:

-- Demand For Bags: Pennsylvanians consume an estimated 4.6 billion plastic and paper retail bags annually. Under the three types of regulation, retail bag demand falls by the following amounts: ban (1.6 billion bags, -34 percent); fee (1.8 billion bags, -40 percent); and ban-plus-fee (2.5 billion bags, -54 percent).

The report estimates that the per capita cost of all retail bags is $21 per annum, which retailers build into the price of goods. Under the three types of regulation, per capita costs change by the following amounts: ban (increase of $5.60); fee (decrease of $6.40); and ban-plus-fee (increase of $1.10).

-- Consumer Spending: Changes in consumer spending and retail bag demand affect Pennsylvania employment and labor earnings. 

Under the three types of regulation, employment and earnings change by the following amounts: ban (-507 jobs, -$22 million in earnings); fee (260 jobs, $10 million); and ban-plus-fee (-363 jobs, -$17 million).

-- Polystyrene Products: The final section of the report extends the general analysis to a potential ban on expanded polystyrene foam foodservice products. 

The analysis finds that a ban on these products would reduce employment by roughly 1,800 jobs and labor earnings by $76 million. 

Additional detail on these outcomes as well as a discussion of the fiscal impacts to state and local governments can be found in the report.

(Photo: Plastic bag or litter in Philadelphia area stream.)

Resource Link:

Keep PA Beautiful: A Bag’s Life

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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