Plastic foam (polystyrene) is one of the most widely used types of plastics around the world. Most U.S. consumers encounter polystyrene products every day. Polystyrene is a low-cost, moldable, synthetic polymer used to create components for automobiles and household appliances like refrigerators and microwaves, as well as DVD cases, plastic utensils, disposable razors, and numerous other consumer products. Polystyrene also can be converted into expanded polystyrene (EPS)commonly known as Styrofoam®which, in addition to being inexpensive, is lightweight and a good insulator. As such, it is often used for food and beverage containers, product packaging, and shipping materials. When EPS is used to create food-service products, it frequently is referred to as food-service foam.
Recently, lawmakers and environmental groups have targeted EPS because of its environmental impacts. EPS does not decompose at any meaningful rate. The lightweight material commonly blows out of trash cans or landfills and litters surrounding areas. EPS that winds up in the ocean can contribute to plastic pollution and the degradation of marine wildlife habitat.
In an attempt to mitigate EPS pollution, some municipalities have banned the use of EPS by restaurants and grocery stores. As many cities implement, or consider implementing, bans on EPS products, it is crucial to understand the options available for dealing with EPS and the tradeoffs associated with these options.
This paper examines:
- How EPS is recycled
- Current and potential bans of EPS products
- Negative effects of EPS bans, including impacts on environment and on minorities
- Potential solutions to EPS pollution
We conclude that while EPS can have serious environmental impacts, the negative economic and environmental effects associated with banning EPS are so great that municipalities should instead adopt alternatives that resolve such problems cost-effectively.
|William F. Shughart II is Research Director and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, and editor of the Independent Institute book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.|
|Brian Isom is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and Research Manager at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University.|
|Camile Harmer is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and Research Fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University.|
|Katie Colton is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and Graduate Fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University.|
So-called sin taxesthe taxing of certain products, like alcohol and tobacco, that are deemed to be politically incorrecthave long been a favorite way for politicians to fund programs benefiting special interest groups. But this concept has been applied to such sinful products as soft drinks, margarine, telephone calls, airline tickets, and even fishing gear. What is the true record of this selective, often punitive, approach to taxation?