Thursday, October 29, 2015


This week we move into a discussion of mineral extraction and a related topic: trash and recycling.

Below are links to some examples of formal bag/tag (pay-per-throw) systems in the US.

Dover, NH,
Charles County, MD
Mount Pleasant, MI
Sunnyvale, CA
Houston, TX
Duluth, GA
Tompkins County, NY
Malden, MA
Grafton, MA
Shrewsbury, MA

This is just a few. 

Here is a link to details on the success of a bag/tag program in Worcester, MA.

Success in Maine

Variations on pay-per-throw in RI

Can anyone provide international examples of pay-per-throw systems?

Good reading on the topic of waste in NC from NCSU

The idea behind these systems is a fairly straightforward application of internalizing a negative externality:  Impose Pigouvian taxes on things that cause external damage and society will be better off, because raising marginal costs creates an economic incentive for people to reduce quantity.

Here's a writer in Washington DC lamenting the lack of pay-per-throw trash disposal.

A related issue: plastic grocery bags. 

What do you think about this approach versus this approach? 


Joseph Small said...

I like the idea of banning plastic bags all together, but I believe that taxing the plastic bags would be a better idea. By taxing per bag, it causes the user to think twice about their action. Once the user is in that state of mind, they will begin to identify ways to get around this negative tax and ultimately decide for themselves that they want to do what's right for the environment. (This might also get them in the mindset to take other positive environmental approaches i.e. recycle, walk/bike over driving etc.) Also, if bags are banned, this could cause some problems for smaller companies that would now have to offer a more expensive alternative to their customers i.e. paper bags. I believe that the tax would also pay for itself because the money could go towards paying for positive externalities in the community. However, if there were to be a tax per bags in the US, I do not believe that there should be any type of loopholes described in the first article. This would only incentivize consumers to shop at smaller companies. (I'm not sure if this would be a positive or negative benefit to the community)

On another note, you asked if there are any examples of this abroad. When I studied abroad in England the summer of 2013, I experienced a charger per bag at one of the local grocery stores. I am unsure if this cost went to the company or the government, but regardless it incentivized me to take my own bags when shopping there.

Michelle said...

Dr Biddle's Policy Analysis class provides several of scenarios (such as plastic grocery bags and pay-per-bag trash) for which to determine the best path based on economics (CBA or CEA), political feasibility, environmental impact, and/or equity. The tax on plastic bags, based on the location, can be helpful, but a ban can also take place with success (OBX, anyone?). I personally try to take cloth/insulated bags to the grocery store because I just don't know what to do with all the empty bags other than recycle them anyway.

The public ultimately pays the price for societal ills, such as stormwater infrastructure (typically provided by the municipality under the direction of EPA's NPDES) and solid waste disposal (trash pickup provisions, or provision of a central dump site). While these are ubiquitous to modern human development, certain programs can lessen the burden on taxpayers as a whole and place (some of) the cost back into the "polluter's" hands, such as stormwater tax added onto property taxes, based on impervious cover (the best indicator of stormwater runoff pollution) of the property.

Shelby White said...

Banning plastic bags seems like a drastic measure, but it will ultimately solve the problem faster than taxing plastic bags. There are inequality issues that can come from taxation of bags and wealthier individuals may just disregard the tax as another fee, rather than a step towards a healthier environment. Those in poorer communities will bear the burden of a plastic bag tax, even if they need the bags and cannot afford them. However, taxing bags in some areas that cannot ban them will provide an incentive to eliminate plastic bag use. Maybe a payment system could be established for recycling that could go towards credit for more plastic bags. This way recycling is incentivized, as well. The loopholes in the Palmer article will be a major issues...where is the line drawn? When do local businesses begin to have a tax on their bags? Will it always stay at 250 employees? This is a hindrence to the growth of local businesses, who aim to grow larger. It may also have an impact on the local economy, which could be great for the community but may have some negative impacts on larger businesses. Loopholes would have to be eliminated as much as possible. If one loophole is found, then it only gives an opportunity to explore other loopholes and eventually the policy loses efficiency.

Andrew McCulley said...

In regards to the question about international examples of pay-per-throw systems, such a system was tested at an apartment complex in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong in early 2014. According to an article in the South China Morning Post, the implementation of the system was experimental, as government officials in Hong Kong were trying to address the issue of landfills reaching their capacities. Additionally, Hong Kong officials were trying to increase the rate of recycling among residents of Kowloon. The information presented in the article suggests that the system has been successful, as the amount of waste each household disposed of dropped 30 percent in the first month. Further, the amount of material each household recycled on average increased to 5 times the amount prior to the experiment. More tests are ongoing, and apparently the environment minister plans to have a formal waste disposal charge system in place by 2016.

Eric Quigley said...

I agree with Shelby's comment that the tax of plastic bags presents more issues than an all out ban. I found it interesting from discussions in other class that paper bags are not a great alternative either. I really believe that our class discussion about reducing our trash "footprint" via pay per throw or other means is going to become a bigger issue and as much as it is an end consumer issue, change at the manufacturing and packaging level deserves more attention.

Unknown said...

I have read the Germans have/are developing very efficient pay per throw programs. My question is are manufacturing processes reflecting peoples desire to create less garbage? The most efficient version of this would be a two pronged approach of pay per throw and dedicated effort from manufacturers of all types for more efficient consumer goods.