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Plastic Bag Bans Backfired in California and New Jersey, Increasing Waste


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By Linnea Lueken

” the FCR report states that polypropylene bag production has caused a 500 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and that it is unlikely the emissions will be offset significantly by bag reuse, since most consumers throw them away far earlier than expected. “

Recent research has revealed that plastic bag bans in California and New Jersey have resulted in an increase in plastic waste, rather than the decrease intended.

A new report from the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) shows that California’s 2014 plastic bag ban, SB 270, has led to more plastic waste, not less, over the 10-year period since the law was enacted.

Likewise, a report from Freedonia Custom Research (FCR) found that more plastic containers and bags were used in New Jersey after that state’s plastic bag ban. The FCR report also found the increased use of polypropylene bags as a result of the ban contributed to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Californians Use More Plastic after Ban

CALPIRG is a consumer advocacy group that supported the initial plastic bag ban and now supports a stricter plastic bag bans in California that removes the “loophole” they claim the existing California law created. The law permits retailers to sell thicker plastic bags for a fee, which CALPIRG said in a January 2024 report led to an increase in plastic waste because customers still treat them as single-use bags.

“While theoretically “reusable,” it appears that many shoppers are disposing of those bags in the same ways as single use bags, potentially undermining the effectiveness of plastic bag bans at reducing plastic waste overall,” CALPIRG reports.

In Alameda County, California, for example, the thicker reusable bags resulted in more plastic waste by weight despite decreasing the number of bags consumed, says the CALPIRG report.

“Since these “reusable” plastic bags are at least four times thicker than typical single-use plastic bags, the estimated 13 million of them sold in Alameda County in 2021 likely surpassed the 37 million single-use plastic bags sold annually pre-ban on a plastic weight basis,” CALPIRG said.

The weight of plastic bags discarded per 1,000 people increased from 4.13 tons in 2004 to 5.89 tons in 2021.

New Jersey Plastic Consumption Spikes

In New Jersey, the results of a 2022 plastic bag ban were similar, according to another, recent report from FCR, a division of

FCR reports that following the thin-film plastic bag ban, the shift to alternatives resulted in a massive increase in plastic consumption.

“[F]ollowing New Jersey’s ban of single-use bags, the shift from plastic film to alternative bags resulted in a nearly 3x increase in plastic consumption for bags,” FCR’s report states. “At the same time, 6x more woven and non-woven polypropylene plastic was consumed to produce the reusable bags sold to consumers as an alternative.”

Despite being advertised as environmentally friendly, the FCR report states that polypropylene bag production has caused a 500 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and that it is unlikely the emissions will be offset significantly by bag reuse, since most consumers throw them away far earlier than expected.

“FCR’s analysis of New Jersey bag demand and trade data for alternative bags finds that, on average, an alternative bag is reused only two to three times before being discarded, falling short of the recommended reuse rates necessary to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions generated during production and [to] address climate change,” said FCR.

‘More Expensive, Worse for the Environment’

There is a reason why thin-film plastic bags are commonly used in the first place, says H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., director of The Heartland Institute’s Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, and it is not shocking that people began using other types of plastic bags.

“It is not surprising that the plastic bag bans in New Jersey and California backfired, I predicted as much 10 years ago when I was writing on the then relatively new phenomena of plastic bag bans,” Burnett said. “Plastic bags have many virtues, the primary among them being convenience and ease of reuse.”

As in the case with polypropylene bags detailed in the FCR report, attempting to get rid of plastic bags carries costs, Burnett says, and if cities and states were so concerned about the impact of volumes of plastic waste, they should have looked into other solutions.

“Alternatives to plastic bags are more expensive, worse for the environment, and sometimes bad for public health,” Burnett said. “Recycling plastic bags should have been the response to cities concerned about plastic waste, not banning them.”

Not only are the thicker and reusable bags more costly, but the bans drive stores toward returning to paper bags, Burnett says, and support countries like China which stand to gain economically from spikes in reusable bag manufacturing.

“The cities cost themselves, their residents, and the United States economy money, destroying trees and boosting China, which dominates the reusable bag market, in the process,” Burnett said.

Linnea Lueken ([email protected]) is a research fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute.

For more on plastic bag bans, click here and here.

Linnea Lueken
Linnea Lueken
Linnea Lueken is a Research Fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy. While she was an intern with The Heartland Institute in 2018, she co-authored a policy brief ‘Debunking Four Persistent Myths About Hydraulic Fracturing’.

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Federal government should tackle Canada’s productivity crisis in upcoming budget

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Jock Finlayson

In late-2014, per-person gross domestic product (GDP), a common indicator of living standards, stood at $58,162 (adjusted for inflation). By the end of 2023 it was actually slightly lower. This means Canadian living standards haven’t increased in a decade.

In a recent speech, the Bank of Canada’s senior deputy governor highlighted the risk posed by chronically sluggish productivity growth to the country’s living standards. She also noted that stalled productivity makes it harder to reduce inflation and keep it at (or close to) the Bank’s 2 per cent target.

Productivity is conventionally defined as the value of economic output per hour of work. Over time, it’s the most important determinant of overall economic growth. In a mainly market-based economy such as Canada’s, particular attention should be paid to the productivity performance of the business sector.

Unfortunately, here the news isn’t good.

Business sector productivity has flatlined in Canada, with the level of output per hour worked essentially unchanged from seven years ago. This pattern of productivity stagnation, in turn, is the principal reason why the value of economic output per person has stalled in Canada. In late-2014, per-person gross domestic product (GDP), a common indicator of living standards, stood at $58,162 (adjusted for inflation). By the end of 2023 it was actually slightly lower. This means Canadian living standards haven’t increased in a decade. That’s not a picture any Canadian citizen or policymaker should be happy about.

For many people, GDP is an abstract concept that doesn’t easily map to their lived experience. But the level and rate of growth of GDP clearly matter to the wellbeing of citizens. Academic studies confirm that worker wages are based in part on the productivity level of their employers. Put simply, the most productive businesses generally pay higher wages, salaries and benefits.

Moreover, over time individual and household incomes can only grow if the economy itself generates more output per hour of work and per person. When per-person GDP increases by 2 per cent a year (after inflation), average income doubles within 35 years. With 1 per cent annual growth in per-person GDP, it takes 70 years. At 0.5 per cent growth in per-person GDP, 139 years must pass before the average income will double. In Canada, per-person GDP has been declining outright, an alarming and unusual trend.

Addressing Canada’s productivity crisis should be job one for the federal government’s 2024 budget, which the Trudeau government will table on April 16. In the early 1980s, Canada was roughly 88 per cent as productive as the United States, measured by the value of output per hour of work across the economy. By 2022, that figure had dropped to 71 per cent, and it’s continued to decline since then.

What can be done? So far, the Trudeau government has relied on population growth fuelled by high levels of immigration to drive economic growth. That strategy has manifestly failed, as the government itself recently (if sheepishly) acknowledged by dialing back the numbers of non-permanent immigrants who will be admitted to the country.

A smarter approach is to boost investment in the things that make businesses and workers more productive—machinery, equipment, digital tools and technologies, intellectual property, up-to-date transportation and communications infrastructure, and research and development focused on bringing innovative products and ideas to market, rather than keeping them in the lab or in academic institutions. Canada’s record is poor in most of these areas, as evidenced by the fact we trail far behind the U.S. and many European countries in the level of business investment per employee.

That will need to change if we hope to up our game on productivity and lay the foundations for a more prosperous Canada.

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Decarbonization deal opens new chapter in Alberta-Japan relationship

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From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Will Gibson

Agreement represents a homecoming for JAPEX, which first started work in the Alberta oil sands in 1978

new agreement that will see Japan Petroleum Exploration Company (JAPEX) invest in decarbonization opportunities in Alberta made history while also being rooted in the past, in the eyes of Gary Mar. 

JAPEX is seeking to develop projects in carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen and bioenergy. It’s part of the company’s JAPEX2050 strategy toward carbon neutrality. 

“This new endeavour is a great opportunity that demonstrates the world is changing but the relationships endure,” says Mar, the province’s former trade envoy to Asia and the current CEO of the Canada West Foundation 

“Alberta’s very first international office was opened in Tokyo in 1981. And we have built a tremendous soft infrastructure that includes partnerships between a dozen Alberta and Japanese universities.” 

For JAPEX, the agreement represents something of a homecoming for the company that first started work in the Alberta oil sands in 1978 and operated one of the first in situ (or drilled) oil projects for nearly two decades before selling its stake in 2018. 

We are now aiming to come back to Alberta and contribute to its decarbonization,” JAPEX president of overseas business Tomomi Yamada said in a statement.  

Mar says the memorandum of understanding signed this March between JAPEX and the crown corporation Invest Alberta stems from a strong relationship built over decades.  

“You cant be considered a reliable partner for a new venture if you havent been a reliable partner for decades in the past,” says Mar.  

Economies change and worlds needs change but strong relationships are important factor in whom you do business with.” 

Alberta’s established CCS infrastructure has already attracted new investment, including Air Products’ $1.6-billion net zero hydrogen complex and Dow Chemicals’ $8.8-billion net zero petrochemical complex 

Mar sees JAPEX’s deal with Invest Alberta opening a whole new market of potential carbon neutral investors in the Pacific Rim. 

“When other countries who are partners in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) see JAPEX invest in this decarbonization opportunities and net zero projects in Alberta, it will send a very clear signal to others in the TPP about the potential,” Mar says.  

“This deal may come from the decades-long relationship between Alberta and Japan but can also serve as a signpost for decades to come.” 

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