Ottawa’s plastic bans will cost Canadians money

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, January 19, 2022
Ottawa’s plastic bans will cost Canadians money

When I went last month to Dollarama to buy plastic straws, they were $1.25 for a package of 150, or for another brand, $1.25 for 180. That is, on average, about three-quarters of a cent per straw. Meanwhile, the paper straws were $3.00 for 80 straws, or $1.00 for 25. That works out to about four cents per paper straw, or five times the price of the plastic.

Between the plastic straws and the paper, which does the Trudeau government plan to ban? The plastic ones, of course, despite being far cheaper and far better. The paper straws disintegrate easily, are too rigid, and have a disagreeable texture. I know of no one who would affirm that drinking from a paper straw is better than, or even as good as, using a normal plastic one.

The plastic straw ban is part of the government’s greenflation agenda—make everything more expensive by forcing everyone to go green, although it’s not clear that banning plastic straws would actually do anything to help the environment. The world’s problems with plastic pollution in oceans, for example, are caused by waste management problems in Asia and elsewhere and have nothing to do with Canadians using plastic straws.

Banning straws is only a small part of Ottawa’s greenflation agenda, which also includes carbon taxes, clean fuel regulations, electric vehicle mandates and billions of dollars in various subsidies and programs. Nevertheless, it’s not an immaterial part, especially considering other plastic products will be banned, too. The government announced, upon publishing the draft regulations in December, that the ban would cover straws, bags, cutlery, foodservice containers, ring carriers and stir sticks.

Similarly to the straws, banning other products would also be inflationary. Take, for example, the plastic foam food containers. An U.S. study in 2013 estimated that banning foam food and drink containers would mean a 94 per cent increase in costs to restaurants and their consumers for these containers, even assuming all restaurants switched to the lowest-cost alternative.

As with the straws, the 94 per cent figure actually understates the effective inflation, because the lowest-cost alternatives are worse than the plastic—they are less sturdy, do less to keep the food hot and are less reliable. Paying a higher price is inflation, but getting something worse in return is a form of inflation, too, one that sometimes gets missed in the inflation statistics.

With the plan to ban plastic foam containers, “greenflation” may again be the wrong word. To be sure, the ban would cause inflation, but whether it’s green is another question. A study from the Independent Institute in California in 2018 concluded that such bans “actually can have negative impacts on the environment” as people substitute paper products for the plastic ones.

While plastic products may be worse for the landfill, paper is worse for the environment in other ways. Paper alternatives, the study reported, “often create more waste (by volume and energy use) and cause more air and water pollution.” Manufacturing paper requires mowing down trees, uses more energy than manufacturing plastic, and leaves behind a bigger carbon footprint.

The Trudeau government’s plastic bans are expected to be phased in beginning in 2023, a delay from the original timeline. The delay was good news, but a far better idea would be to cancel the plastic bans and make the greenflation agenda less inflationary.

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