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Marc Gunther seems to be relishing his role as green curmudgeon (or at least provocateur) over at GreenBiz.com. To judge by the comment stream, he hit a nerve with his recent “In Defense of the Plastic Bag.”
Here’s my response:
It may seem complicated, Marc, but perhaps it doesn’t have to be — if we ask the right questions. “Paper or plastic?” (or “this plastic or that plastic?”) aren’t the right questions. Nor is “Should we tax or ban all plastics because some end up as litter?”
No, I don’t want to “impose my beliefs on others,” but I do want everyone to bear the full costs of their decisions and actions. This challenge of getting the prices right is, I think, at the heart of most of our environmental problems.*
Probably the best way to address the plastic bag problem is extended producer responsibility (EPR) — have the entities that produce what becomes “waste” be responsible for the costs of dealing with that waste — rather than imposing those costs on ecosystems and other people. It’s worked in many EU countries, as well as Canada and Japan. Natural Logic’s white paper, Product Stewardship & Extended Producer Responsibility: Towards a Comprehensive Packaging Recycling Strategy for the US, lays out analysis and strategy for establishing EPR in the US. (The work was commissioned by Coca-Cola, and contributed to by a diverse group of stakeholder; the opinions is presents are Natural Logic‘s alone.)
* This is a topic which I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while. See, for example:
Memewatch: Getting the prices right
Get This: Overcoming the Key Barriers to Building a Sustainable Economy
CFOs, Sustainable finance, & Getting the Prices Right
The True Cost Economy: Ecologizing Capitalism
(and my book-in-progress, “Getting the Prices Right,” in 2012)