Out of Control Policy Blog

Paper v. plastic: the interactive version!

MSNBC has an exciting interactive feature today (well, interactive, anyway) that provides a walk through of the debate over plastic bag bans.

The feature starts with a survey which asks which type of bags you normally choose at a grocery store, what factor is most important in your decision, and which bag you think is more environmentally friendly. With roughly 54,000 people weighing in at this time, the answers are, overwhelmingly: plastic, reusability, and paper, respectively. 25 percent have the right answer to the question of which bag is environmentally superior--neither--and the 38 percent plurality who say they choose the bag that they are most likely to reuse are also on the right track, environmentally speaking.

This result is encouraging, because it shows that most people are making the "right" decision based purely on their personal incentives. Bag bans and related schemes, ironically, limit the optimization of the natural resource use represented in the "paper or plastic?" dilemma.

In an audio clip provided for the MSNBC feature, American Forest and Paper Association CEO, Donna Harman, gets it about right:

Our industry really supports the marketplace being the ultimate decider of whether customers choose paper versus plastic, because, given appropriate information, consumers will make the right choice for the environment.

Skaidra Smith-Heisters is Policy Analyst


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