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What is the True Life Cycle Cost of Single-Use Plastic? How much does disposable plastic and polystyrene packaging and take away and food containers really cost us?

Posted by Dianna Cohen | , United States

How much do you typically pay for a to-go box at your local deli? It’s free, right? How much cash do you usually hand over to grab a roll of plastic wrap? A few bucks?

Because of its low, low retail cost, people across the globe think of plastic as cheap or even totally free. But single-use plastic, a petroleum product, is anything but free. The market value of plastic doesn’t reflect the myriad damages caused by the entire plastic pollution cycle: oil extraction, resin manufacturing and processing, consumption, and waste management. Extraction harms local environments, contaminating groundwater and exposing local residents to toxic chemicals. Resin manufacture has toxic byproducts, and the transportation of pellets can often release many tons of virgin plastic into waterways and land environments. Consumption of food or drinks in single-use plastic packaging results in exposure to BPA, which accumulates in the human system and is correlated with extensive long-term adverse health effects. Waste management, paid for by consumers through local taxes, also has extreme adverse health effects, again contaminating groundwater and exposing residents to toxicants.

Plastic manufacturers, as well as food and beverage companies are not required to take these expenses into account when calculating the cost of their products. Part of why this is such a difficult issue: the true cost of single-use plastic has not been clearly defined or analyzed. We call for the BOI to take the lead on definitively stating what externalities and expenses should be included in the cost of disposable packaging, including producing an estimate of the true cost of common single-use items, like plastic drink bottles, multi-layer plastic sachets, and polystyrene to-go containers.

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