Brattle economists Mark Berkman and David Sunding have completed a report for Dart Container Corporation that discusses a proposed ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers in California. The report, “Economic Analysis of SB568’s Proposed Polystyrene Ban,” finds that the costs of banning polystyrene food service items could be over $500 million per year in the state of California. Drs. Berkman and Sunding argue that a product ban must be considered in terms of its cost and what it achieves from an environmental and social point of view. Based on the report’s analysis, costs to California’s already financially strapped public schools, in particular, could exceed $112 million annually as a result of a ban. At the same time, the social benefits of the ban are highly uncertain and quite possibly very modest. According to recent life cycle cost comparisons, the use of substitute products, such as paper food service items, will result in higher energy and water consumption and, depending on the mix of substitutes preferred by consumers, higher greenhouse gas emissions. The impact on litter—a main objective of the ban—also appears to be small. The impact of polystyrene on marine ecosystems is yet unknown and available evidence does not provide justification for significant environmental and economic costs the ban will entail. The report concludes that the costs of the proposed ban are likely to be large without clear corresponding benefits. Brattle’s client, Dart Container Corporation, credits the report with helping to delay legislation to impose the ban. The report is available for download below.

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