Tax Plastic

[ Posted Thursday, June 25th, 2009 – 14:42 UTC ]

Every so often I get a wild-and-crazy idea on a subject I know little about. These usually are later proven to be unworkable or unwise (by people who do know what they're talking about), but this low level of success shall not deter me. Because right now, in the midst of two roaring debates ("how to pay for healthcare reform" and "how to wean ourselves off foreign oil"), there seems to be a partial answer to both that nobody has hit upon yet. Instead of paying for healthcare by taxing soda, sugar, fast food, tobacco, or liquor (all of which have been proposed so far, as well as other less-direct taxes like tinkering with the income tax system), why not tax plastic?

I'm not talking about credit cards, here, I'm talking about the substance used to make them -- and every other plastic item Americans consume voraciously. The plastic itself, in other words. Which comes (a fact not known by all) from oil. This was seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the Gulf Coast oil refineries were shut down -- which caused a severe shortage of the raw material for many of the most popular types of plastic. This shortage was... well... a short one (sorry, I won't do that again), and barely made a blip in the news. But it did point out the relationship between petroleum and plastic.

In countries without their own oil or even their own refining abilities, plastic is much more expensive than it is here. So they use it less. A lot less. Consumers go to the store to buy a common item (say, a water jug for the fridge, or some cups to drink it out of), and glass products are cheaper than the plastic items. And it's not just glass, all sorts of other things are cheaper when not made of plastic. Packaging is noticeably different for a multitude of products. There are not six layers of plastic surrounding the product you want to buy, in other words.

"But Chris," I hear you say, "a plastic tax will just raise the price of everything for American consumers!" Ah, but what if the tax was only applied to the raw materials used to make plastic items? What if there were no tax at all on recycled raw plastic material? Only virgin plastic would bear the cost of the tax. Meaning it would create a hefty incentive for all industries to find acceptible recycled materials. As well as a general incentive for everyone to use less plastic.

I have to say what inspired this idea was the story I saw today about "Plastiki" -- a ship made of soda bottles that is getting ready to cross the Pacific (with Thor Heyerdahl's granddaughter aboard, no less) to raise awareness about plastic waste and recycling. That, plus my general belief that buying what is basically tap water in small plastic bottles is the biggest fraud launched on America since the Pet Rock -- or maybe not "fraud," but certainly proof that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. American consumers pay more for water -- which is in no way different than their tap water -- at a price higher than gasoline, just because it is in a convenient package. Which leads to millions upon millions of little plastic bottles in landfills, and giant floating "islands" of plastic bottles far out in the ocean.

So, at the risk of suggesting something really stupid (always a danger for people who write daily blogs), why not heavily tax the raw material used to make plastics? Use the money to finance healthcare reform. Raise the cost of using virgin plastic, and create a marketplace incentive to either (a.) find a substitute from recycled raw material, or (b.) find a substitute raw material altogether than is not petroleum-based. This would eventually lower demand for this raw material, and lower the amount of petroleum needed by the United States ("weaning America from foreign oil" in other words). A win-win situation, as far as I can see.

Of course, this idea may make too much sense to be considered politically viable in Washington, D.C., but that's another risk you have to run when suggesting new ideas.


-- Chris Weigant


9 Comments on “Tax Plastic”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think this is a good idea and should be part of the green energy bill that is on Obama's agenda. I too think the whole bottled water industy is laughing at us on the way to the bank, however before we can give up our plastic/metal/glass bottles we need to invent a container to carry our water in that can be re-used and is not made from a product that is toxic to life and our planet.


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    The problem with such heavy taxes on ANYTHING in the industry is that, ultimately, it's the end user that pays the tax, not the industry.

    It's just like with the Scheme & Ream (er.. sorry, the Cap & Trade) that is coming up for vote today. The industry won't be out a dime, but the end user will be shafted.

    It's simple another way that the end user pays for the lavish lifestyle of the likes of Al Gore and Richard Branson.

    Ah, but what if the tax was only applied to the raw materials used to make plastic items? What if there were no tax at all on recycled raw plastic material? Only virgin plastic would bear the cost of the tax. Meaning it would create a hefty incentive for all industries to find acceptible recycled materials. As well as a general incentive for everyone to use less plastic.

    In a perfect world, maybe. But you know and I know that the industry would still gouge the customers, even if they used all recycled items. Their mentality would be that they CAN get away with charging more, even if they are not paying more so that is exactly what they will do.

    And our Congress critters will be lead along by their ..... noses and pass all sorts of exemptions for the industry and once again, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

    Everyone better pray that the Scheme & Ream fails in the House today..


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    On a totally unrelated note, I am simply stunned as to recent events in the entertainment world. Three icons that defined generations have died in the past few days.

    Ed McMahon

    Farrah Fawcett

    Michael Jackson

    Their impact on their respective generations is undeniable.

    It's a sobering reminder of one's own mortality when icons that one knows and grew up with start dying.


    (Sorry, CW. Didn't want to hijack your commentary, but I wanted to say something, somewhere. And since this is the only place I post, well.....)

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    The Scheme & Ream just passed the House 219 to 212

    Hopefully, this huge tax abomination will be defeated in the Senate.


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    This simply boggles the mind.

    Is there anyone out there who cares that not ONE SINGLE CongressCritter has read the Waxman-Malarky bill???

    Democrats don't seem to mind being led around by their..... noses. As long as it's other Democrats doing the leading...

    Why is that??


  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Oh, please. Nobody reads bills in full in Congress. Not Democrats, not Republicans, nobody. That's what they have staff for.

    I mean, you can decry the practice, but don't make it partisan, because it's not. It's universal.


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    Absolutely correct, CW.

    My mistake. I should not have singled out Democrats because Republicans are the same way.

    But, in THIS particular instance, the Republicans are on the correct side of the issue by wanting to delay things to give everyone a chance to read the monstrosity..

    That's what they have staff for.

    Au contraire'.. This bill has been worked, re-worked and worked again right up until the last minute. This abomination swelled from 900 pages to over 1200 pages just in a half a day.

    So, NO ONE had enough time to even read the whole thing, let alone actually understand what they were voting for.

    You have touched on the theme often about the public's complacency with regards to our elected leaders.

    This is simply one of the sadder examples of that complacency.

    And, again, you are fully correct. This is not a sole problem of the Democrats. But the Democrats ARE (nearly) the super-majority Party in power now. And, from all accounts, they are SUPPOSED to govern better than Republicans, no? :D


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    But, getting back to my original question.

    Doesn't ANYONE have a problem with our elected representatives who pass bills and laws completely and utterly unread??

    I know, I know... I am on record as saying that we elect our representatives and we should trust their judgment and there ability to do the right thing..

    But this isn't a case of trusting judgment. This is a case of our elected representatives voting YES on a bill that they (or their staff) have not read!!

    That's simply irresponsible, regardless of ANY political affiliation.


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic is a commercial space tourism company that plans to launch passengers on $200,000 trips to suborbital space using a fleet of SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.,2933,529864,00.html

    One has to wonder how many tons of pollution and carbon this nut is going to spew into the atmosphere...

    It's like I have always said..

    Since the science is clearly in dispute, one has to look at other factors.

    In this case, one must look at the actions of the biggest advocates of this Human Caused GoreBull Warming (Yet The Planet Is Cooling)..

    Do they act like the end of the world is nigh?? Have they altered their lifestyle, their living arrangements or their attitudes ONE IOTA??

    They have not...

    Ergo, I will live like Al Gore and Richard Branson wants me to live as soon as Al Gore and Richard Branson live like Al Gore and Richard Branson want others to live.


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