Leakage occurs when partial regulation of consumer products results in increased consumption of these products in unregulated domains. This article quantifies plastic leakage from the banning of plastic carryout bags. Using quasi-random policy variation in California, I find the elimination of 40 million pounds of plastic carryout bags is offset by a 12 million pound increase in trash bag purchases—with small, medium, and tall trash bag sales increasing by 120%, 64%, and 6%, respectively. The results further reveal 12–22% of plastic carryout bags were reused as trash bags pre-regulation and show bag bans shift consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. With a substantial proportion of carryout bags already reused in a way that avoided the manufacture and purchase of another plastic bag, policy evaluations that ignore leakage effects overstate the regulation’s welfare gains.
Oh. It might have been useful to analyse second-order effects before imposing sweeping legislation, no?
The trouble is, despite environmentalists’ claims to be believers in “science”, what we’re dealing with here are religious fanatics. They’ve decided plastic is the devil’s material and therefore any move which appears to reduce its use sets mankind along the path of righteousness. All the academic research in the world isn’t going to make a dent in the propaganda pumped out by the United Church of Modern Environmentalism; you might as well go to Mecca during the hajj and start picking holes in bits of the Koran.
That’s not to say this paper and others like it aren’t useful; they are vital in demonstrating that people’s views on the environment are in large part spiritual, not rational. This is important because those who advocate these policies generally consider themselves atheists whose beliefs are based on scientific data (albeit that which they’d not have the foggiest idea how to interpret without the “guidance” of the contemporary equivalent of a religious hierarchy). The evidence suggests it’s rather pointless to tell a man who claims to be pious that his behaviour suggests otherwise. But I’ve found there is considerable traction in admiring the spiritual commitment of so-called atheists and remarking that they’d be quite at home in a busy-bodying church.