Earth911 Reader — Business: Retailers Ditching Plastic Bags, The Social Cost of Carbon and Recyclable Snack Wrappers

Grocers Support Ditching Single-use Plastic Bags

Walmart, Target, and CVS announced a partnership with Closed Loop Partners to develop a sustainable alternative to the ubiquitous single-use Plastic #4 shopping bag. The group will put up a $15 million investment to support companies’ identification and funding that offer viable solutions. The same model worked when Starbucks and McDonald’s joined Closed Loop to find an eco-friendly cup. The retailers aim to remove 100 billion plastic shopping bags from the waste stream each year. Although many retailers collect the bags for recycling, they are seldom recovered because curbside and many transfer stations do not accept them. They jam recycling equipment and put workers at risk.

Unlike the cup trials, which were closely specified by McDonald’s and Starbucks to ensure customer safety, the bag challenge is wide open to innovation. “I imagine a suite of solutions, some with single-use bags, some with no bags at all,” Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart’s executive vice president and chief sustainability officer, told Fast Company. Once the most promising options emerge, the winners will be cultivated by Closed Loop’s business accelerator program. If they succeed in making their products, these startups will have three of the largest retailers as their first customers.

The Social Cost of Carbon Needs Updating, Nobel-winner Argues

A tool for calculating the future cost of carbon dioxide emitted today, the social cost of carbon was a powerful tool during the Obama years to support carbon-limiting policies. With a calculation to assess the cost of CO2-related environmental and health damages and economic disruption caused by climate change, the Obama administration could do cost-benefit analyses with a long-term perspective necessary to policy-making. It also demonstrated that reducing carbon emissions now was cheaper than paying for damages later. Now the Biden Administration is preparing to resurrect the concept to support its policies. Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics, and co-author Lord Nicholas Stern are warning in a new paper that the new Biden approach to defining the future expenses for each ton of CO2 underestimates the real cost, Bloomberg reports. Biden is rumored to be using $80 a ton as the baseline cost of carbon, the level established during the Obama years. Stiglitz and Stern say the current cost is well above $100 a ton. At least Biden is adjusting the social cost of carbon up from his predecessor’s ridiculous estimate: $8 a ton.

One of the key ideas underlying the criticism is that economists assume the economy is efficient when it is not so, especially when assessing the risk that lies in the future. Because climate change may accelerate suddenly, we must assume a higher future cost of today’s carbon. Stiglitz and Stern write: “In determining the pace and magnitude of climate change, tipping points such as the thawing of the permafrost and the release of methane, the collapse of the Amazon Rainforest, or the melting of the West Antarctica ice sheets, will play a large role. Such phenomena could unleash unstable processes, greatly accelerating the possibility and magnitude of devastation.” If the Biden administration follows the Obama estimate, the U.S.—and the world—will not meet the Paris Accord goals necessary to prevent runaway warming.

For example, humans put about 33 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency. If we price the future cost of cleaning up that carbon and all the damage it causes at $80 a ton, the bill for our children and their children for our 2019 carbon excesses will be about $3.44 trillion. But if the cost is $120 a ton, then future generations will foot a $3.96 trillion—they’ll come up $520 billion short. Imagine if your insurance agency didn’t have the money needed to pay for your damaged home after a storm. That’s how financial panics start, as the banking crisis demonstrated 13 years ago.

The social cost of carbon is an essential and useful number. We need to get it right to ensure that government and businesses prepare for the consequences of climate change. We highly recommend Stiglitz and Stern’s paper and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s 2017 book on the topic, Valuing Climate Damages. Both are free to download, and if you are concerned about the future of your family, your country, and the planet, they are worthwhile reading

General Mills’ Nature Valley Debuts Recyclable Wrapper

Candy, food, and other small wrappers are perennial recycling challenges. Nature Valley granola bars will be the first product from food giant General Mills to use a recyclable wrapper that consumers can drop off at retail locations around the country. It’s a positive step for the snack industry and General Mills, which aims to use 100% recyclable packaging by 2025, Recycling Today reports. But the Devil is in the details. The program depends entirely on consumers deciding to collect and drop off the wrappers at a local retail location, which is no simple task.

Environment+ Energy Leader reports that 90% of Americans are wilting 10 miles of a store drop-off location. While 70% of them want to rescue plastic waste, they only recycle 8% of plastic each year. We do know a great site for finding recycling locations and hope you’ll use it. If General Mills follows up with an energetic consumer education campaign and, we suggest, adds an incentive for returning wrappers to encourage the habit, this will mark a real turn toward sustainable packaging. We will watch this project with interest and high hopes justified by the rising tide of companies making new things out of our cast-off stuff.

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