In reality, economics is a way to understand the complex system of human ecology. If the lands are public, people have no incentives to protect them, which is why you would see trash on the streets or side walks because it is more convenient for people to litter since they incur no loss when doing so. The best way to protect the environment is by protecting the private property. With the contract and tort laws, they can compel the polluters to think twice before doing something that may be damaging to another person’s property. If the pollution is discovered and the effect is proven, the law would then require the person to compensate the damages, thus the best interest would be for people to not pollute in order to avoid paying the compensation.
The natural price system of resources is also useful to address the problem of resources becoming scarce. When resources become scare, the price rises and this would in turn drive the entrepreneurs to invent or discover substitutions for the resources. An example of this would be the recycling of gold components from the electronic devices such as the very phone you are using, it would be cheaper to do so than prospecting and mining combined. By recycling the gold components, we are able to reduce the demand for gold thus reduce the mining activities for those who are concerned. Similar cases can be applied to other metals such as aluminium.
Recycling is a choice in itself, it has its pros and cons. I used to be a recycle nut myself and still somewhat a recycle nut even till today, but I was largely misinformed about the real process of recycling and felt good about it. Recylcing news papers requires old ink to be bleached from the pages, this process generates large amount of toxic waste with the use of chemicals this it may have even more adverse effects. Similarly, curbside recycling requires more rubbish collections per week thus more trucks on the road to generate more air pollution, isn’t this counter productive? But even with these set backs, recycling can still have its merits if better techniques and technologies are developed to improve the process to make it safer, cleaner and more cost-effective.
Plastic Bags are made out of polymers (which are large molecules often not easily biodegradable), there are a variety of different types of plastic films with the common one being polyethylene. Polyethylene is used for packaging and plastic bags, the main concern with polyethylene is that it is not readily biodegradable. This led to the movement to ban such products. While their goal may be noble, it is simply not the right way to go about reducing the use of polyethylene.
First of all, banning ployethylene does not actually prevent people from producing it, it would only lead to loophole being used unless a better alternative is provided. Secondly, banning something everyone is so used to is only going to be met with resistance, you can’t expect everyone to follow this rule without some sort counter arguments. Are people really going to be fined or even go to jail simply for using a piece of plastic?
This is where the market can provide a better solution.
- Supply and demand: If consumers are informed on the potential adverse effect of polyethylene and stop using it (reducing the demand), then it would lead to a decrease in supply thus it would gradually reduce the production of polyethylene commercially. Think about it, if everyone suddenly stops eating lamb and using wool, it would not be economical to keep breeding more sheep thus it would lead to a decrease in the supply of these products.
- New inventions: With the help of science such as chemical engineering and chemistry, we can research and develop new ways of producing durable materials which could replace the existing polyethylene. For instance, Ecoworx Tiles were developed by Shaw industries to provide a better alternative to the traditional carpets.
- Education: Explaining to people about the properties of polyethylene is far more effective to convince others to refrain or reduce its usage than simply banning it.
Regardless of whether you want to help protect or improve the environment or not, it’s your choice and no one should stop you as long as you don’t dictate what other people can or cannot do based on your standard.