|To: richardred who wrote (37)||6/8/2007 7:52:29 PM|
|Bio-Factory Producing Corn-Based Polymer|
Friday June 8, 5:18 pm ET
By Duncan Mansfield, Associated Press Writer
DuPont, Tate & Lyle Begin Production of Corn-Based Polymer
LOUDON, Tenn. (AP) -- The nation's top energy official hailed on Friday the innovation behind chemical giant DuPont Co.'s new $100 million bioengineering joint-venture with multinational agri-processor Tate & Lyle PLC to produce a new biology-based polymer.
The Loudon plant is churning out a product derived from corn that the companies say can directly replace and improve upon petroleum-based ingredients in everything from carpets to clothes to cosmetics, saving energy and using renewable resources at the same time.
"The work that will be done here is on the leading edge of a biotechnology revolution, which I believe will change the way we power our cars, our trucks, our homes and our businesses," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said during a formal opening ceremony.
The plant is expected to make 100 million pounds of its bio-product annually. The plant may not reach full capacity for another year, but it already has shipped 85 rail cars of its bio-product since November.
"Up to this point, we have been focused on recycling products and putting that back in other products," said Jeffrey S. Lorberdaum, CEO of carpetmaker Mohawk Industries. "This is allowing us to take the next step in environmental sustainability."
By the fall, Mohawk will be marketing a line of carpet made entirely from the bio-ingredient from the Loudon plant.
DuPont and Tate & Lyle say their corn-based propanediol, or Bio-PDO, will find new uses because it helps fabrics take dyes more brilliantly, carpets become naturally stain resistant, face creams be gentler to the skin, and airplane de-icers biodegrade.
"It is the most significant invention since nylon," DuPont Chairman and CEO Charles "Chad" Holliday Jr. said in an interview with The Associated Press. The Wilmington, Del.-based company invented nylon in 1935.
"The functionality of this product is what really differentiates it," Iain Ferguson, chief executive of London-based Tate & Lyle, told the AP. "That gives us something which has a real edge."
The Loudon plant, about 35 miles south of Knoxville, uses corn sugar or glucose from an adjoining Tate & Lyle ethanol plant. An E. coli bacteria modified by DuPont scientists breaks down the glucose through a fermentation process much like making beer.
The result is a clear liquid compound that might be used in a quickly growing range of products, including fabrics, cosmetics, liquid detergents, boat hulls, ski boots and runway de-icers.
Brent Erickson, an executive vice president at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C., said that while DuPont and Tate & Lyle are not alone, the commercialization of their Loudon plant was a significant development in what he termed the third wave of a biotech revolution that began 20 years ago in medicine and then agriculture about a decade ago.
"It has gone beyond the doctor's office into consumer goods and other products that we never imagined," he said.
Holliday and Ferguson said they have factored rising corn prices, driven in part by growing demand for biofuels, into their equation.
Steven Mirshak, president of the DuPont-Tate & Lyle Bio-Products joint venture, said the price of the companies' Bio-PDO base is "similar" to nylon. A chemical version of the product was discovered in the 1940s but was too expensive to make.
"But with our new process using biology, we are able to produce PDO at a cost point where we can develop direct applications of its use in a variety of markets," he said, replacing petroleum counterparts.
Corn-based substitutes for petroleum are good for the environment, but experts have said they also contribute to a rise in global food import costs, making it harder for developing countries to feed their populations.
Holliday said DuPont brings an unusual perspective to the corn supply situation. The company also owns the major corn seed brand Pioneer and is devoting considerable resources to increasing its productivity.
"Every time you get something like this where you get a price increase, you get further investment in agricultural production," Ferguson said. "And there is clearly considerable further potential to raise the yields."
DuPont Co.: dupont.com
Tate & Lyle PLC: tateandlyle.com
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|From: richardred||7/2/2007 11:08:23 AM|
|Dow Completes Wolff Walsrode Acquisition|
Monday July 2, 6:56 am ET
Dow Chemical Completes Acquisition of Bayer's Wolff Walsrode Division
MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) -- Dow Chemical Co. said Monday it completed its acquisition of Bayer AG's cellulose plastics unit, Wolff Walsrode, for $590 million.
Including assumed debt and pension commitments, the deal is valued at $725 million.
Bayer said in March it would divest Wolff Walsrode as part of plans to finance its acquisition of fellow German drug maker Schering AG. Bayer said it plans to use the $590 million cash portion of the transaction to lower debt.
Wolff Walsrode will become part of Dow's Water Soluble Polymers business.
"Wolff is a strategically aligned acquisition that brings new expertise and customer focus to accelerate Dow's growth in key specialty markets," Dow Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said in a statement.
The acquisition is expected to add to Dow's earnings by the end of the first year of ownership.
Questions or comments about this story should be directed to the Financial News desk of The Associated Press at 212-621-7190.
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|From: richardred||9/28/2007 12:06:07 AM|
|Metabolix Receives $2M Government Award|
Thursday September 27, 6:42 pm ET
Metabolix Gets $2M Award From Commerce Department, to Use Proceeds for Product Development
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Metabolix Inc., which is developing biodegradable plastics from corn sugar, said Thursday it received a $2 million award from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Metabolix said it will use the award, part of the agency's Advanced Technology Program, to develop a commercially viable process for producing biobased chemicals from renewable agricultural products.
Shares rose $1.24, or 5 percent, to $25.90 during aftermarket electronic trading after closing up 81 cents at $24.66.
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|To: richardred who wrote (40)||10/12/2007 1:23:31 PM|
|Metabolix Announces Results of Life Cycle Assessment for Mirel(TM) Bioplastics|
Friday October 12, 9:05 am ET
Achieves Major Reduction in Greenhouse Gas and Fossil Fuel Relative to Conventional Plastics
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Metabolix Inc. (NASDAQ: MBLX - News) today announced that Telles(TM), its joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland Company (NYSE: ADM - News), has released the findings of an independent life cycle assessment (LCA) for Mirel(TM) bioplastic resin. The LCA study, conducted by Dr. Bruce Dale, professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan State University, determined that production of Mirel reduces the use of nonrenewable energy by more than 95% and provides a 200% reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) compared to production of conventional petroleum-based plastics.
Because Mirel is made from corn and utilizes renewable energy in its production, either directly or via offset, the environmental benefits are significant. The LCA measures the environmental impact of Mirel from "cradle to factory gate." Mirel requires only 2.5 MJ/kg of nonrenewable energy per kilogram verses 70 MJ/kg for olefins such as polypropylene and polyethylene. Mirel actually has a negative net CO2 footprint, showing a net result of -2.2 GHG emissions (kg CO2 eq. /kg) compared to a +2.0 GHG emissions (kg CO2 eq. /kg) for these olefin based polymers.
Mirel is a family of biobased, sustainable and biodegradable plastics with high-performance characteristics including excellent resistance to heat and hot liquids. Mirel biodegrades in a wide range of environments: soil, home compost, industrial compost and both fresh and salt water.
Jay Kouba, Chairman and CEO of Metabolix, stated, "The results of this independent study actually exceeded our expectations. It confirms the environmental benefits of Mirel bioplastics and its underlying technology. Our current and prospective customers can be confident, and proud, in telling their consumers that products containing Mirel are far better for the environment than conventional plastics." Telles, the Metabolix and ADM joint venture, is currently working with customers evaluating a variety of applications while constructing its commercial scale production plant which is expected to begin operations in late 2008.
Professor Dale will be publishing the results of the Mirel LCA and speaking at the Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals in May 2008. Professor Dale commented, "Making informed decisions based on a product's environmental impact requires an understanding of its entire life cycle, from the activities required to produce its raw materials to the manufacturing process. Our LCA research validates Mirel's significant reductions in greenhouse gases and non-renewable fuel use through its entire life cycle when compared to conventional plastics."
Founded in 1992, Metabolix, Inc. is an innovation driven bioscience company focused on providing sustainable solutions for the world's needs for plastics, fuels and chemicals. The Company is taking a systems approach, from gene to end product, integrating sophisticated biotechnology with advanced industrial practice. Metabolix is now developing and commercializing Mirel(TM) bioplastics, a sustainable and biodegradable alternative to petroleum based plastics. Mirel is suitable for injection molding, extrusion coating, cast film and sheet, blown film and thermoforming. Metabolix is also developing a proprietary platform technology for co-producing plastics, biofuels and chemical products in biomass energy crops such as switchgrass.
Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) are commercializing Mirel through a joint venture called Telles. The first commercial scale Mirel production plant is being constructed adjacent to ADM's wet corn mill in Clinton, Iowa. The plant is expected to begin operations in late 2008 and is designed to produce up to 110 million pounds of Mirel annually. Mirel will reduce reliance on petroleum and decrease environmental impacts relative to conventional petroleum based plastics.
For more information, please visit www.metabolix.com. (MBLX-G)
Safe Harbor for Forward-Looking Statements
This press release contains forward-looking statements which are made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. The forward-looking statements in this release do not constitute guarantees of future performance. Investors are cautioned that statements in this press release which are not strictly historical statements, including, without limitation, statements regarding Metabolix's plans and objectives for research and development, operations, and product development, the commercial viability of Metabolix products, and the expected sales potential of Metabolix products, constitute forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated, including, without limitation, risks and uncertainties associated with: Metabolix's ability to successfully develop new technologies and products; the market acceptance of Metabolix products; its ability to compete with petrochemical-based plastics, fuels and chemicals and with other biobased products; its ability to develop and successfully commercialize its products; its ability to obtain required regulatory approvals; its ability to obtain, maintain and protect intellectual property rights for its products; and other risks detailed in Metabolix's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2006. Metabolix assumes no obligation to update any forward-looking information contained in this press release.
Matt Lindberg, 203-682-8214
Brian Ruby, 203-682-8268
Kathleen Heaney, 203-803-3585
Source: Metabolix Inc.
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|To: richardred who wrote (41)||10/12/2007 5:21:13 PM|
|From: Sam Citron|
|That was a pretty valuable life cycle assessment. It gave a boost to Metabolix's market cap today of over $120 million at one point this afternoon, about a 25% rise in the stock. Volume at 1.2M was decent, but not spectacular.|
|RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read|
|To: tnsaf who wrote (43)||10/13/2007 1:05:20 AM|
|>Our LCA research validates Mirel's significant reductions in greenhouse gases and non-renewable fuel use through its entire life cycle when compared to conventional plastics."|
The PR wasn't to specific as to details. In what you mentioned, and the comparison study used to compare Mirel to conventional plastics.
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|To: richardred who wrote (44)||10/21/2007 5:08:49 PM|
|Plant-Based Plastics Carve Market Niche|
Sunday October 21, 1:50 pm ET
By Mark Jewell, AP Business Writer
Manufacturers of Emerging Plant-Based Plastics Hope to Carve Larger Market Niche
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Target offers shoppers an unusual message about its gift cards at some stores, advising that they are biodegradable. "Just make sure you spend them first," the displays conclude.
This isn't just a marketing gimmick. Plastics made from corn and other plants are carving a tiny niche from the market for conventional petroleum-based plastics and being touted as green alternatives for everything from bulk food containers to lipstick tubes and clothing fiber -- as well as gift cards.
So-called "bioplastics" offer the world a way to wean itself off oil, and most biodegrade to varying degrees. But their makers' green argument is complex, and environmentalists are cautious in their support.
Manufacturing bioplastics produces carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. The materials are made from crops -- corn, switchgrass, sugar cane, even sweet potatoes -- that require land and water to grow. Some sound alarms because genetically modified organisms are used to spur the fermentation that creates them. And recycling them presents still other pitfalls.
They also can cost three times more than conventional plastics, which gives businesses pause about adopting them. Until bioplastics expand beyond their current tiny fraction of the overall plastics market, the road to popularity is expected to be rough.
"It's almost a chicken-and-egg scenario," said David Cornell of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. "It might someday reach that critical mass, but it has to happen very quickly, because in the meantime it can be a nuisance for us."
Bioplastics' main benefit would be to reduce from 10 percent the share of U.S. petroleum consumption that goes into plastic. The types that are biodegradable also could help compensate for the country's slow progress in recycling -- only about 6 percent of plastic made in the U.S. was recycled in 2005, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bioplastics also lack toxins like polyvinyl chloride that have raised health concerns and led California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month to sign legislation banning chemicals called phthalates from toys and baby products.
"This is a promising new technology that faces some challenges," said Mike Schade of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, a Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit. "But we don't view them as insurmountable, if the industry is willing to face them head-on."
The market's newest entrant is Mirel, from Cambridge-based Metabolix Inc. It more easily biodegrades than rival materials and, unlike others, can break down in a backyard compost bin. Its first consumer application came in July when Target Corp. began using it in gift cards at 129 stores. Metabolix is talking with potential clients about dozens more applications for Mirel, from razor blade handles to a coating for disposable coffee cups.
Agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland Co. provides corn feedstock for making Mirel, which requires genetically engineered bacteria to aid in fermentation.
The most widely used bioplastic, NatureWorks -- a product of a subsidiary of Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. -- also is corn-based and biodegradable. It is made without genetically modified bacteria. Some of the corn that goes into it is modified, raising environmental concerns on the sourcing end, but the company notes that protein from the corn is destroyed in processing. NatureWorks already is used in dozens of products, including water bottles -- an application unsuited to Mirel, which isn't transparent.
Other bioplastics that biodegrade to some degree include Ecoflex, from German chemical company BASF AG; Mater-Bi, from Italy's Novamont SPA; and Cereplast, from a Hawthorne, Calif.-based company by the same name. And two major conventional plastics makers -- DuPont Co. and Brazilian chemical company Braskem SA -- make recyclable bioplastic that isn't biodegradable, the first from corn and the second from sugar cane.
No figures are available on overall bioplastics production, but bioplastics makers acknowledge the products occupy a tiny niche in the global plastics market, which totals $250 billion and produces 360 billion pounds a year. By comparison, the 300 million pound capacity of NatureWorks' Nebraska production plant is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the market total.
For most biodegradable bioplastics, including NatureWorks, an industrial compost plant is recommended -- facilities that are few and far between. The products are stable in places where microbes and moisture are minimal, as on a kitchen shelf. Metabolix says Mirel will decompose in a backyard compost within two months and about twice as slowly in soil, rivers, lakes or the ocean. But very few Americans compost, and most who do try not to include even paper products, let alone unfamiliar bioplastics.
"There's a lot more to it than saying it's scientifically and technologically possible to compost these materials," said Betty McLaughlin of the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit encouraging greater materials recovery and recycling.
And, just as different types of petroleum-base plastic can't be mixed in recycling, bioplastics should not be mixed with any conventional plastic because even tiny quantities can irreparably contaminate some melted petroleum-based plastics that have higher melting points, Cornell said.
"The sustainability concept is taking hold broadly, including in the corporate sector," said McLaughlin. "But these materials face a long road gaining acceptance."
A major bump on that road will be their cost. But, in another chicken-and-egg paradox, growing the market for bioplastics is key to bringing down their price, industry leaders said. NatureWorks says its production costs are just 10 percent to 20 percent above those of conventional plastics. Companies buying Mirel pay about $2.50 a pound, compared with 70 cents to 90 cents for petroleum-based resin, although the price difference is expected to shrink as quantities grow and oil prices rise.
Tamara Nameroff, acting director of the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute, said being as good as the product it replaces is not good enough for any green product, "even if you've proved you can make it environmentally friendly."
"You have to show a cost advantage to what it's replacing," she said. "The idea that people just want to purchase environmentally friendly products has been demonstrated in some markets, but not universally."
Though most consumers lack the patience to sort out all the arguments, environmental friendliness can sell. Ralph DiMatteo, 48, of Painesville Township, Ohio, said after learning Sam's Club gift cards are made of NatureWorks plastic that he would buy them as holiday gifts.
"I don't spend a lot of time researching these kinds of things, but if something is presented to me properly to show how my effort can make a difference for the environment, I'm willing to pay a couple extra cents," DiMatteo said.
For now, Metabolix is banking on that kind of attitude, said co-founder and chief scientific officer Oliver Peoples.
"We believe that there is a segment of the population that is willing to pay to basically feel better about using plastics," Peoples said. "And if a company decided it wanted to go in that direction of charging $2.03 for a cup of coffee rather than $2, our view is that we're adding something to their brand."
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|From: Sam Citron||12/7/2007 10:48:55 AM|
|No Plastic Bags Please, We're British Gets Brown to Mull Ban|
By Alex Morales
Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The sight of a Hawaiian beach covered in trash and seabirds choking on plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean turned Briton Rebecca Hosking into an environmental activist in her own backyard.
Hosking, a documentary maker for the British Broadcasting Corp., showed footage of the damage to retailers in the village of Modbury, southwestern England. That prompted all 43 shops in town to stop giving away plastic bags in May and triggered a campaign that's putting pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to roll out restrictions nationwide.
Animals ``through millions of years of evolution have learned that anything colorful on the ocean surface is a food source,'' Hosking says. ``Plastic bags are problematic because they mimic jellyfish.''
Britons use 13 billion carrier bags a year, each of which takes 400 years to break down, according to London Councils, which represents the capital's 33 local governments. Ireland in 2002 imposed a tax on plastic bags -- now 22 euro cents (32 U.S. cents) a bag -- that has cut use by 90 percent, the country's Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government says.
Hosking's campaign is a ``great example of grassroots action leading the debate,'' says Mike Webster, a consultant at Waste Watch, a London-based group that promotes recycling. ``What's encouraging is that it's spreading and politicians are sitting up and taking notice and being braver as a result.''
More than 70 U.K. towns and villages plan to adopt voluntary plastic bag bans, encouraging shoppers to shift to reusable carriers or cornstarch bags, according to the Marine Conservation Society, which campaigns to clean up U.K. beaches. As small retailers join with city governments to cut plastic bag use, Brown last month said he would push for a nationwide phase- out.
``All over the country campaigns have been formed to get rid of disposable plastic bags -- one of the most visible symbols of environmental waste,'' Brown said in a Nov. 19 speech in London. ``I am convinced that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether.''
Brown said he wants the U.K.'s largest supermarket chains, including Tesco Plc, J Sainsbury Plc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Asda unit, to expand their pledge to reduce their use of plastic bags by 25 percent by 2008. While supermarkets promote recycling, only one in 200 plastic bags is recycled, the government says.
On Nov. 13, London's 33 local councils voted to demand that Parliament restrict the use of plastic bags in the capital. Proposed legislation would bar retailers from giving away bags for free. The law wouldn't take effect before 2009.
``This is not pie in the sky,'' says Merrick Cockell, chairman of London Councils. ``It's readily possible.''
Others are moving faster. Hebden Bridge, a village in the county of Yorkshire, followed Modbury's example in September. On Nov. 30, Borough Councilor Elaine Still declared Overton plastic bag-free at the town's Christmas light ceremony.
Overton shopkeeper Peter Baker rallied more than 60 businesses that gave away a total of 33,000 plastic bags a month, to shift to renewable alternatives after reading about Modbury's effort. Retailers will switch to biodegradable cornstarch bags, with most outlets charging 10 pence (21 cents) each.
The campaign is changing consumer attitudes.
``I hadn't thought about it before, and every time I used to go out I would come back with loads of plastic bags and chuck them all away,'' says Jane Ford, 60, toting one of the cloth bags Overton retailers now sell. ``Now I use this all the time.''
Paper Bag Costs
Abandoning plastic bags may not be as environmentally friendly as people think, says David Tyson, chief executive officer of the Packaging and Industrial Films Association, a U.K. trade group whose 70 members sell about 300 million pounds ($617 million) of plastic bags annually.
Production and transport of paper bags, which are 10 times heavier than plastic, produces more of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming than the lighter alternative, he says.
``It's important that we work together to protect the environment, but it isn't helped by these knee-jerk suggestions that we ban products,'' Tyson says. ``The best approach is to try and develop a responsible attitude in the use of bags.''
Hosking, the Modbury activist, says plastic bags are just a small part of a larger environmental crisis.
In her travels she's seen turtles eating trash and an ``avian apocalypse'' in the Midway Islands, where albatrosses starve because their stomachs are filled with plastic.
East of Hawaii, ocean currents form a ``gyre,'' or giant eddy, that dumps rubbish from around the world on the islands. At Volcanoes National Park, Hosking saw chest-high piles of waste along a beach.
``There was all this plastic: everything in your house made of plastic, kid's toys, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, toiletries, DVDs, CDs, parts of TVs,'' she says. ``Knocking out plastic bags is a really tiny thing to do, but I hope it starts to get people thinking about the bigger picture.''
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|From: Sam Citron||2/4/2008 11:38:15 AM|
|Motivated by a Tax, Irish Spurn Plastic Bags [NYT]|
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
DUBLIN — There is something missing from this otherwise typical bustling cityscape. There are taxis and buses. There are hip bars and pollution. Every other person is talking into a cellphone. But there are no plastic shopping bags, the ubiquitous symbol of urban life.
In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.
Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.
“When my roommate brings one in the flat it annoys the hell out of me,” said Edel Egan, a photographer, carrying groceries last week in a red backpack.
Drowning in a sea of plastic bags, countries from China to Australia, cities from San Francisco to New York have in the past year adopted a flurry of laws and regulations to address the problem, so far with mixed success. The New York City Council, for example, in the face of stiff resistance from business interests, passed a measure requiring only that stores that hand out plastic bags take them back for recycling.
But in the parking lot of a Superquinn Market, Ireland’s largest grocery chain, it is clear that the country is well into the post-plastic-bag era. “I used to get half a dozen with every shop. Now I’d never ever buy one,” said Cathal McKeown, 40, a civil servant carrying two large black cloth bags bearing the bright green Superquinn motto. “If I forgot these, I’d just take the cart of groceries and put them loose in the boot of the car, rather than buy a bag.”
Gerry McCartney, 50, a data processor, has also switched to cloth. “The tax is not so much, but it completely changed a very bad habit,” he said. “Now you never see plastic.”
In January almost 42 billion plastic bags were used worldwide, according to reusablebags.com; the figure increases by more than half a million bags every minute. A vast majority are not reused, ending up as waste — in landfills or as litter. Because plastic bags are light and compressible, they constitute only 2 percent of landfill, but since most are not biodegradable, they will remain there.
In a few countries, including Germany, grocers have long charged a nominal fee for plastic bags, and cloth carrier bags are common. But they are the exception.
In the past few months, several countries have announced plans to eliminate the bags. Bangladesh and some African nations have sought to ban them because they clog fragile sewerage systems, creating a health hazard. Starting this summer, China will prohibit sellers from handing out free plastic shopping bags, but the price they should charge is not specified, and there is little capacity for enforcement. Australia says it wants to end free plastic bags by the end of the year, but has not decided how.
Efforts to tax plastic bags have failed in many places because of heated opposition from manufacturers as well as from merchants, who have said a tax would be bad for business. In Britain, Los Angeles and San Francisco, proposed taxes failed to gain political approval, though San Francisco passed a ban last year. Some countries, like Italy, have settled for voluntary participation.
But there were no plastic bag makers in Ireland (most bags here came from China), and a forceful environment minister gave reluctant shopkeepers little wiggle room, making it illegal for them to pay for the bags on behalf of customers. The government collects the tax, which finances environmental enforcement and cleanup programs.
Furthermore, the environment minister told shopkeepers that if they changed from plastic to paper, he would tax those bags, too.
While paper bags, which degrade, are in some ways better for the environment, studies suggest that more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags.
Today, Ireland’s retailers are great promoters of taxing the bags. “I spent many months arguing against this tax with the minister; I thought customers wouldn’t accept it,” said Senator Feargal Quinn, founder of the Superquinn chain. “But I have become a big, big enthusiast.”
Mr. Quinn is also president of EuroCommerce, a group representing six million European retailers. In that capacity, he has encouraged a plastic bag tax in other countries. But members are not buying it. “They say: ‘Oh, no, no. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t be acceptable in our country,’ ” Mr. Quinn said.
As nations fail to act decisively, some environmentally conscious chains have moved in with their own policies. Whole Foods Market announced in January that its stores would no longer offer disposable plastic bags, using recycled paper or cloth instead, and many chains are starting to charge customers for plastic bags.
But such ad hoc efforts are unlikely to have the impact of a national tax. Mr. Quinn said that when his Superquinn stores tried a decade ago to charge 1 cent for plastic bags, customers rebelled. He found himself standing at the cash register buying bags for customers with change from his own pocket to prevent them from going elsewhere.
After five years of the plastic bag tax, Ireland has changed the image of cloth bags, a feat advocates hope to achieve in the United States. Vincent Cobb, the president of reusablebags.com, who founded the company four years ago to promote the issue, said: “Using cloth bags has been seen as an extreme act of a crazed environmentalist. We want it to be seen as something a smart, progressive person would carry.”
Some things worked to Ireland’s advantage. Almost all markets are part of chains that are highly computerized, with cash registers that already collect a national sales tax, so adding the bag tax involved a minimum of reprogramming, and there was little room for evasion.
The country also has a young, flexible population that has proved to be a good testing ground for innovation, from cellphone services to nonsmoking laws. Despite these favorable conditions, Ireland still ended up raising the bag tax 50 percent, after officials noted that consumption was rising slightly.
Ireland has moved on with the tax concept, proposing similar taxes on customers for A.T.M. receipts and chewing gum. (The sidewalks of Dublin are dotted with old wads.) The gum tax has been avoided for the time being because the chewing gum giant Wrigley agreed to create a public cleanup fund as an alternative. This year, the government plans to ban conventional light bulbs, making only low-energy, long-life fluorescent bulbs available.
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