Distributive policy

Youngkin gets plastic recycling among a series of positive policy measures


Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin has laid out a plan that other conservative politicians will follow in November. Among his refreshing policy stances that range from empowering parents to cutting taxes, the new leader has acknowledged that there is no need to cut jobs and regulate amenities to protect the environment.

Case and point: Mr Youngkin has announced that he will repeal the restrictive one-size-fits-all plastic regulations of his predecessor Ralph Northam and replace them with a common-sense approach.

Mr Northam’s executive order, signed in March 2021, banned the sale or distribution of most so-called “single-use” plastics – a misleading label given that many products can be recycled into new uses. Northam’s ban extended to all government institutions in the state, including parks, museums and universities. The main problem with Mr. Northam’s environmental policy was that it did not consider essential use. And for some banned plastic applications, the alternatives are even worse for the planet.

Plastic straws, for example, are frivolous for most people; consumers can easily opt out. But, in reality, straws make up less than a tenth of 1% of all plastic used. Thus, the bans would have a limited effect on reducing pollution. Cotton alternatives to plastic bags offer a counter-intuitive prospect. A recent report from Denmark reviewed by The New York Times shows that cotton bags need to be used thousands of times to break even with the carbon footprint of a manufactured plastic bag.

The same goes for easily recyclable plastic water bottles. Unlike straws and bags, plastic water bottles are essential. FEMA has stocked bottled water for distribution during natural disasters or other tap water outages, such as lead contamination or burst water pipes. (Last year, more than 650 local boiled water orders were reported nationwide.) The Virginia Emergency Management Department is also stockpiling pallets of water, which proved lifesaving during the storm. last year’s high-profile winter storm that left interstate travelers stranded. Bottled water supplies are recommended by FEMA to be on hand in every household.

Mr. Northam’s policy prohibited state facilities from having bottled water, leaving only sodas and juices as an option. Knowing that water is the most popular packaged beverage in the United States, many state agencies and universities have started selling water packaged in foil.

Aluminum may seem environmentally friendly, but this notion is driven by another myth. The process of mining and producing aluminum is dirty and dangerous.

Aluminum is made from bauxite, which when mined from surface mines leaves nearby communities covered in red dust that kills vegetation. Dust has been linked to the cause of cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, aluminum production releases perfluorocarbon. This airborne pollutant has a global warming potential between 6,500 and 9,200 times greater than carbon dioxide. Producing aluminum cans emits twice as much carbon as producing a plastic bottle.

And although aluminum can be recycled, according to a study by Keep America Beautiful, cans are thrown away five times more often than plastic water bottles.

Mr. Youngkin acknowledges that picking winners and losers from containers is not what the government should be doing and, instead, has announced his intention to make Virginia a leader in recycling. The new policy will ensure the availability of the plastics we need while cleaning up the environment at the same time.

• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington.