Date of Award

12-2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Resource Economics and Policy

Advisor

Jonathan Rubin

Second Committee Member

George Criner

Third Committee Member

Philip Trostel

Abstract

Product stewardship and extended producer responsibility (EPR) are waste management concepts designed to force producers to internalize production externalities while reducing the amount of waste entering landfills. In an effort to develop more environmentally friendly packaging, Maine is exploring the development of potato-based polylactic acid (PLA) for use in plastic containers. The purpose of this study is two-fold, first to identify the impacts from the potato-derived PLA through a product eco-profile, and second, to identify the interactions between the proposed policies and the Maine PLA product. Building on previous waste optimization literature, this study integrates interdisciplinary models including neoclassical economics, geographic information systems, and life cycle assessment to determine a socially optimal tax structure equating tax or subsidy levels with observed social damages. This study finds PLA social damages to range between $5 and $19 per 1000 containers (16 oz. capacity) produced which is lower than the social damages from its petroleum-based alternatives polyethylene terephthalte (PET) ($6-21 per 1000 containers) and polystyrene (PS) ($6-34 per 1000 containers). Current product pricing indicates that taxing PET and PS $0.10-0.15 higher than PLA, per 16 oz package, would diminish pricing differentials between materials and increase the application of PLA in packaging. Within a policy context, this study considers the existing legislation in Maine, and the proposed strategy in Canada. This study finds that a Pigouvian tax structure, in combination with policies that extend a producer's responsibility to include end of life costs, generates an optimal waste management solution while addressing illegal disposal concerns mentioned in previous studies. Furthermore, comparisons to conventional plastics, such as PET and PS, indicate that PLA is the least environmentally degrading material of the three, and will likely have more success under the Canadian policy.

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