Thursday, April 10, 2008

Plastic bags vs jobs

Brazil is definitely a country of plastic bags. In supermarkets you have to rush and grab your stuff before the shop assistants manage to put each item in a separate bag, or even worse in the case of heavier things, layer it with another bag to make sure you are 'safe' to go. Saying "no, thanks!" to the eager assistants, you might save yourself from the double-layer of bags or, if lucky, have a few items fit together in one bag.
Me and my room-mate Zoe had a no-plastic-bag approach, so we'd take our backpacks when doing the weekly groceries. But yet we'd wonder, what would happen, if the plastic bag culture had to change by, for example, the use of plastic bags being banned. What would happened to the shop assistants, whose main job seemed to be helping you putting your things in the endless number of bags, or what would happen to the industry that produces these bags, or to the employees that get their jobs in this production process.

So here I red an interesting example of China, which has banned, for environmental reasons, the free hand-out of plastic bags. As a result, the country’s largest plastic bag factory has closed, throwing 20,000 workers out on the street. Some see this as posing a dilemma between environment and economy, but some argue that the good environmental policies are proven good for the economy.
What this case illustrates instead is the dilemma between doing something good for the whole people/society, but at the expense of adjustment costs borne by a small group – the 20,000 workers and the factory owner.

- On a broader scale, good environmental policies create jobs directly and indirectly. China is quickly emerging as the largest producer of photo-voltaic cells and of wind power equipment (both supported by World Bank projects).
- The clean-up of lakes and rivers and the expansion of sewerage and waste water treatment facilities create huge numbers of jobs in construction and maintenance.
- The health benefits of the clean-up reduce illness and prolong life expectancy, both of which are good for long-run economic development.

Finally, it seems to be a clear tendency for cities with better natural environment to attract more investment and create more jobs. The highest productivity in the world is in countries such as Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States, all of which have good natural environments.

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