Ethical discussion on can deposit in order to improve sustainability

Essay, 2018

12 Pages, Grade: 1,7


List of Contents


2.Main reasons against a two US-dollar can deposit

3.Main reasons for a two US-dollar can deposit

4.Ethical analysis
Freedom of choice and freedom of markets
Implementing values as a law: Environmental conservation
Equal opportunities
Concepts of Sustainability



1. Introduction

A currently discussed sustainability dilemma is natural resource depletion and environmental pollution through plastic. Since plastic has several fields of use, a lot of crude oil is extracted. As products made of plastic usually have a short duration of usage, using plastics is considered to be a waste of resources. Furthermore, plastics are not biodegradable which leads to increasing waste of plastic in the environment. Several measures are undertaken to counter the impacts of plastic, for instance implementing recycling systems or developing alternative packaging (Mansour et al., 2015, p. 79; Orset et al., p. 13).

This essay ethically discusses the decision of a country (Country A) to introduce a two US-$ can deposit on all plastic bottles sold in order to improve sustainability.

The opinion held in this paper is that introducing a 2 US-$ deposit in order to improve sustainability is morally wrong from a deontological point of view. First, the introduction of the can deposit limits people’s freedom of choice. Second, the amount of two US-dollars is unjust, considering that some people will not be able to always raise them. Third, sustainability is not addressed appropriately, since sustainability dimensions other than ecology are not well considered.

The essay proceeds as follows. First, it points out the main reasons for and against the introduction of the two US-dollar can deposit. Second, it analyses these positions by reasoning the arguments from different perspectives and by using ethical theories. It concludes with summarising the key arguments and giving an answer to the issue posed above.

2. Main reasons against a two US-dollar can deposit

1) Consumers of plastic bottles would probably decline the can deposit. They would claim that they do not want a way of disposing plastic bottles imposed on them. Having to return the bottles to a collecting point to get the two US-dollars of deposit back would mean an extra effort and abridge their freedom of choice.
2) Second, they could argue that they do not want to pay an extra price of that amount for plastic bottles. At the purchase of drinks, for example, the additional two US-dollars will add up to a sum some people cannot afford to raise at once.
3) Third, in terms of sustainable development, one could remark that introducing a can deposit focusses predominantly on ecological sustainability. It neither addresses other aspects, such as economic and social aspects adequately, nor does it consider their interrelation.

3. Main reasons for a two US-dollar can deposit

1) Environmentalists would probably advocate the can deposit, saying it will reduce environmental pollution and damage through plastic bottles and therefore contribute to its integrity. Besides, fewer natural resources for plastic production will be depleted and the integrity of natural reservoirs will be guaranteed.
2) Second, they could argue that the can deposit will raise environmental awareness in society. People would get to think about the intention of the can deposit and as to that reflect and presumably even change their own behaviour.
3) Third, the government of country A could say that, with the introduction of the can deposit, a recycling system improving sustainability was established: The present need of using plastic bottles would still be fulfilled whereas it is ensured that crude oil resources are available for future generations.

4. Ethical analysis

Freedom of choice and freedom of markets

Consumers of plastic bottles may claim that the introduction of a can deposit on all plastic bottles sold would abridge people’s freedom of choice. They would be constrained to pay additional money when purchasing plastic bottles which they only get back by returning them. Milton Friedman’s (1912-2006) statement about freedom of choice supports that by saying that the government should, in fact, inform about advantages and disadvantages of a product but at the same time allow people to decide for themselves which chances to take (Friedman et al., 1980, p. 245). The can deposit would therefore violate individual freedom of choice.

Adam Smith would agree that the state should intervene in the market as less as possible, saying that the public good is best achieved by letting people pursue their own interests (Smith, 1983, p. 371). Yet he believes that some regulations by the state have to be done, otherwise greedy actors in the markets will abuse their power and build monopolies in the market (Smith, 1983, p. 407). Hence, the can deposit on plastic bottles could be understood as means to control excessive extraction of natural resources by a monopoly at a disadvantage of the public good. Friedman would counter, saying that even though the state could help compensating for market failures or managing resources, it is not easier for the state to solve the reasons that caused market failures. He reasons that attempts to outweigh market failures by the state often resulted in government failures (Friedman et al., 1980, p. 232).

A utilitarian may respond that to assess the public good it is necessary to look beyond market activities. The question would rather be whether the can deposit overall creates the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Only then introducing the can deposit would be morally right (Mill, 1985, p. 13, Birnbacher, 2002, p. 96). “The greatest good” means the total sum of individual utility caused by an action, whereas “utility” is understood as the extent of happiness, well-being or satisfaction of preferences (Birnbacher, 2002, p. 96).

Critics of utilitarianism could then counter, that there is no means to measure the greatest good for the greatest number of people caused by the can deposit.

Implementing values as a law: Environmental conservation

From an ecological point of view, one could contend that the can deposit conserves natural resources since, through recycling of plastic bottles, fewer raw material is extracted for production. The can deposit therefore contributes to the integrity of natural reservoirs.

Critics might say that it will have to be examined whether the charged plastic bottles are indeed recyclable and if so, reusable as plastic bottles. Only then could a can deposit on plastic bottles actually contribute to reduction the extraction rate of resources.

Environmentalists would probably say that nevertheless, the can deposit will conserve the environment through decreasing amount of waste. This will lead to less environmental pollution and destruction, e.g. through disposal in nature or waste incineration. One could then argue that if decreasing pollution through plastic waste is the motive, then there has to be a deposit on all plastic packages, not only on plastic bottles.

One could then again remark that either way, the argument of decreasing waste production only applies for the assumption, that people indeed return the plastic bottles instead of disposing them. Classical economists would state that humans are “homo oeconomicus” which aim for maximum utility and decide on their action by rationally weighing costs and benefits of returning the plastic bottles (Kirchgässner, 2008, p. 14) National economists could reply that even if people did return their plastic bottles, the withheld two US-dollars per bottle would therefore be like a compensation for negative externalities that come in with the production of plastic bottles (cf. Roth, 2016, p. 173).

Behavioural economists would criticise the theory of human beings as “homo oeconomicus” stating that people are not entirely rational, but as well influenced by emotions, which have multiple determinants (e.g. cultural impacts) (Beck, 2014, p. 285–290) In that regard, the can deposit could raise general environmental awareness and lead to behaviour change. From a social point of view, one could support that stating that even if there were little positive effects on the environment, the can deposit would lead to a change of values in society. For instance, people will deal with the effects of plastic and get to reflect their overall consumption behaviour.

Taking an anthropocentric point of view, one could principally question the need of preserving the integrity of natural resources for their own sake. According to Kant (1724 - 1804) only humans have an own value.

The characteristic of humans lies in the ability to set themselves a purpose and distinguishes them from animals (Kant, 1977, p. 24). Animal, plants and dead material do not have a self-purpose and therefore no dignity but only a relative value, i.e. a price (Kant, 1994, p. 58).

Above all this, one could question whether it is legitimate to implement values such as the environmental conservation as a binding law for everyone. According to Lück ought is founded on values (Lück, 1963, p. 72). Scholastics would argue that when it comes to ought, a legislative authority is required. Lück cites Messner (1891 – 1984) who stated that a man (man as human) is aware of a super-personal authority and knows that it is not his own will that forms the rule of consciousness (Lück, 1963, p. 70). As a consequence, an authority is crucial for the understanding of ought (Lück, 1963, p. 72).

Friedman, however, would see a risk in implementing values as a law. According to him, people could perceive the can deposit as infliction of values. He says that such restriction of freedom will then lead to three reactions: First, there will be resentment. Second, people will attempt to circumvent the obstacles. Last, the respect for law will decline in general (Friedman et al., 1980, p. 307).

Equal opportunities

Consumers of plastic bottles could argue that the amount of two US-dollars is too high. At the purchase the can deposit on plastic bottles will be an extra amount one has to factor in. Some will not be able to raise that extra money at once and are therefore disadvantaged. A justification of the amount would be that people would rather consider returning the bottles at a high deposit, since they would make a noticeable loss by disposing them. One could remark that even so, the amount of two US-dollars is still not justified, since two US-dollars in most cases probably exceed the price of the actual product. It cannot be expected that consumers pay at least the double of the actual price.

With Rawls’ (1921 - 2002) theory of justice one could identify these consumers are the least privileged since they will be excluded from buying products in plastic bottles. According to him the can deposit would only be fair if social and economic inequalities of it result in compensating benefits for the least privileged (Rawls, 1971, p. 15).

In that matter, one could also define another group of least privileged, namely the people suffering from the negative effects of plastic bottles. The can deposit could therefore be seen as a benefit for them in the action of using plastic bottles.

One could then say, that achieving the greatest benefit, and therefore justice, for both, the consumer and the ones suffering from negative effects of plastic bottles, is only possible through alternative harmless packaging.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Ethical discussion on can deposit in order to improve sustainability
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
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ISBN (Book)
Sustainability ethics, Can deposit, Plastic bottles, Sustainability
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Melanie Bayo (Author), 2018, Ethical discussion on can deposit in order to improve sustainability, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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