Alarming data on the global crisis surrounding plastic waste is shifting both public and legislative opinion on recycling. A new proposed law, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, aims to shift the responsibility of plastics recycling back to the plastics industry instead of everyday consumers.
Under the bill, plastics producers and companies would be required to collect and recycle their own waste, and new plastic production would be paused for up to three years. A nationwide drink container refund program would also be developed and certain single-use plastic items would be phased out.
According to Judith Enck, a former official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who founded the Beyond Plastics campaign in 2019, there’s an incredible disconnect between public concerns about plastics pollution and all of the industry funding and tax dollars that are invested in new plastics manufacturing.
The Center for International Environmental Law published a report in May 2019 that found greenhouse gas emissions from the plastics lifecycle are contributing to the climate crisis. From natural gas extraction to plastics production and disposal, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics could reach 1.34 billion metric tons per year by 2030. That’s the equivalent to the emissions from 300 coal plants.
What’s more, data shows that the plastics industry is having an increasingly disastrous impact on the environment, animals, and public health. In 2019, researchers have found that tiny particles of plastic are pervasive not just in the environment but also in human bodies.
“If it’s in our marshes, it’s in our oysters, it’s in our fish, and it’s in our dolphins,” said Caroline Bradner. Bradner is the Land, Water, and Wildlife Project Manager for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. “And if there is plastic in them, there is plastic in us.”
Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) have been working on the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act since summer 2019. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) are sponsoring the legislation. The bill is also co-sponsored by over two dozen House members and five additional senators. The House of Representatives is composed of 435 members and the Senate is composed of 100.
According to The New York Times, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act has very little chance of becoming law. But the legislative effort shows that more needs to be done about the plastics waste problem in the United States.
Fortunately, many states are passing new legislation on various fronts from in-car video systems, which are utilized by 72% of all state patrol vehicles, to laws reducing plastic waste. Both South Carolina and Georgia aim to pass laws reducing the use of plastic bags and single-use containers.