Washington DC -- On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act – the first comprehensive bill in Congress to address the plastic pollution crisis.
Globally, the plastics industry produces over 335 million tons of plastic each year – and this volume is continuing to increase. By 2050, global plastic production is projected to triple and will account for 20 percent of all oil consumption. But nearly two-thirds of plastic produced becomes waste, and less than 9% of plastic ever made is recycled. The materials in Americans’ blue bins are often landfilled, incinerated, or shipped overseas to countries that are unable to manage the burden of additional trash. Eight million more metric tons are dumped into the ocean annually (think about that: 8 million each year, on top of what was added last year, the year before that... yikes!) What were once pristine agricultural communities in southeast Asia are now toxic dumpsites due to imported waste from wealthier nations like the United States. Plastic waste finds its way into our water, soil, and air where it breaks down into microplastics that contaminate food and drinking water, consequently posing a risk to human health.
Byrd’s Filling Station is thrilled to see this type of legislation, as it addresses the root cause of the plastic pollution crisis. Communities who live on the fence-line of the neighboring petrochemical facilities, in particular, face the brunt of toxic air emissions resulting in negative health impacts. In the United States, state and local governments are implementing policies to reduce unnecessary plastic products and shift the huge financial responsibility to producers for managing our waste. San Mateo County is leading the charge on this front with the proposed new changes to single-use plastics in foodservice! The Break Free From Plastic movement is calling for federal leadership to build on this momentum.
ABOUT BREAK FREE FROM PLASTIC ACT
The bill has several ground-breaking components.
- It requires plastic producers to take responsibility for their waste. The bill would shift the burden of waste collection and management from local governments and taxpayers to the manufacturers of items like packaging, containers, food service products and paper, who would be charged with designing and funding recycling systems.
- It establishes a nation-wide beverage container refund system. Anyone buying a beverage container of any type would be charged an extra 10 cents that would be refunded when they returned the empty item.
- It phases out the most polluting single-use plastics. Starting in Jan. 2022, highly polluting items like plastic bags, polystyrene containers and plastic stirrers and cutlery would be phased out. Straws would only be available by request. The bill would also introduce a nationwide plastic bag fee.
- It mandates minimum recycled content. The bill would require products to be made with increasing percentages of recycled material. For example, plastic bottles would need to be made of 25 percent recycled material by 2025 and 80 percent by 2040.
- It considers environmental justice. The bill would prohibit the U.S. from shipping waste to countries that cannot manage it. It would only be able to export waste to countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and only with their consent. Further, it puts a pause of up to three years on the granting of permits for facilities that create plastic so that the EPA can update its safe air and water standards for these facilities.
The Senate legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
In the House, it is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Ed Case (D-Hawaii-1), Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.-9), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.-11), Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.-16), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.-1), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.-20), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-2), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.-7), Rohit Khanna (D-Calif.-17), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-13), Mike Levin (D-Calif.-49), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.-33), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.-4), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.-6), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.-1), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-20), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine-1), Michael Quigley (D-Ill.-5), Jamin Raskin (D-Md.-8), Harley Rouda (D-Calif.-48), John Sarbanes (D-Md.-3), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.-9), Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.-3), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-13), Nydia M. Velazquez (D-N.Y.-7), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.-43), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.-1).
WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are several ways you can act:
1. Write to your representatives and senators to either encourage their support, or ask them to support it.
2. If you live in San Mateo County, write to the County Board of Supervisors to let them know your thoughts.
3. If you live in an incorporated part of San Mateo County, write to your city council members about the local ordinance and encourage cities to adopt the ordinance as well!
4. Support businesses that prioritize waste reduction, and continue learning how to minimize your own single-use plastic habits.