Plastic Companies Want $1B in Bailout Funds For Recycling

Pointing to the rise in plastic being used during the COVID pandemic, an alliance of the nation’s largest chemical companies called the “Recover Coalition” is requesting that Congress give them $1b to deal with the current lack of a functioning recycling system in the U.S.  The industry group, in a letter to legislators, explained that they need the help because municipalities have reduced or eliminated recycling services, a problem that will only get worse as state and local government budgets get even tighter as the economy shrinks.

Why This Matters:  The Recover Coalition points out in its request that the industry was failing at recycling before this crisis ramped up plastic use.  And now due to the virus, the amount of plastic piling up at people’s homes is making it clear how ubiquitous it is.  The environmental benefits of recycling are obvious — we generate 37 million tons of recyclable materials each year in the U.S. and recycling it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 96 million metric tons, not to mention hundreds of thousands of jobs.  The question is why should plastic manufacturers (aka fossil fuel companies) instead of local governments get funding, and how can we ensure they will use it properly?

What the Recover Coalition Wants

The Recover Coalition is asking that Congress pass a law to establish a competitive grant program in the Environmental Protection Agency.  They rely on the findings of a report entitled the State of Curbside Recycling in 2020 by the Recycling Partnership that estimates that an investment of $9.8 billion is needed and that was before we amped up plastic use due to COVID-19.  And currently, without any mandate that the industry have cradle to grave responsibility for plastic materials, most of it will end up in landfills.  But companies are increasingly finding that consumers demand products and packaging that is recyclable or is made of recycled materials themselves.

Environmentalists Say No Way

Sen. Tom Udall has been leading efforts in Congress to reduce plastic pollution has criticized the plastics industry for “relying on local taxpayers and beach-combing volunteers” to clean up their mess.  He is one of the lead sponsors of a bill that would require manufacturers to be responsible for their products from “cradle to grave.”  He told The Intercept that he does not support the industry’s effort to receive funding tied to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“By asking for a billion-dollar handout, Big Plastic is trying to maintain what already is the status quo: that is, taxpayers funding and taking responsibility for the waste of plastic producers,” Udall wrote to The Intercept in response to questions about the industry letter. “When we surface from this pandemic, plastic pollution will still be at crisis levels­ — and matters may be even worse, as industry tries to exploit this pandemic to leverage more marketing for single-use products.”

According to The Intercept, “of the 223 companies that belong to and fund the American Chemistry Council and the Recycling Partnership — both of which signed the letter — include 60 publicly held companies with combined revenue of $2.7 trillion and net profit of $210 billion.”

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