The Public is Ready to Recycle as Congress Reintroduces Sweeping Plastics Reform

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Last week, federal legislators reintroduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which would pass sweeping recycling and single-use plastic regulations. The bill, which was originally introduced last year, would implement a nationwide extended producer responsibility (EPR) program, minimum recycled content mandates, a national container deposit system, and single-use plastic bags. It would also implement a three-year pause on issuing permits for new plastic production facilities. Experts from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) say that this bill has come at the right time, publishing a national poll that found 86% of Americans believe the U.S. must transition from a throw-away economy to one that emphasizes reuse and recycling.

Why This Matters: The U.S. is the largest plastic polluter in the world but only recycles 8.7% of its plastics. Much of that plastic takes the form of consumer packaging like plastic bags, wrappers, straws, and more. Global plastic waste makes its way into our ecosystems, where it kills an estimated 100,000 marine animals and one million seabirds each year, before breaking down into harmful microplastics that contaminate fish and seafood that humans rely on. Plastic doesn’t just harm the land and sea, it also contributes to atmosphere-warming greenhouse gasses at every point in its lifecycle. These consequences harm vulnerable communities the most. According to WWF’s latest poll, consumers are ready to make a change. Unfortunately, plastics companies aren’t.

Plastic Battles

The Break Free Act has been criticized primarily due to its strengthened EPR policy that would hold plastic producing companies accountable for their waste beyond the point of sale. But it’s not the only bill in Congress with EPR policy. The CLEAN Future Act focuses on energy, economic, infrastructure, and job-related strategies to reduce plastic pollution and meet the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. But groups like the American Chemistry Council (ACC) which represents plastics producers, call the Break Free Act a “misguided and harmful piece of legislation” that would limit jobs and innovation. Instead, the ACC supports a “shared-responsibility model” that would put the onus on consumers to pay taxes on plastic to pay for recycling programs and public service campaigns. But legislators and advocates alike say the legislation could revolutionize the recycling and plastics industry. “This legislation will bring our packaging and recycling systems into the future,” said Roberta Elias, director, policy and government affairs for WWF.

The Court of Public Opinion

Unfortunately for the ACC, 68% of Americans believe that plastic producers need to step up to the plate and be responsible for improving the national recycling infrastructure. Elias said that consumers are the ones driving this movement and that if companies are smart, they’ll listen. “We live in a world where plastic waste is everywhere. It’s in our neighborhoods, in our oceans and forests, and leaking into nature,” she said. “That’s the bad news. But the good news is that when it comes to tackling this issue, we are seeing that public demands are clear, and they want plastic waste to be addressed.”

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