Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Jared Huffman of California have reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (BFFPA), which is aimed at reducing plastic pollution at the source. The bill was first introduced by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California along with Merkley and Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts in February 2020.

In December of last year, Protecting Communities From Plastics Act was introduced by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Jared Huffman of California, joining with Merkley and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California. That bill sought to crack down on plastic production by building on key provisions from the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.

As it did with the previously introduced legislation, the plastics industry in the U.S. says the legislation could severely damage the U.S. economy.

The current version of the bill would reduce plastic production, establish recycling targets and protect frontline and fenceline communities from the health and environmental burdens of toxic emissions from the plastics industry by reducing production and changing industry incentives, the sponsors say. It also would shift the burden of cleanup to the corporations that produce the plastics, providing the financial motivation to end burning and dumping, as well as establish a nationwide deposit return system to address beverage containers; support reusable and refillable systems; and strengthen environmental justice protections by including the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act.

“Plastic pollution isn’t just a problem for our oceans and climate—it's a massive environmental injustice,” Huffman says. “Communities are overburdened with plastics’ toxic air and water emissions and the false promises of so-called chemical recycling. Worse, Big Oil is aggressively promoting even more plastic—it’s how they plan to keep us addicted to planet-killing fossil fuels even as we transition to a clean energy future.”

Merkley adds, “Plastic pollution is a public health crisis that can only be solved with bold actions. Additionally, plastics produce greenhouse gas emissions and release toxins throughout their entire life span, and its frontline communities who are disproportionately exposed to the dangers from plastic production. And downstream plastics are creating a massive pollution problem for our rivers and oceans.”

According to the sponsors of the legislation, public polling prepared for the World Wildlife Fund shows that two-thirds of Americans believe businesses that produce or use plastics in their products should pay for collecting, sorting and recycling plastics; 86 percent of Americans support requiring new plastic to contain at least some recycled material; and 4 in 5 Americans support phasing out certain nonrecyclable plastics.

The bill is designed to shift the burden of cleanup and waste management through several measures:

  • requiring big corporations to take responsibility for their pollution;
  • establishing source reduction targets for single-use plastic products and beverage containers;
  • creating a nationwide beverage container refund program, which has been successful in 10 states;
  • reducing and banning certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable;
  • establishing grant programs to support reusable and refillable products; and
  • pausing construction of new plastic facilities until critical environmental justice and health protections are put in place.

Merkley and Huffman say this version of the bill is stronger than the previous version because it adds new mandates for performance targets, including reducing single-use plastics and requiring all single-use beverage containers and packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. It also includes stronger language for the elimination of toxic substances in beverage containers and prohibiting the use of toxic substances. Requirements for incorporating postconsumer recycled content into beverage containers would exclude content generated by “advanced recycling, chemical recycling, combustion, gasification, incineration, pyrolysis, solvolysis, thermal desorption, waste-to-energy, waste-to-fuel or any other chemical or molecular conversion process” have been strengthened as has and fence line monitoring and environmental justice requirements for facilities, including community consultation.

The bill calls for 25 percent recycled content by weight and component by Jan. 1, 2032, increasing to 50 percent, by weight and by plastic component, by Jan. 1, 2050.

“We’re at a crisis point with plastic pollution and need action,” says Christy Leavitt, Washington-based Oceana campaign director and a supporter of the bill. “Plastic pollution harms our oceans, climate, communities and wildlife. The solution is to stop plastic pollution at the source by reducing the production and use of unnecessary single-use plastic and move to refillable and reusable systems. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act does just that.”

Industry response

The Plastics Industry Association, Washington,  has come out in “strong opposition” to the bill, voicing its disappointment in the legislation.

“Instead of working towards compromise and common-sense policies, this new iteration of the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is even worse and less collaborative than previously, moving further from a realistic proposal,” says Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the association. “The plastics industry stands ready to work with both sides of the aisle to develop real solutions to the environmental concerns this measure supposedly addresses. We believe there are answers to the environmental challenges we face, such as investments in recycling infrastructure and greater demand for recycled content through minimum requirements and stronger end markets.

“Plastics is the preferred material in many applications because it uses less energy and fewer resources to manufacture and transport, in addition to its ability to be reused and recycled—but this misguided legislation overlooks scientific facts and would likely unintentionally lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” Seaholm adds.

“The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act would negatively impact the American economy, harm the over 1 million men and woman who are employed by the plastics industry and hurt other industries reliant upon them as an essential part of the supply chain.

“Instead of one-sided proposals that don’t move us forward, we need to work together to craft sound policy that will actually help our environment,” Seaholm concluded.

The Plastics Industry Association says that out of the materials used for consumer products, plastic has the lowest greenhouse gas impact, citing an independent study from McKinsey & Co. that found plastics help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent to 90 percent. The association also says the majority of plastic waste will not be addressed by this legislation given that more than 90 percent of plastic in the oceans comes from 10 river systems in Southeast Asia and Africa—not from the U.S and therefore not subject to this legislation. It adds that thousands of facilities across the United States are involved in manufacturing plastics and that this legislation could prompt many to close or to move offshore to countries with less environmental safeguards.

Ross Eisenberg, president of America’s Plastic Makers, the plastic division of the American Chemistry Council, Washington, says, “Congress, America’s plastic makers and the public agree that plastic waste should never be in our environment. Unfortunately, the legislation introduced today would do little to eliminate plastic pollution while doing a lot to damage the U.S. economy.

“The latest version of the BFFPA is even more extreme than previous versions that failed legislatively. Its purpose is not to address plastic pollution. It is intended to shut down domestic plastic manufacturing, prevent the American public from using a wide range of everyday plastics, provide a fundraising platform for anti-plastic organizations and vilify a material essential to a more sustainable and lower carbon future. We cannot ‘break free’ from the very materials that help us drive down greenhouse gas emissions throughout critical sectors of our economy.”

Eisenberg says that if the BFFPA became law, well-paid domestic manufacturing careers would be exported, mostly to China; American consumers would have to pay more for a multitude of necessities, from food to clothing; and climate warming emissions would increase by restricting recycling technologies that reduce carbon emissions as recently underscored by the Department of Energy’s own Argonne National Laboratory and by shifting plastic manufacturing to countries with less stringent environmental standards.  

“There is a better way to meaningfully tackle plastic pollution that also bolsters domestic manufacturing,” he says. “ACC continues to work with members of Congress to introduce legislation aligned with our 5 Actions for Sustainable Change. Such legislation would require U.S. packaging to have at least 30 percent recycled plastic by 2030, would appropriately regulate innovative recycling technologies and develop minimum requirements and standards for recycling around the country, among other components.”


Original story HERE