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Bill targets single-use plastics in U.S.

Federal Democrat lawmakers in the U.S. have introduced a bill that seeks to ban many single-use plastics items and also make companies responsible for plastic waste.


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February 11, 2020 by Canadian Plastics

Federal Democrat lawmakers in the U.S. have introduced a bill that seeks to ban many single-use plastics items, requires manufacturers to use more recycled content in their packaging, and also make companies responsible for plastic waste.

Sponsored by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act” – expected to be introduced on Feb. 11 – was also co-sponsored by more than two dozen other House members, as well as five additional senators.

To date, no Republicans have signaled support for the bill.

The bill has three main components: first, it mandates that plastic producers and distributors must fund, design, and implement programs to collect and process the waste they produce; second, the bill offers a nationwide refund for consumers who return beverage containers; and third, it phases out many single-use, nonrecyclable plastic products, beginning in January 2022.

Products targeted by the ban include thin plastic shopping bags, expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) food and drink containers, plastic stirrers, and plastic utensils. Plastic straws would also be limited, but still available upon request.

The legislation also includes a fee for “non-plastic carryout bags,” along with a minimum post-consumer recycled (PCR) content threshold for plastic beverage containers that would steadily increase over time. Levels would begin at 25 per cent PCR in 2025 and culminate in 80 per cent by 2040.

The bill also pushes the Environmental Protection Agency to create a uniform system for recycling and composting labels.

News of the bill drew a quick, critical response from the Washington, D.C.-based Plastics Industry Association. “As drafted, we do not believe the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 would effectively address pollution in the U.S. or globally,” president and CEO Tony Radoszewski said in a Feb. 11 statement. “Plastics only account for 13 per cent of municipal solid waste in the U.S. Any effort to specifically target plastic materials – that, after life-cycle analysis, prove to be more environmentally-desirable than other materials – would be misguided at best and harmful at worst. Furthermore, this legislation’s efforts to shut down plastics manufacturing would hurt the nearly one million hard-working men and women in our industry and the nation’s economy as a whole.”

Radoszewski added that measures like the RECOVER Act – which would designate funds to improve the recycling infrastructure in the U.S. – and other efforts like the RECYCLE Act and the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act provide “better approaches than what we’ve seen in the ‘Break Free’ Act.”

“We look forward to continuing the discussion with Senator Tom Udall and Representative Alan Lowenthal and all lawmakers to educate them about the benefits plastics provide and the environmental, economic and medical dangers that would accompany ignoring those benefits,” Radoszewski concluded.