In honor of Endangered Species Day, national Elected Officials back the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act May 19,2021 By Ramona du Houx A detailed report published yesterday sheds new light on who manufactures and profits from all this single-use plastic, 130 million tons a year at last count. According to the report, half of the world’s single-use plastic […]
In honor of Endangered Species Day, national Elected Officials back the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act
By Ramona du Houx
A detailed report published yesterday sheds new light on who manufactures and profits from all this single-use plastic, 130 million tons a year at last count. According to the report, half of the world’s single-use plastic is made by 20 big companies. Two U.S. companies, Exxon Mobil and Dow, led the pack. In the next five years alone, production capacity is forecast to grow by 30 percent, unless governments take action.
Because of clever marketing by the oil and gas industry — the makers of plastic — consumers believed they were recycling plastics — when they weren’t. As a result, after 40 years less than 10 percent of plastic has ever been recycled. According to PBS, since 2005 the plastic waste in America has doubled. In 2019, a World Wildlife Fund study found that humans were consuming up to a credit card’s worth of plastic each week, primarily from water but also from shellfish.
It’s gotten so bad, broken down plastic particles called microplastics have been found in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time in late 2020, creating “cyborg babies, no longer composed only of human cells.”
Plastic pollution invades, poisoning the air, water, and soil. It causes damage at every step of its lifecycle, disproportionately harming communities of color, and low-income communities — especially where plastic waste incinerators and landfills are located. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, reintroduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) this spring, will start to address these environmental injustices.
“The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 would reduce plastic production, increase recycling, eliminate waste export loopholes, and extend existing laws nationwide that have been proven to work,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, EOPA President, former ME State Rep. (ME), former Marine Combat Veteran. “This breakthrough legislation would protect frontline and fenceline communities from toxic plastic-waste emissions by shifting the burden of cleanup to the corporations that produce the plastics — so they have the financial motivation to end the burning and dumping.”
In 40 years, less than 10 percent of plastic has ever been recycled. According to PBS, since 2005 the plastic waste in America has doubled.
The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act will reduce plastic production before it ever has a chance to pollute by phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic products, pausing new plastic facilities, holding companies accountable for their waste, and expanding reuse and refill programs. This extended producer responsibility (EPR) Act will hold producers accountable for plastic waste.
“Plastic pollution is a full-blown environmental and health crisis, and it’s time that we pass this legislation to get it under control. I urge Senator Lisa Murkowski to see the importance of this Act,” said Anchorage Assemblymember Felix Rivera, (AK). “Many of us were taught the three R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle. We put our plastic items into those blue bins to protect our planet. But incinerators, landfills and our oceans are where the bulk of plastic ends up, polluting the world, impacting the health of billions, endangering our planet.”
More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year, of which 91 percent is not recycled. Since 2005 the plastic waste in America has doubled. The U.S. generates the most plastic waste per capita than any other country. We export 225 shipping containers of plastic waste per day to countries where plastic will be crudely processed in unsafe facilities, and incinerated in open areas, creating deadly pollution particulates which damages the health of local residents.
“As a major exporter, it’s tragic that we’ve been dumping plastic waste around the world. We have a duty and moral obligation to act immediately and decisively to stop these practices. It is time for multi-billion-dollar companies, that have misled the public knowingly, to step up and cover the costs of cleaning up the waste from their products,” said State Rep. Paul Evans, (OR) veteran (rt), EOPA National Leadership Council Co-Chair. “We must lead the world by example.”
Recent polling shows that two-thirds of Americans believe that 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 80 percent of Americans support phasing out certain non-recyclable plastics altogether.
The public is increasingly demanding environmentally friendly options over plastic. Forbes reported, a company based in Morelia, Mexico, is making sustainable, biodegradable plastic out of agro-industrial waste. Bamboo is becoming a popular alternative. Of course, many are returning to poetry, glass and paper bags. But all consumers are still faced by single use plastic daily.
“Consumers shouldn’t have to face choosing between buying products wrapped in single-use plastics or going without necessities. This bill will finally eliminate single-use plastics,” said Jenna Wadsworth, Supervisor of the Wake County Soil & Water Conservation District Board, (NC), program director EOPA. “The silver lining is that we have alternatives to plastics, with crops that can be used as biodegradable solutions, and reclaim clothing markets that rely on oil-based polyester. In many states, hemp is becoming an important alternative.”
As we build back better from the pandemic economic crisis, we must institute systemic reforms that provide equitable protection against the environmental and health damage caused by plastics, while also creating new jobs.
“Everywhere we look, plastic products confront us. Our lives have been invaded with this toxic oil-based technology. It wasn’t too long ago, when society managed without plastics. We can do it again, and leave the planet a better place than it is today — for our children. I’m horrified knowing that my kid, that all of us, consume a credit card’s worth of plastic every week,” said Mayor Heidi Harmon, San Luis Obispo, California, EOPA — CA Co-chair.
Ridding the world of unnecessary plastics will grow jobs. Zero waste systems create over 200 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators, thereby yielding the most environmental benefits and the most jobs of any waste management approach.
“The 250,000 businesses the American Sustainable Business Council represents understand how plastic waste and toxins unnecessarily burden our economy and our lives,” said David Levine, ASBC Co-founder and President. “Solutions exist and can be expanded with research and development of new, safer, reusable and recyclable materials and innovative processes which will cut business costs and create economic opportunities and new jobs.”
How did the plastic crisis get to this tipping point?
The rise of plastic is tied to the rise of oil and gas. Then, industry discovered the ease that oil could be made into cheap, disposable, single-use plastic packaging. In June, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported on how the United States’ natural gas boom was translating into cheaper plastic pellets.
In a joint investigation, NPR and PBS Frontline found that oil and gas companies knew it was cheaper to make new plastic items than to try and sort and melt items, transforming them into new products. Plus, because plastic degrades, much of it can not be recycled. But for decades, the industry spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite, actively encouraging consumers to recycle. Starting in the 1990s, commercials about recycling plastic were paid for by the plastics industry, made up of companies like Exxon, Chevron, Dow, and DuPont.
The unsuspecting public, wanting to protect the environment, looked for the three R’s on products, believing the triangle of three R’s meant the item would be recycled. In the majority of cases it doesn’t. It’s there mainly for sorting purposes. Industry sold the public on an idea they had no intention of fulfilling — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled. All the while, they raked in billions of dollars selling the world new plastic items.
In 2020 alone, more than 200 bills were introduced across 35 states aimed at halting plastic pollution. These included ERP, single-use plastic bans, anti-preemption bills and more showing the momentum behind the movement.
The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act is endorsed by over 400 groups.
Hold big corporations for their pollution by requiring producers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs;
Spur innovation, incentivizing big corporations to make reusable products and items that can actually be recycled;
Create a nationwide beverage container refund program, and establishing minimum recycled content requirements for containers, packaging, and food-service products;
Reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable;
Eliminate waste export loopholes by banning exports to countries who re-export waste outside of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD);
Require the National Academy of Science to study and assess the direct and cumulative health, environmental, and economic impacts of plastic waste incinerators and other similar technology;
Establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling; and
Generate massive investments in U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure, while pressing pause on new plastic facilities until critical environment and health protections are put in place.