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New Bill Would Hold Plastic Producers Responsible For Plastic Pollution


The Break Free from Pollution Act seeks to shift responsibility for plastic pollution to plastic producers. Incentivizing end-of-use materials management is one step toward a more circular economy. A bill introduced last month would hold plastic producers responsible for plastic pollution. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Break Free From Pollution Act into the Senate and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced it into the House.

The act will shift the burden of cleanup to the corporations that produce the waste. It requires corporations to take responsibility for their pollution and require manufacturers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs.

The Break Free From Pollution Act creates a nationwide beverage container refund program and incentivizes corporations to make reusable products that can actually be recycled. It also bans certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable while establishing minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling. The goal would spur investments in both recycling in the U.S. and composting infrastructure.

“The plastic pollution crisis is past the tipping point: our communities, our waterways, and even our bodies are at risk,” said Senator Udall.

“This bill calls on all of us, from companies to communities, to address this crisis head-on so that we can create a plastic pollution-free world.”
Plastic pollution is a huge problem in the U.S.

Plastic product waste was 35.4 million tons or 13.2 percent of all waste in the U.S, an increase of four million tons from 2010 to 2017. The growth came from durable goods and containers and packaging. Plastic waste increased from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 13.2 percent in 2017. The recycling rate for plastic in 2017 was only 8.4 percent.

Plastic production in 2017 reached 8.3 billion metric tons and is expected to increase to 34 billion metric tons by 2050. Greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach 1.34 gigatons a year by 2030, equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants, according to a report by the Center for International Environmental Law. Greenhouse gas emissions from plastic by 2050 could reach over 56 gigatons. Most plastic comes from oil and all along the way, from extraction to transport to plastic production, greenhouse gases are emitted.

Refining plastic is one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive industries in the manufacturing sector and it is also the fastest-growing. In 2015, 24 ethylene facilities in the U.S. produced 17.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), emitting as much carbon dioxide as 3.8 million passenger vehicles. A Shell ethane cracker under construction in Pennsylvania could emit up to 2.25 million tons of CO2e a year while a new ExxonMobil ethylene plant in Baytown, Texas could release up to 1.4 million tons. Annual emissions from those two facilities would be equivalent to adding nearly 800,000 new cars to the road. There are more than 300 new and expanded petrochemical plants being built in the U.S., mainly for the production of plastic and plastic feedstocks.

Plastic is potentially harmful to human health. The average person may be ingesting about five grams of plastic every week, according to a study by the University of Newcastle, Australia. That is equivalent to a credit card’s worth of microplastics. Drinking water is the largest source of plastic ingestion, with plastic discovered in water all around the globe. Shellfish is another source, accounting for up to 0.5 grams a week. The reason is that shellfish are eaten whole, including their digestive system. The world’s oceans are teeming with plastic.


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