February 18, 2020

Following Major Report Revealing Many Plastic Recycling Labels Are Misleading Consumers, Udall Calls on Congress to Pass Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act

Udall: “This shocking report uncovers a sustainability scam: too many companies are pretending their plastic products are recyclable when that is often just not true”

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) called on Congress to take urgent action on the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act following the release of Greenpeace’s groundbreaking report revealing that very few plastic products can be accurately labeled as recyclable in the United States, rendering many products recycling labels misleading to consumers.  

“This shocking report uncovers a sustainability scam: too many companies are pretending their plastic products are recyclable when that is often just not true,” Udall said. “Highly profitable corporations are burdening local and municipal governments — and taxpayers — with billions of dollars a year to collect products that are labeled as recyclable because corporations want consumers to think they are making sustainable choices. Rather than designing truly sustainable products, many companies put a recycling label on a product knowing full well that taxpayers pick up the tab to deal with the waste. Well over 90 percent of the plastic products that Americans carefully sort into their blue bins end up in a landfill, incinerated, or shipped overseas. These same companies have failed to create a market for recycled content in new products and instead are overwhelming our limited recycling infrastructure with items that recyclers can’t sort or process.  We need to pass the Break Free From Plastic Pollution act to ensure that companies stop misleading consumers and take responsibility for their waste and incorporate recycled content into their new products.”

Key findings of the Greenpeace report “Circular Claims Fall Flat: Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability” include:

- Only PET #1 and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs, with acceptable “shrink sleeves” and labels, can be claimed as recyclable in the U.S. today, but many have labels that render them functionally non-recyclable.

- Plastics #3-7 have negligible-to-negative value.  Municipal recycling programs may collect, but do not actually recycle plastic #3-7 waste which is being sent to landfills or incinerated. Common plastic pollution items, including single use plastic food service and convenience products, cannot be legitimately claimed as recyclable in the U.S.

- Recyclable claims or labels on products other than PET #1 and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs are not accurate in the U.S. and expose companies to legal, reputational and financial liability risks. In the U.S., public claims of progress on recyclable, compostable or reusable products are subject to the requirements of the FTC Green Guides.

The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act would address the absolutely broken state of plastic recycling in the U.S. revealed by this report and provide badly-needed national leadership – reducing the amount of wasteful plastic and reforming our broken waste and recycling collection system. It will shift the burden of cleanup to where it belongs – to the corporations that produce this waste: 

- Require big corporations take responsibility for their pollution, 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, which is successful at the state level.

- Reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable.

- Establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling.

- Spur 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.

Practical solutions to reduce plastic pollution are already effective in a number of U.S. states. States such as Oregon that have implemented a bottle deposit program that refunds customers for recycling bottles, have seen an increase in the recycling rate to over 80%, or 16 times the national average. This legislation also encourages producers to design less wasteful products by ensuring they are responsible for cleanup costs and recycling infrastructure. The bill will also end the hazardous practice of exporting plastic waste overseas to developing countries that do not have the infrastructure in place to manage that waste, preventing harmful impacts to those countries and unnecessary leakage of plastic waste into rivers and waterways that feed our oceans.

The full text of the bill can be found HERE. A summary and extensive background materials can be found HERE.