February 11, 2020

Udall, Lowenthal, Merkley, Clark Unveil Landmark Legislation to Break Free From Plastic Pollution

Bill tackles the most common forms of plastic pollution, saves taxpayers billions and holds large corporations accountable for waste

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), will unveil the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, legislation that would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products, hold corporations accountable for wasteful products, reduce wasteful packaging, and reform our broken waste and recycling collection system. 

Recent reports estimate that each person consumes a credit card’s worth of plastic per week. That's because plastic is everywhere and it doesn’t biodegrade. Plastic breaks down into micro-plastics that are found in rainwater on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, in farmland soil that produces our food, and in our lakes, rivers, and seas. Plastic production is also a major contributor to climate change, with its production expected to account for 20 percent of global oil consumption by 2050. Meanwhile, 92 percent of U.S. plastic waste is never recycled.  By shifting the responsibility for recycling and cleanup to the companies that produce wasteful products, practical waste reduction and waste management policies can reverse this trend and put the United States on a path to break free from plastic pollution.   

“The plastic pollution crisis is past the tipping point: our communities, our waterways, and even our bodies are at risk,” said Udall. “We are already bearing the cleanup costs of mountains of plastic waste, and it will only get worse for future generations. We have a responsibility to act now before the overwhelming public health, environmental, climate and economic effects of plastic pollution reach the point of no return. Our solutions are not only possible—they are practical and are already being implemented in cities and states across the country, including in my home state of New Mexico. But we need a comprehensive, national strategy to tackle this tidal wave of pollution before it is too late. We must drive the innovation necessary to break free from this unnecessary, toxic waste stream that is also accelerating the destruction of our planet via climate change. 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.”

“After decades of treating our land, waterways, and oceans as plastic waste dumping grounds, we now face a global plastic pollution crisis,” said Lowenthal. “Recent scientific studies show that plastic waste particles are now found everywhere we look—in the soil, in the rainwater, in the food chain, and even inside our own bodies. Our legislation applies one of the core principles of environmental law: ‘the polluter pays.’ It is time for multi-billion-dollar companies to step up and cover the costs of cleaning up the waste from their products. As a major exporter of plastics waste, we also have a responsibility and a duty to address this problem. We are running out of time to deal with this crisis of our own creation, and this legislation is a bold first step on the path to implementing lasting solutions.”

“Nobody wants their children ingesting dangerous chemicals and microscopic plastics,” said Merkley. “Nobody wants to go to the beach and see mountains of single-use plastic waste.  And plastic production is a major drive of pollution accelerating the climate crisis.  An America innovative enough to create a million uses for plastic is innovative enough to create better alternatives if we create the right incentives.  Our kids' health and futures depend on America solving this problem.”

“The American people understand the threat of climate change,” said Clark. “Today we are meeting their call for action with a comprehensive solution to one of the leading contributors of carbon dioxide production: plastics. This bill will rein in waste, improve recycling, decrease harmful emissions, and ensure plastics don’t continue to wind up in our oceans. We are presenting a bold plan for immediate action because our future depends on it.” 

The Senate legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). In the House, it is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Ed Case (D-Hawaii-1), Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.-9), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.-11), Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.-16), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.-1), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.-20), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-2), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.-7), Rohit Khanna (D-Calif.-17), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-13), Mike Levin (D-Calif.-49), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.-33), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.-4), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.-6), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.-1), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-20), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine-1), Michael Quigley (D-Ill.-5), Jamin Raskin (D-Md.-8), Harley Rouda (D-Calif.-48), John Sarbanes (D-Md.-3),  Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.-9), Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.-3), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-13), Nydia M. Velazquez (D-N.Y.-7), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.-43), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.-1).

The legislation joins initiatives from a number of countries around the world to reduce plastic pollution, such as policies from the 28 member countries of the European Union, Canada, India and China.

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

The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act will 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.