New report by #BreakFreeFromPlastic and Coalition member organizations and allies identifies 13 solutions to reduce the environmental and health impacts of plastics, as well as five false solutions that should not receive federal funding
WASHINGTON— More than 250 organizations, including dozens of members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement, today released 13 recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to include in a stimulus package, infrastructure bill, and/or climate change legislation, in order to address the devastating impacts caused by plastic pollution.
As the United States builds back from our ongoing health and economic crisis, these systemic reforms would provide equitable protection against the environmental and health damage caused by plastics. By investing a minimum of $1.3 billion in solutions, the federal government would protect the health of the communities on the frontlines of extraction, plastic production and incineration (which are also being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic), stimulate innovation and jobs, and promote public health, cleaner communities, healthy oceans, and a more sustainable economy.
“The way federal tax dollars are spent reflects the priorities of the nation. Just as our country is wisely moving away from subsidizing fossil fuel production, we should stop funding fracked plastics. Instead, Congress should support innovation that provides alternatives to plastics. These alternatives are good for the environment, prevent pollution in environmental justice communities, and create local jobs,” said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator.
In a new report, 13 priorities to help transform the country’s extractive, throwaway culture into a regenerative, inclusive one that is good for our economy and environment were identified:
- $150 Million for Government Facilities, Educational Institutions, and Public Lands To Shift To Reusable Products
- $25 Million to Investigate and Pursue Violations of Environmental Laws by the Petrochemical Industry in Environmental Justice Communities
- $6 Million to Install Water Refill Stations to Replace Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles at National Parks and Across Public Lands
- $50 Million to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Improve Data Collection and Better Regulate the Plastics Industry
- $150 Million for Research on the Health Impacts of Plastics
- $500 Million to the EPA for Recycling Programs and Materials Recovery Facilities for Non-Plastic Recyclables
- $250 Million for Composting
- $50 Million to Develop Waste Reduction, Reuse and Refill Systems
- $1 Million for the Architect of the Capitol to Reduce Single-Use Plastic in the Capitol and Legislative Offices
- $25 Million for Green Chemistry
- $50 Million for AmeriCorps
- $20 Million to the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund for Stormwater, Trash, and Debris Capture Systems and Green Infrastructure Design
- $25 Million for Reducing and Mitigating Plastic in the Ocean
These recommendations address the immense damage caused across the full plastic supply chain: namely, gas extraction, production, manufacturing, distribution, use in consumer products, and disposal, which often takes the form of plastic waste being buried in landfills, dumped in waterways, or burned in incinerators. The policy solutions focus both “upstream” on eliminating the source of plastic production and its negative impacts, and “downstream” on mitigating the impacts in communities, on land, and in our oceans and rivers).
“The federal government should take responsibility for protecting communities and the environment. Real solutions to address the harms of plastic pollution are long overdue. Absolutely no community in the U.S. should have to pay the price of progress to benefit the few,” said Juan Parras, Executive Director with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S).
The plastic pollution crisis is an environmental justice emergency because the petrochemical industry, and the waste that it creates, disproportionately harms people of color and low-income communities. The federal government has the responsibility to protect historically marginalized people from the lasting damage imposed on them by corporate polluters.
“Indigenous communities across the United States are without a doubt some of the most impacted by the fossil fuel regime. In the U.S., our Treaties are supposed to guarantee that we have government-to-government consultation, but the federal government consistently and blatantly disregards us and allows the most egregious pollution to threaten our Lifeways and Cultures. Here in Oklahoma, we often live in cluster sites where plastic pellets from fracking flow through our wells and rivers. We have asthma rates at the top of the charts. Cancers and auto-immune diseases course through every family, and we live in multi-generational homes where COVID-19 cases attack entire families, often robbing us of our Wisdom Keepers. It’s imperative that the federal government take accountability for the trust responsibility to the Original Peoples of this land,” said Casey Camp-Horinek, Councilwoman, Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Womens’ Scalp Dance Society of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma.
The 257 organizations note that over 350 million tons of plastic are produced each year, of which 91 percent is not recycled, and that the U.S. produces the most plastic waste per capita of any country. “As the largest producer of plastic waste, the U.S. has a responsibility to lead the shift to reusable and refillable systems to combat plastic pollution. Single-use plastic is flooding the market, and Americans can’t find options to avoid it. The federal government can change course, help curb the 33 billion pounds of plastic entering our oceans each year and replace America’s plastic habit with zero-waste solutions,” said Christy Leavitt, Plastics Campaign Director with Oceana.
The recommendations also make clear that “to effectively reduce plastic pollution and stimulate economic growth, it is essential that the Administration and Congress do not promote false solutions in federal spending bills and other actions.” The coalition highlights five items that should not be included in any federal actions:
- The production, distribution, and export of plastic must be reduced.
- Chemical or “advanced” recycling is costly, polluting, and ineffective, and should not receive direct funding or loan guarantees.
- Plastic carbon sequestration is not a good policy.
- Downcycling is not the solution.
- Incineration under the guise of “waste to energy” or “waste to fuel” or gasification or pyrolysis is harmful and ineffective.
“Right now, there are two incinerators in the state of California, both located in and near communities of color. Modesto is one of the most populated cities in California without a basic curbside recycling program, which we believe is due to the contracts with local municipalities that require sending 800 tons of material per day to the incinerator. They want to make the maximum amount of profit, regardless of the health and economic consequences on the local community,” said Thomas Helme, Co-Founder and Project Director of Valley Improvement Projects.
The federal government must take action to eliminate single-use plastic in its own operations and to promote our country’s transition away from plastic production, overconsumption, and pollution. More specifically, federal funding must help stop plastic contamination at its source before it enters the marketplace, especially because plastic is often cleaned up at the public’s expense using tax dollars, rather than by the corporations who produced the plastic that pollutes these lands and waterways.
“Government leaders should do just that – lead the nation in exemplifying our shift away from single-use culture and toward reusable products. We call upon the federal government today to embrace the reusable/refillable culture,” said Angela Howe, Legal Director with Surfrider Foundation.
In addition to these new recommendations and points of concern, the Presidential Plastics Action Plan published on December 8, 2020, identifies important steps the Biden-Harris Administration can take today. Likewise, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which is expected to be reintroduced in 2021, identifies common sense actions the federal government can take to address the plastic pollution crisis.
“Plastic pollutes across its entire lifecycle—from extraction to use and disposal—and, at each stage, poses significant risks to human health. The U.S. needs Congressional Stimulus and Funding Bills that would transform our extractive, throwaway systems, eliminate sources of plastic production, and reduce the negative health and ‘downstream’ impacts in our frontline communities, and our soil, air and water,” said Julia Cohen, MPH, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Photo: The vast majority of the paper exported by the U.S. for recycling in Indonesia is contaminated with plastic waste. Photo by Ecoton.
Learn more at #breakfreefromplastic.