New U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Rule Fails to Reduce Single-Use Plastics

The U.S. Government has failed to implement a robust plan to reduce its usage of single-use plastics. Instead, today a narrow rule comes into effect that does little to incentivize change to address plastic pollution. 

The rule was finalized on June 6, 2024, and is overseen by the General Services Administration (GSA), which is the federal agency that oversees procurement for the U.S. Government. As the world’s biggest buyer of goods and services, the U.S. Government has decision-making power that is felt around the world. 

In February 2022, a petition led by Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) Member Center of Biological Diversity and supported by 180 other community and conservation groups called on the GSA to reduce and eliminate its purchasing and use of single-use plastics. In response, the GSA called for public comment to help shape the present rules in purchasing single-use plastics contained within agency contracts. In February 2024, PPC Member Oceana submitted comments to the GSA as part of the public comment period on the proposed rule and delivered more than 6,900 petition signatures calling on the federal government to reduce its purchase of single-use plastics.

Unfortunately, despite an outpouring of comments calling for change, the GSA did not establish a rule requiring any reduction or elimination of its purchasing and use of single-use plastics. In fact, it responded to comments calling on the GSA to stop buying single-use plastic products by stating “seeking to ban these products is outside the scope of this rulemaking.” Instead, in its final rule the GSA simply added an icon to its internal purchasing platforms, which identifies packaging that is free of single-use plastic. 

Again, the rule does not actually require that the GSA purchase less single-use plastic—choices are voluntary. Nor does the rule allow for third-party verifiers to ensure that the GSA does not buy single-use plastics; the GSA also stated that having such verification was outside the scope of rulemaking, diminishing the transparency and accountability of the GSA’s purchasing decisions.

Last year, a nationwide poll showed that more than 80% of Americans are concerned about single-use plastic products and support a reduction in the federal government’s use of single-use plastics. Another poll this year found that a decisive majority of the U.S. public supports measures to reduce the production of plastics.

The new GSA rule represents another missed opportunity for the U.S. Government to take real action on plastic pollution and is out of line with the desires of most Americans. As the world’s biggest plastic polluter, the U.S. must take swift and serious responsibility to address plastic pollution at the source. Instead of stepping around the solutions we need, we need the U.S. Government to incentivize and implement reusable, refillable plastic-free solutions—which exist today.

 — Julia Cohen, PPC Co-Founder and Managing Director

Take Action

It’s not too late for the U.S. Government to take action to address plastic pollution. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 expands and improves upon earlier versions of the bill by tapping into proven solutions that will better protect impacted communities, reform our broken recycling system, and shift the financial burden of waste management off of municipalities and taxpayers to where it belongs: the producers of plastic pollution. It builds on successful statewide laws across the country and outlines practical plastic reduction strategies to realize a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable future.

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