Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator; and Dr. Pete Myers, Founder, CEO, and Chief Scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, testified in December 2022 before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight. Both are scientific experts on plastic and Plastic Pollution Coalition Advisors. This is the first time such a hearing has been convened to discuss the plastic pollution crisis.
Shifting the Narrative
Historically, the plastics and fossil fuel industries, government interests, and those who benefit economically and politically from plastics have maintained control of the narrative around plastics as the material continues to harm the entire human population and degrade the Earth. That’s why plastic pollution continues growing worse, not better, despite the “solutions” that industries, governments, and corporations promise.
Opening the hearing, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Chairman of the Subcommittee, laid out key facts about the plastic pollution crisis and its wide range of harmful consequences for people and the planet. Merkley stated that the ways we have previously attempted to solve plastic pollution have fallen far short in addressing the core cause of the problem: continued plastic production.
“Now most of us have heard of the three Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle. That sounds like a magical way to address this challenge. But here’s the story with plastics: it’s not three Rs, it’s three Bs: They’re buried, they’re burned, or they’re borne out to sea.”— Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
The problem with plastic is that it was not designed to be recycled, and despite the plastic industry’s claims that plastic is being recycled, very little of it is actually getting another life. And even in the rare cases when plastics are recycled, an even greater challenge with this material exists: plastics are toxic.
Dr. Pete Myers was the first expert to testify, focusing on the toxicity of plastics and the numerous ways it harms human health, primarily by disrupting how hormones work in the human body. According to Dr. Myers, what’s at stake is no less than human survival.
“Over the last five decades there has been a 50% decline in sperm count in adult men. Just this past month a study came out to see that the rate of decline is speeding up, it’s not slowing down, and it’s global. Not just sperm count but other features of male and female infertility are worsening also. If the current rate of sperm count declines, it will decline asymptotically to zero by the 2040s.”— Dr. Pete Myers, Founder, CEO, and Chief Scientist of Environmental Health Sciences
Similarly, Judith Enck in her testimony presented serious facts about how plastics—especially single-use plastics—cause widespread harm and environmental injustice, and highlighted the real solutions which will significantly and meaningfully reduce plastic pollution and injustice.
“We need major new federal legislation to significantly reduce the production, use, and disposal of plastics, and we need it now….my primary recommendation is for Congress to adopt a law establishing the goal of reducing the production of plastic by 50% over the next 10 years and providing enforcement mechanisms and federal funding to achieve this goal.”— Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator
End Industry Interference
Despite the alarming facts about plastic now more clear than ever, and with a wave of awareness of the crisis growing, industries and some members of government appear to be prioritizing profits over people. As is unfortunately common practice, at this hearing like at others, members of government appear to be “inviting the fox into the henhouse” when allowing industries to comment on how their businesses should be regulated.
In addition to Myers and Enck, the other two speakers invited to testify at the hearing included plastic industry representatives Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, which is historically the plastic industry’s most vocal and impactful trade group, and Eric Hartz, co-founder and president of “advanced recycling” corporation Nexus Circular.
The industry representatives in their testimony chose to not discuss facts or the dire health and social issues plastic causes. Instead, they presented false “solutions,” specifically various forms of plastic “recycling,” which delay real action and enable corporations to produce ever-increasing amounts of plastics for ever-increasing profits. The industry reps also discussed at length the economic implications of making plastics—something that matters to multi-billion dollar fossil fuel and plastics corporations—not everyday people who are worst harmed.
Support Real Solutions
While the industry testimony contrasted sharply with the testimony of Enck and Myers, during the questioning round the scientific experts were quick to set the record straight on the industry’s false information. Enck and Myers also submitted invaluable written testimony laying out the truths about “advanced recycling” and other dangerous industry-drive false solutions—and explaining why these harmful technologies must be avoided.What’s more, they focused on real, systemic solutions that will solve the problem—if we support them and can allow plastic facts to override plastic industry fiction.
Senator Merkley is sponsor of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which is focused on:
- Addressing environmental injustices
- Improving recycling to the degree that can make a difference
- Eliminating unnecessary single-use plastics by supporting systems of reduction, refill, and reuse
- Increasing industry and corporate responsibility for plastics
- Introducing a strong national bottle bill to ensure plastics are collected
- Other measures to reduce the harms of plastics while reinforcing useful systems and values that protect and support people and the planet
“Pass the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, pass the National Bottle Bill, pass a sensible law called the Plastic Reduction and Recycling Research Act, also known as EPR, which has been introduced in state legislatures around the country. We don’t need a magical breakthrough, we need reduction, refill, and reuse, and if you absolutely cannot reduce or refill and reuse, then rely on paper, metal, glass. Get the toxics out, particularly out of the paper, and make sure that that material is made from recycled content and are easily recyclable.”— Judith Enck
Together we can build a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution! Learn more about the facts and solutions, and take action: sign petitions on important plastics issues, and pledge to cut your own plastic use.