550 Groups Ask Biden to Solve Plastic Pollution Crisis With Eight Executive Actions

Presidential Plastics Action Plan Urges Incoming President to Stop New Plastic Production, Regulate Petrochemical Industry, Reduce Plastic Pollution

WASHINGTON— A coalition of more than 550 community and conservation organizations, including many members in the #breakfreefromplastic movement, today released its Presidential Plastics Action Plan, urging President-elect Joe Biden to take eight key executive actions to solve the plastic pollution crisis and become a #PlasticFreePresident.

These include a moratorium on new plastic production facilities, using federal purchasing power to curb single-use plastics, tightening up regulation of the petrochemical industry, ending fossil fuel subsidies and protecting environmental justice communities from pollution.

The plan responds to the plastic industry’s aggressive expansion of facilities using the country’s oversupply of fracked gas to make throwaway plastic that fills our oceans, landfills and landscapes. Petrochemical-plastic projects harm frontline communities with toxic air and water pollution and worsen the climate crisis and the impact of the pandemic.

“President-elect Biden can begin solving the plastic pollution crisis in his first days in office without any help from Congress,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Implementing this historic plan would protect vulnerable frontline communities and marine life while addressing a key driver of climate change. It’s time to rein in the fossil fuel industry’s insidious plans to keep fracking for plastic and polluting poor communities here and around the world.”

The Presidential Plastics Action Plan includes detailed steps Biden can take as part of eight priority actions:

  1. Use the purchasing power of the federal government to eliminate single-use plastic items and replace them with reusable products;
  2. Suspend and deny permits for new or expanded plastic production facilities, associated infrastructure projects, and exports;
  3. Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions;
  4. Advance environmental justice in petrochemical corridors;
  5. Update existing federal regulations using the best available science and technology to curtail pollution from plastic facilities;
  6. Stop subsidizing plastic producers;
  7. Join international efforts to address the global plastic pollution crisis through new and strengthened multilateral agreements;
  8. Reduce and mitigate the impacts of abandoned, discarded and lost fishing gear.

“Plastic pollutes at every stage of its existence, from extraction, use, to disposal,” said Julia Cohen, MPH, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “Our 1,200 member groups and businesses that form Plastic Pollution Coalition support this U.S Presidential Plastics Action Plan as a much needed step toward a plastic pollution-free America and a more just, equitable world.”

“There is nothing common-sense about increasing cancer rates, sterility, or developmental issues in poor communities of color just for plastic. I support the Presidential Plastics Action Plan because plastic is not worth the sacrifice,” said Yvette Arellano with Fenceline Watch. “My state of Texas leads the country in rates of uninsured people yet is home to the largest petrochemical complex; more plastic will only benefit one of those. Instead let’s reinvest in healthcare, healthy jobs, education, and ending a global pandemic.”

Today’s plan builds on the momentum of the Break Free From Plastic movement and the bill by the same name. The plan is endorsed by more than 550 groups, from national environmental organizations to small community groups fighting plastic pollution.

“We must fight for a just transition to a healthier and sustainable future. Our next generation’s future depends on what we do today,” said Frankie Orona with Society of Native Nations. “Human beings have taken more than what’s been given back, which is why Mother Earth is now in dire need of help. We need to stop the plastic pollution and the toxic chemicals in the water, air, and land, in order to protect our children and all life that coexists on our planet.”

“Plastic production and pollution impact public health, the environment, and climate and it has reached crisis levels around the world, with the United States as one of the biggest contributors. It is for this reason that Sen.Tom Udall, Sen. Jeff Merkley, and I introduced the comprehensive Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act this year, and will reintroduce it next year,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). “The Presidential Plastics Action Plan lays out how the incoming Biden Administration can lead on this plastic waste issue and enact real solutions like updating important regulations and greater cooperation with the international community. We are running out of time to deal with this crisis, but our bill and the Presidential Plastics Action Plan are important approaches to put us on the right track moving forward.”

“Elegant, sophisticated, and scalable circular economy solutions have exploded onto the market representing both consumer and business demand for superior options to single-use disposables,” said Dr. Dagny Tucker, founder of VESSEL. Beyond the intrinsic benefit of circular solutions to the environment and human health; governments also stand to save on the significant costs of waste disposal incurred through hyper-disposability and seen in overflowing waste bins on every city corner. The solutions are here. Now is the time to adopt the policies and implement the funding that will both avert the pollution crisis and herald a healthier, more equitable, and vibrant future.”

“Latino communities stand up for solutions that protect our air, water, ocean and our communities which are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis,” said Mariana Del Valle Prieto Cervantes, Clean & Healthy Water Advocate for GreenLatinos. “Through this Presidential Plastics Action Plan, President Biden has an opportunity to not just lead us towards a regenerative economy but also protect our communities from the harmful pollution made by plastic production.”

The plan dispels the industry-promoted myth that most plastic can be recycled, citing federal figures that only about 8% of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled. Plastic pollution accumulating in the oceans is predicted to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.

“Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services has been working on Environmental Justice Issues around the Houston Ship Channel for over 20 years, and it is time for our leaders to take action and break away from the toxic cycles in plastic pollution by supporting the Presidential Plastic’s Action Plan,” said Juan Parras, Executive Director with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “We must ensure our frontline workers are protected and ensure a just transition, and the concerns of frontline voices are included and addressed at the decision-making tables.”

“Surfrider Foundation normally approaches this problem through beach cleanups and proactively with the power of legislative proposals, but there’s untapped potential in the executive branch,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation’s legal director. “We’re calling upon this power today to solve the crisis of plastic pollution. Our ocean is dying a death of a thousand cuts, and we need a powerful, multifaceted approach to address it.”

The plan calls for Biden to appoint a Plastic Pollution Czar to coordinate plastic reduction efforts across federal agencies and internationally. It also asks him to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new ways to measure and reduce plastic pollution and to update and better enforce its decades-old regulations for petrochemical plants that make plastic – something many groups behind this plan also demanded of the EPA in a pair of legal petitions last year.

“Rejoining the international community means not only rejoining Paris, it means joining the global fight against plastics as a partner, not an obstruction,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law. “President-elect Biden should commit the United States to actively support a new global treaty on plastic pollution; use U.S. trade power to support real development, not plastic polluters; and move quickly to reverse U.S. subsidies and export policies that are accelerating the plastic crisis globally.”

Today’s plan is endorsed by actress and activist Rosario Dawson, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and frontline activists like Sharon Lavigne, who is leading the fight against Formosa’s plan to build one of the world’s biggest plastic plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana—a historically Black community in the region known as “Cancer Alley” (due to the health impacts of the petrochemical facilities in the area), which has recorded some of the highest death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If the Formosa Plastics complex is built, it would be a death sentence for St. James Parish. We already have so many people dying here, mostly from cancer, and others with terrible reproductive issues. If the petrochemical buildout continues, we won’t be able to breathe the air and we will die,” said Sharon Lavigne, Founder and President of RISE St. James. “We are asking the Biden Administration to consider the lives of the people here in St. James Parish and take action to protect us.”

“Plastics and the fossil fuels they’re created from are contributing to a global catastrophe. The more than 250,000 responsible businesses we represent stand ready to work with the Biden administration to reduce our reliance on plastic,” said David Levine, president and cofounder of the American Sustainable Business Council. “Together we can overhaul how we design, manufacture and distribute our products, transitioning from single-use plastics to a circular, sustainable economy that creates new business opportunities and more jobs.”

Activists across the country also recorded segments for a new video urging Biden to adopt the plan and become the first #PlasticFreePresident. They also projected messages calling out plastic pollution on significant buildings in San Francisco, New Orleans and other cities. The video and images are available for media use here.

“Everyone in America—regardless of the color of their skin, where they live, or how wealthy their community is—should be able to take a breath or pour a glass of water without ingesting dangerous chemicals and microscopic plastics,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley. “Nobody wants to go to the beach and see mountains of single-use plastic waste. And plastic production is a major driver of pollution accelerating the climate crisis that has already claimed lives and livelihoods in every corner of our country.  America was creative enough to invent a million uses for plastic, and now we have to use that creativity to clean up our act and design better alternatives.  Our kids’ health and futures depend on America tackling this urgent problem.”

Convening partners for the plan are: Azulita Project, Beyond Plastics, Break Free From Plastic, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Coalfield Justice, Center for International Environmental Law, Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education, Clean Air Council, Earthworks, Food and Water Watch, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Last Beach Clean Up, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, and Wishtoyo Foundation.

For a full list of supporting organizations, click here. To learn more, visit plasticfreepresident.org

Last week, the UN held the final Expert Group meeting on marine litter and microplastics, one of the last formal steps before United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) discusses creation of an international negotiating committee.

Support is growing internationally for the global treaty on plastic pollution, even though the US and the UK have failed to signal their participation. Learn more about the meeting in the new issue of Progress on Plastics, summarizing the meeting, available here.

UNEA and parties to several global environmental instruments have taken an interest in plastic pollution, recognizing it as a serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern which requires an urgent and global response.

In 2017, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) formed an Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHEG) of member states, industry representatives, and other stakeholder experts to analyze information and report options for combating marine plastic litter and microplastics.

Updates have previously been reported from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd meetings, and the AHEG met for the 4th time on 9 – 13 November 2020, in a virtual environment.

Members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, and broader stakeholder groups have been active throughout these meetings to prioritize the urgency of the global plastic crisis and the harms exacted across the full supply chain and life cycle of plastics.

The more than 1,800 worldwide member organizations of #breakfreefromplastic have endorsed the pursuit of a new legally binding global governance structure for plastics, based on a four-pillar strategy.

Read Past and Current Issues of Progress on Plastics.

Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted TEDxPlasticPollutionCoalition on Oct. 14, where speakers from across the globe addressed plastic pollution and its connection to climate, justice, health, and equity. This event was part of the inaugural TED Countdown, a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action.

Watch TEDxPlasticPollutionCoalition now.

Featured speakers and performers included:

  • Dianna Cohen, Visual Artist and Co-Founder & CEO, Plastic Pollution Coalition
  • Cole Hall, PPC Youth Ambassador
  • Chris Anderson, Head of TED 
  • Lindsay Levin, Entrepreneur, Activist
  • Alfre Woodard, Actor/Producer
  • Xiye Bastida, Climate Youth Activist and Co-Founder, Re-Earth Initiative
  • Amanda Gorman, Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States
  • Van Jones, CNN Political Contributor, Host of the Van Jones Show and The Redemption Project
  • Yvette Arellano, Frontline Environmental Justice Advocate
  • Jackson Browne, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Singer and Songwriter, featuring Watkins Family Hour
  • David Lammy, Member of Parliament, UK 
  • Keb’ Mo, Grammy Award-winning Singer and Songwriter

Together we can stop plastic pollution. Get involved by signing a petition, joining our global Coalition, or donating to support our work. Thank you for adding your voice!

Plastic Pollution Coalition member Beyond Plastics is organization action to urge U.S. Congress to reject the pro-plastic Save Our Seas Act 2.0 (Senate Bill 1982)  and introduce meaningful legislation to address the ocean plastic crisis.

Here’s how you can help:

More than 100 organizations and notables have signed on now to urge the Senate to reject Save Our Seas 2.0 and embrace effective solutions.

Sign on to the letter >>

Take two minutes right now to let your Senators know you want them to vote “No” on this deeply flawed and ineffective bill. There’s a good reason that the plastics industry is so enthusiastic about Save Our Seas – because it won’t force them to stop churning out the single-use plastic that’s drowning our oceans. And that is exactly why we need to stop it and demand real leadership from Congress. The floor vote is coming up very soon so please don’t delay. Email your Senators now >>

Take the next step and call your Senators to make sure they get the message. Call you Senator now >> 

Join our global Coalition.

Via PPC Member GAIA

Rep. Ilhan Omar Introduces Zero Waste Act 

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced the Zero Waste Act on July 25 to invest in solutions that address the waste epidemic plaguing our country. These funds will go towards reducing landfills and incinerators that emit toxic pollution into our communities, especially in low income communities or communities of color.

“We can imagine a future where we prioritize people’s health, the environment, and justice, knowing our fates are tied together,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar. “Today, we need elected leaders to champion solutions that match the scope of the challenges we face. Addressing the waste crisis is critical to preventing further damage to our climate—it’s integral to racial justice and a clean, equitable future.”

The bill will create a federal grant program to help local cities to invest in zero waste initiatives. These funds can go towards recycling infrastructure, or towards the creation of partnerships with local businesses aimed at reducing waste in their operations. The Zero Waste Act will create jobs, grow domestic manufacturing, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean waterways, protect our communities from health hazards, save energy, and further grow our economy.

Landfills were responsible for 103 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emitted as of 2011, or 18 percent of all methane emissions. Waste is also an environmental justice issue. Nearly 80% of incinerators are placed in low-income areas or near communities of color and indigenous lands—including North Minneapolis and the Phillips neighborhood in Minnesota’s 5th District. 

Original co-sponsors include Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Deb Haaland, Betty McCollum, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Ayanna Pressley, Chellie Pingree and Gwen Moore.

The bill is endorsed by the following organizations Plastic Pollution Coalition, City of Minneapolis, Eureka Recycling, Zero Waste Washington, US Composting Council, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Climate Generation, Surfrider Foundation, TakeAction Minnesota, Minnesota Composting Council.

You can watch the bill introduction here and find the full text here.

Join our global Coalition.

By Jan Dell, Independent Engineer

Recycling rates for waste plastic are sinking in the United States, so why is recycling still being promoted as the solution to plastic pollution? When stakeholders ask companies to act to reduce plastic pollution, the companies often respond with statements about their commitment to recycling and plans to use recyclable materials for packaging.

The relentless focus on the future path for recycling plastic packaging flies in the face of the hard facts: plastic waste generation is increasing in the U.S., exports counted as recycled have cratered due to China’s ban, costs of recycling are increasing since many trucks are needed to collect the widely dispersed waste, and plastic production expansion is keeping the prices of new plastics comparatively low. These factors work against the key premise that waste plastic will someday have sufficient value to drive reclaiming it rather than disposing of it.

It’s been frequently said: A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. We’ve seen promises, goals, ambitions, and aims from companies for nearly 30 years to increase recycled content and reduce the number of plastic bags they hand out. During that time, plastic use and pollution has increased as well-documented by Jenna Jambeck, Roland Geyer, and other researchers. The United States ranks 20th on the list of countries contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean with an estimated 88 to 242 million pounds/year of plastic marine debris. The annual International Coastal Cleanup confirmed the evidence of plastic pollution on U.S. coasts in 2017 when more than 3.7 million pounds of trash, the majority of it plastic, was collected by 209,643 people on a single day.

Participating in a clean up? Visit the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit Toolkit.

In July 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published solid waste and recycling statistics for 2015. Since we don’t treasure it, it should come as no surprise that it takes so long to measure it. An unwelcome surprise is that U.S. plastic waste generation rose while the amount recycled declined from the previous year. And that happened while China was still importing nearly a million tons of our plastic waste. But that has dramatically changed. According to Resource Recycling, during the first half of 2018, 30 million pounds were exported to China, down from 379 million during the first half of 2017. Plastic waste exports to China are further challenged by China’s new 25 percent tariff on “recovered” plastics, which began on August 23, 2018. Since China isn’t accepting our boatloads of plastic waste any longer, the 2018 U.S. plastic recycling rate must be even lower than in 2015.

Plastic pollution is a blight in our cities and on our landscapes and harms our rivers and oceans. As an independent engineer on a quest to end litter now, I don’t want to wait until 2021 to find out how low our 2018 plastic recycling rate is to dispel the myth that recycling has a practical, probable chance of creating sufficient value for plastic waste that solves pollution. We can’t afford to be distracted from working on serious actions now.

Based on USEPA data, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) trade statistics, and industry news source Recycling Resources, I estimate that the U.S. plastic recycling rate will sink from 9.1% in 2015 to 4.4% in 2018. The recycling rate could drop to 2.9% in 2019 if other countries in Asia follow China’s path on import bans or the proposed Basel Convention amendment prohibits the U.S. from shipping plastic waste to those countries.

While it’s not possible to make an exact prediction, this is a solid engineering estimate of material flows based on historical data and current events. Perhaps the recycling rate will be slightly higher if exports increase or, even better, plastic waste generation decreases.

Most importantly, the projected <5% U.S. plastic recycling rate in 2018 should be a wake-up call to the false promise that the existing voluntary, economic-driven U.S. recycling system is a credible solution to plastic pollution. It’s time to implement real solutions to plastic pollution, particularly the reduction of single use plastics in “on-the-go” situations that have the highest likelihood of polluting our environment. Practical solutions include ending the distribution of plastic bags, plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene foam containers from fast food and retail operations. A proven way to reduce plastic bottle pollution exists and could be implemented today: beverage and retail companies should be mandated to operate reverse vending machines and incentivize container return everywhere that they sell beverages in plastic bottles.

Projection Basis and Assumptions:

The traceable account of the plastic waste generation and recycling rates is provided below. It has been peer reviewed by a diverse group of people working in the environmental arena. The author welcomes being informed of other relevant and credible datasets that may change the estimation and will update the calculation and this article as appropriate.

U.S. Plastic Recycling Rate

Calculation Basis:

1)  Total U.S. plastic waste generation grows 3.8% per year (2015 vs 2014 growth rate from USEPA) from 34.5 million tons in 2015 to 38.5 million tons in 2018.

2)  U.S. plastic recycled remains equal to 2015 (0.94 million tons).  There is no solid evidence that plastic recycling capacity or company purchases have increased since 2015.  Conversely, according to the 2016 NAPCOR PET Container Recycling Activity report, 7 of 28 PET recyclers shutdown removing 16.6% of processing capacity.  The economics of plastic recycling will continue to be challenged by expansion of new, cheap plastic production on U.S. Gulf Coast (as acknowledged by the Plastics Industry Association in a study of polyethylene film recycling)

3)  U.S. plastic waste composting weight remains at zero because industrial composting facilities for municipal solid waste are not available in the U.S.

4)  U.S. plastic waste burned for energy generation remains equal to 2015 because new waste-to-energy facilities have not come online and some have closed.

5)  2018: China has imported only 150 million pounds of plastic waste from U.S. (according to Resource Recycling citing U.S. export figures).

6)  2018: Other countries import same waste plastic weights as in 2017.  This is a reasonable estimate because while several countries initially increased imports, they are now issuing temporary bans and import restrictions.

7)  2019: China and Hong Kong import zero plastic waste from U.S.

8)  2019: Other Southeast Asian countries import zero plastic waste from U.S. due to their own concerns on environmental degradation and/or restrictions by Basel Convention (proposed by Norway).

*An earlier version of this article misattributed the insanity quote to Albert Einstein.

Jan Dell, PE,  is a registered chemical engineer and author of The Last Beach Cleanup (to be published in 2019). Jan has worked with companies in diverse industries to implement sustainable business and climate resiliency practices in their operations, communities and supply chains in more than 40 countries. Appointed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Jan was a member of the U.S. Federal Committee that led the 3rd National Climate Assessment from 2010 to 2014 and the Vice Chair of the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee on the Sustained National Climate Assessment in 2016-2017. Send her an email here.

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