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Legislation Needed to Get Rid of Plastic Pollution

Beyond Plastics Pushes for Plastic Reduction Legislation at its January 2023 Meeting

By Kathy Breslin, Conservation Group

Beyond Plastics, a grass-roots organization working to create legislation addressing plastic pollution, held a virtual meeting in January to discuss solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. Sustainable Marblehead member Kathy Breslin prepared this summary.

Every year, more plastic is produced and ends up polluting our land and waters. Only six percent of all plastic produced is ultimately recycled and many kinds of plastic are not recyclable at all.

Globally, 75 percent of the population favors a single-use plastics ban and government regulation of plastics. More than 80 percent of US voters want the government to take action to reduce plastic. However, building up the political pressure to create policy and see the results takes a decade or more.

Legislation reducing the plastic produced is the first priority, followed by reuse and recycling. Packaging standards are needed to increase reuse and recycling.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach whereby producers take responsibility for managing the disposal of products they produce. All of Europe, most of Canada and four US states have passed packaging EPR laws, but all fall short of where we need to be.

Toxic chemicals embedded in plastic packaging also need to be eliminated. Burning of plastics (called “chemical” or “advanced” recycling) releases air, water and land pollution and should be banned.

However, plastics producers have been strongly lobbying legislators and regulators and have advocated for weak EPR policies which accomplish very little. We need a counterproposal.

EPR and the Bottle Bill

Combining new bottle bills with EPR results in much higher recycling rates. Putting deposits on single-use plastic bottles results in much higher recycling rates of bottles – 63 percent vs. 17 percent for bottles without deposits. In addition, companies buying recycled bottles pay a higher price for deposit bottles than for non-deposit bottles, because they are much cleaner and can therefore be recycled into food-grade material. All beverage containers need to be covered under bottle bills, according to Beyond Plastics.

Voluntary commitments by corporations to use more recycled plastic in their packaging products have not been effective. Companies have also exploited EPR law loopholes, such as in California where the law exempts “single-use material that presents unique challenges in complying.” Existing EPR laws allow producers to govern themselves and Beyond Plastics believes that a third party is needed to evaluate and enforce the laws.

Goals recommended by Beyond Plastics are:

  • 50 percent packaging reduction over 10 years.

  • 70 percent recycling of packaging over 12 years.

  • Eliminating toxins from plastic packaging.

  • Increase products sold without packaging.

  • Encourage reuse and refill options.

False Recycling

“Chemical” recycling is actually not recycling. It involves incineration, requiring fossil fuels and turns 10 tons of plastic into one ton of low-grade fossil fuel, yielding no “recyclable” product. The toxic gases released into the air or water during the process cause further pollution. Combustion facilities are regulated under the Clean Water Act, but some states and localities have granted these facilities exemptions, due to claims that no oxygen is added during combustion, when in fact there is always some oxygen present.

Twenty states have now passed legislation promoting chemical “recycling,” and some provide subsidies using public funds for these facilities.

Beyond Plastics recommends these solutions:

  • Prevent pro-chemical “recycling” bills at the state level.

  • Introduce preemptive chemical “recycling” bans.

  • Address chemical “recycling” in EPR policy

Plastic bags

Beyond Plastics recommends banning all plastic film bags, and not basing the ban on bag thickness. Nine states already ban single-use plastic bags and 500 local communities ban them, although some bans are based on the millimeter thickness of the bags.

Nevertheless, 18 states have preemptively made it impossible for localities to ban single-use plastic bags.

Beyond Plastics recommends these specifications for reusable bags:

  • A reusable bag is not made of plastic.

  • It is machine washable, and preferably machine dryable.

  • It can carry 12 pounds over a 300-foot distance.

  • It is specifically designed and manufactured for at least 175 uses.

Marblehead already bans plastic bags, but we have a long way to go before single-use plastic completely disappears from our town.

Sustainable Marblehead promotes single-use plastic reduction by helping install water-filling stations in schools and parks. During Plastic-free July we posted plastic-reduction tips every day to our Instagram feed. Check out the posts to see how you can do your part to eliminate single-use plastic from your life.


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