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Must-Pass Federal Legislation

There is great excitement in the environmental community about the reintroduction of the “Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act” on the Federal level. This is a major bill that would finally, if passed, get a handle on the plastic pollution mess we have created since the 1950s. It is being introduced by Rep. Lowenthal (D-CA) in the House and Sen. Merkley (D-OR) in the Senate. The overarching theme is responsibility: producers would be required to take responsibility for the products they make from creation to disposal. It is called “Expanded Producer Responsibility” (EPR). The idea is that if producers have to think about how to recycle their products, they will use materials that either dissolve back into the environment or can be recycled into new products.

“Break Free” also places responsibility on the consumer by encouraging us to use reusable bags, bottles, straws, and other items. Retailers would charge for single-use bags (such as paper), but shoppers would get a 5-cent reward from participating retailers for bringing their own bags. The money collected by non-participating retailers would go toward clean-ups and recycling programs. Importantly, the bill requires us to deposit all our plastic and glass bottles into deposit machines for recycling (10 states already have such a program). Just think how that alone would cut down on all the water bottles we find lining our streets and waterways! The bill bans many single-use plastic items such as shopping bags, plastic straws, cups, and small complimentary bottles at hotels and motels. Styrofoam will be banned, including coolers and packing materials, except as it pertains to medical equipment. It bans more of the additives in plastics that cause harm to our bodies by disrupting our hormones and can cause cancer, obesity, and low sperm count among other negative effects.

“Break Free” places a three-year pause on the many plastic-producing factories that are currently planned or under construction. During those three years, new, stringent regulations will be developed to make these factories more environmentally safe. This is really important because more and more single-use plastic is being produced. The oil and gas industries are taking a financial hit due to the gradual movement toward renewable energy, so to make up for that loss, they are producing more and more single-use plastic which is made from oil and gas. Just take a look at your grocery store shelves, it is hard to find anything that is NOT wrapped in plastic. The Environmental Protection Agency will be required to standardize our confusing recycling and composting programs. While there is no way we can recycle our way out of the mess we are creating, we can at least improve the system we have and become educated about it. At this point, less than 10 percent of our plastic actually gets recycled. Another good thing the bill does is to require manufacturers to use increasing amounts of recycled plastics in their new products. This will strengthen the market for recycled plastics.

“Break Free” also bans the export of our plastic trash to overseas countries, something we have been doing for many years, causing immeasurable environmental damage. Back in 2019, China stopped accepting the import of recyclable materials from foreign countries, but we are still shipping it to other Asian countries. This means much of the material is never recycled. This is another reason for the U.S. to take responsibility for the debris created by our consumption, rather than shipping it out of sight, out of mind. So how do we get this hugely important bill passed by Congress? It is going to take a massive effort with everyone writing to their members of Congress. PFQAC, as a part of a national effort initiated by the Beyond Plastics organization, will be asking all of our readers, our friends, and families around the country to contact their legislators urging them to support the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act. We will be sending out a legislative alert soon. Stay tuned. PFQAC, as part of this effort, already met via Zoom with our Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen’s offices to urge the Senators to become cosponsors of S. 0000 [TBA]. Each office gave us 30 minutes to present our message. Our sizable group included high school and college youth who talked about the world they are inheriting and left the Senators with a plea to do their part to clean up the mess and right the wrongs. Summary of Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act:

  • Requires manufacturers to take responsibility for their products from beginning to end.

  • Places a temporary pause on incinerators until a scientific study of the health, environmental and economic impact of incineration has been completed.

  • Requires minimum standards for carryout bags (stitched handles).

  • Requires plastic beverage containers to include 50 percent recycled plastics by 2030.

  • Eliminates toxic chemicals in the definition of compostable materials.

  • Expands wet wipe labeling to clearly indicate proper disposal.

  • Supports reuse and refill programs by establishing pilot programs for reuse and refill technology.

  • Addresses microfibers by mandating filters on washing machines and funds pilot programs for the prevention of microplastic pollution.

  • Bans single-use mini-shampoos, soaps, and lotions in hotels/motels.

  • Bans expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) including coolers and shipping packaging.

  • Requires a study with action steps to reduce fishing gear litter.

  • Places an up to 3-year pause on permits for new and expanded plastic producing facilities while the EPA updates regulations to reduce environmental impacts.

  • Excludes personal protective equipment from being affected by this bill.

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