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New federal bill seeks to tackle plastic pollution, shift costs to producers

Houston — Federal lawmakers unveiled a new bill Tuesday in the latest attempt to tackle the plastic pollution crisis by shifting waste and recycling costs away from governments and on to companies.

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Besides shifting the costs, The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 bill aims creates a nation-wide container deposit system.

The bill, introduced by Representative Alan Lowenthal, Democrat-California, and Senator Tom Udall, Democrat-New Mexico, is co-sponsored by more than two dozen House members and five additional Senators. So far, no Republicans have endorsed the bill.

Udall cited increasing public concern over plastic pollution, environmental and human health, and climate change as motivations for the bill. "The plastic pollution crisis is past the tipping point: our communities, our waterways, and even our bodies are at risk," said Udall. "We are already bearing the cleanup costs of mountains of plastic waste, and it will only get worse for future generations."


Extended producer responsibility, or EPR, is a major component of the bill that would require packaging producers of all materials to fund waste and recycling programs, and hold companies accountable for the disposal of their products well after their intended use.

"[The legislation] removes the burden of waste collection and recycling from the cities, from states and most importantly from taxpayers, and puts it where it belongs: On the producers and the companies putting out these unsustainable products into the marketplace," said Lowenthal at a press conference Monday.

Other provisions of the bill include bans on single-use plastic items such as polystyrene containers, plastic utensils and takeaway bags, and other non-recyclable materials beginning January 2022. It would also require an incremental increase in the percentage of recycled material used in food-service products. For example, beverage bottles will have a requirement of 25% recycled content by 2025, 30% by 2030, 50% by 2035 and 80% by 2040.

Additionally, the proposal calls for a national bottle bill in hopes of boosting container recycling rates across the country, that would add a 10-cent deposit on all beverage containers, not just plastic bottles. Currently only ten states in the US have bottle bills.


In a Monday-night press conference, Lowenthal pointed out that plastic production is one of the fossil fuel industry's most promising areas of growth. New plastic production is expected to triple in the next thirty years, leading to a 20% increase in fossil fuel consumption and, in turn, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, the bill not only targets single-use plastics and their usage, but their feedstocks as well by implementing a three-year moratorium on all new resin plant construction to give the Environmental Protection Agency time to update emission regulations and research the environmental impacts of these plants. The bill also stresses the need for new regulations on the discharge of resin pellets into waterways.

According to section four of the bill, covered facilities that manufacture

olefins, including ethylene, propylene, and their downstream products, must use only zero-emissions energy sources, except to the extent that waste gases are recycled.

Section four also states that flaring, either at ground-level or elevated, will only be permitted when necessary solely for safety reasons beginning thirty days after the bill is enacted.

In addition, the bill would effectively ban all exports of plastic scrap to any country outside the 36-member Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development or to any country that does not have the proper capacity or infrastructure to recycle the material.