USA
Ambitious legislation focuses on plastics issues / Recycling front and centre / Bans on some single-trip products foreseen / Plastics industry voices support
Once a frontrunner in international efforts to protect the environment, the US has fallen behind in implementing anti-pollution measures on a national level, despite legislation initiated or passed by some states to curb the use of thin-film plastic bags. The crisis has threatened to worsen of late as the administration of president Donald Trump, in the hope of pleasing voters in states where jobs are perceived to depend on heavy polluters, pushes back against plans by predecessor Barack Obama to tackle pressing problems. But even acid rain clouds can have a silver lining: currently, two senators and a representative, all Democrats, are preparing separate bills to address the problem of marine litter and advance a circular economy.

Democrats are looking at ways to tackle problem of plastics waste (Image: Wikipedia)
Up to 21 August and possibly beyond, senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and representative Alan Lowenthal of California are seeking comment on wide-sweeping proposals to tackle the burgeoning plastics waste problem that may be hitting the often throwaway-happy US even harder than some other industrialised countries. Separately, senator Sheldon Whitehouse at the end of June 2019 introduced a revised “Save Our Seas” act (SOS 2.0). The US plastics industry is already on board, and many believe bipartisan support is possible even in a perennially divided Congress. A new version of the SOS bill has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Udall and Lowenthal have urged the president to convene a wide-ranging group of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; www.epa.gov) and the National Academy of Sciences (www.nasonline.org), to come up with a plan to stop the spread of single-use plastics (SUPs). Udall said the legislators believe a “robust strategy” to limit SUPs can reduce plastics pollution in the US while serving as an example for other countries to follow. “We must work across industry sectors and with all stakeholders on solutions that reduce plastic waste and make the marketplace more accountable – and sustainable,” he said. According to a recent estimate, 300,000 t of US plastics waste finds its way into the oceans each year.
Wide-sweeping proposals resemble EU strategy
Under the Udall-Lowenthal plan – that in some points resembles existing European legislation and the EU’s circular economy strategy – plastics producers would be required to design, manage and finance efforts toward end-of-life management of their products and packaging. They also would be expected to help cover the costs of waste management schemes as well as (along with state governments) promote awareness-raising measures addressing disposable packaging, filters, wet wipes, balloons and lightweight plastic bags. Industry also would be given “incentives” to develop products that are less polluting.

The pair’s legislative ideas also extend to a national deposit-return scheme for beverage containers, whereby major beverage retailers would be obligated to install and operate reverse vending systems to promote collection of containers. A fee would also be applied to for single-trip carrier bags of both paper and plastic. Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, the “most commonly polluting” SUP products would be banned. Along with carrier bags this would include beverage cups and lids, cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, snack packaging and drink stirrers, unless made exclusively from reusable or more sustainable materials.

The legislation also foresees a ban on EPS containers and packaging. What’s more, all consumer products made of plastic would have to carry a “clear and standardised labelling that specifies the plastic content and indicates how the waste should be disposed of. For the 50 US states, the goalposts for waste collection would be raised, with each required to set targets for collecting “a high percentage” of single-use plastic drink bottles as well as carrying out standardised collection and recycling. To encourage more recycling, plastic packaging and “certain other” not clearly defined products would have to be made of 100% recyclable materials.

A federal fund to be fed by proceeds from bag fees and a container deposit requirement would be established, from which manufacturers and some local governments could draw. Universities, non-profit organisations and industry would be able to apply for R&D grants for “sustainable and safe’” alternative products, in addition to litter reduction, waste minimisation and advanced methods for recycling and re-use. States that prohibit local governments from implementing more aggressive measures would not be able to tap the fund – see Plasteurope.com of 25.07.2019.
Save Our Seas act has plastics industry support
The 2018 SOS Act, which reauthorised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris programme last year – see Plasteurope.com of 05.11.2018 – is designed to promote the use of recycled plastics in infrastructure such as roads and bridges as well as to support research into both chemical and mechanical routes to recycling. A state revolving fund to strengthen recycling infrastructure in the US would also be established. While calling the 2018 action a “beachhead,” Whitehouse said his updated version is “much more ambitious,” as it includes “a more robust US response to marine pollution from Asian countries” as well as directing federal R&D capabilities toward biodegradable plastics.

Mirroring the Udall-Lowenthal bill, Whitehouse’s updated plans also address microplastics in the food chain. The first bill, interestingly, also draws a link between the rising US shale gas exploitation that has brought polymer prices down and heightened economic challenges around recycling. “Plastics recycling is not a realistic solution to the plastic pollution crisis,” Udall stressed. “Most consumer plastics are economically impractical to recycle based on market conditions alone.”

The Plastics Industry Association (Plastics; www.plasticsindustry.org) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC; www.americanchemistry.org), both based in Washington, D.C., have welcomed congressional efforts to deal with issues surrounding plastics. Steve Russell, VP of the ACC’s plastics division, said the association “is proud to support SOS 2.0, which will build upon the progress the industry is making to address marine debris across the world.” Patty Long, interim president and CEO of Plastics – see Plasteurope.com of 02.08.2019 – said new congressional proposals such as the marine debris response trust fund as well as more research to understand the root causes of plastics pollution and federal support for improving water and waste management infrastructure “are all critical to any effort to address the threat of marine debris.”
09.08.2019 Plasteurope.com [243056-0]
Published on 09.08.2019
USA: Gesetzesentwurf zur Eindämmung von KunststoffmüllGerman version of this article...

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