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Upcoming Legislation to Address Plastic Waste

Plastic containers floating in water

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) plan to introduce legislation in the fall aimed at reducing plastic waste. The legislation will include phase-out requirements for certain single-use products, extended producer responsibility (EPR) initiatives, and deposit or charge requirements at point-of-purchase.

The EPR initiatives will include requiring producers to design, manage, and finance programs for end-of-life management of their products and packaging as a condition of sale. In addition, producers will be required to help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness raising measures for a variety of plastic products, including food and drink containers, packets and wrappers, and lightweight plastic bags.

“By shifting the large and growing financial burden of cleaning up plastic pollution from state and local governments to the companies that manufacture and sell the products, the bill will increase the effectiveness of pollution control,” according to a press release on the legislation.

Some of the other components of the legislation are described below.

  • A national deposit on beverage containers will be collected at point-of-sale and returned to consumers when the containers are returned. Money that is not refunded would go into a Federal Fund to assist with collection infrastructure.
  • A fee will be placed on the distribution of carryout paper and non-reusable bags that will be deposited into a Federal Fund.
  • Where alternatives are reasonably available, certain plastic products—including lightweight plastic carryout bags, cups and lids, and drink stirrers—and expanded polystyrene in food-ware and other specified products will be banned.
  • Plastic consumer products will require labels with disposal instructions.
  • Plastic bottles, packaging, and certain other products will be required to include a minimum level of post-consumer recycled materials and to be made from 100% recyclable materials.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) responded to the announcement from Sen. Udall and Rep. Lowenthal by stating that while America’s plastic makers are committed to doing their part to help end plastic waste.  They also stated that the new legislation “would have the unintended consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. A robust study completed in 2015 by the firm Trucost shows that replacing plastics with alternatives in common packages and consumer products would raise environmental costs nearly fourfold.”