It is Plastic Free July. This month the goal is to eliminate our use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are plastic bags, straws, to-go plastic cups and lids, plastic flatware, plastic water or soda bottles and Styrofoam to-go containers such as for food or beverages. These products are especially harmful for the environment and accumulate in the oceans after they are discarded. These items were designed to be used once and then thrown away. As they do not decompose, they will always be present – affecting our lives and the lives of our children, grandchildren and beyond.
Manufacturers of plastics dumped responsibility for proper disposal of their products on the consumer, counties and municipalities. Systems to collect and sort plastics were developed, funded by counties and municipalities. Producers blamed consumers for littering their products and creating the plastic waste issues rather than confronting the issue that their waste does not decompose. Since the magnitude of the problems created by plastic waste has come to the attention of the consumer, there is a demand for change. The other problem that has contributed to plastic waste is the breakdown of the plastic recycling markets. Additional recycling infrastructure is needed to recycle plastic so it can be used again.
The problem with single-use products is that they cannot be recycled. They can only be put into the garbage. As they break down, they wash out of the landfills into streams and rivers. They eventually collect in the ocean and impact all marine life. Choosing to eliminate these from our day-to-day lives makes sense.
One bill that is making its way through the House and Congress is the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. This bill will require changes in how plastics are managed. It will require producers to manage the plastic waste rather than depending on counties or municipalities to do so. Manufacturers will be responsible for designing packaging that can be recycled and then collecting and recycling that packaging. Manufacturers will be required to finance and engage in cleanup programs.
This bill also will require a ten-cent deposit on all beverage containers. The deposit will be refunded when containers are returned. Deposits not refunded to customers will be used to further invest in collection and recycling infrastructure. Another requirement is that single-use plastic products that are not recyclable will be phased out. This includes plastic stirrers, flatware, plastic bags and to-go cups, plates and containers. This bill would not prohibit straws, but they would only be available upon request. Legislation in this bill prohibits plastics from being exported to countries that are not able to properly manage plastic waste.
An important feature of this bill is that it calls for a pause on construction of new facilities that manufacture plastics so more time can be spent evaluating the impact that plastics have on the environment. As oil companies continue to prod plastic manufacturers to ramp up production of plastics since demand for oil has dropped – this would be a welcomed interruption.