Cross-country virtual road trip puts fight against plastic pollution on the map

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Alex Truelove

U.S. PIRG, Environment America bring together advocates and elected leaders for “The United States Against Plastic” rally


DENVER — U.S. PIRG and Environment America hosted a virtual road trip Friday with state representatives and senators from across the country to celebrate and discuss dozens of policies to combat the plastic pollution crisis. The nationwide rally touched on efforts to hold companies, such as Whole Foods, accountable for their contribution to the problem, as well as highlighting groundbreaking federal legislation such as the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.

“We have an enormous challenge and responsibility to reduce our plastic to protect our planet and ourselves,” said Zero Waste Campaign Director Alex Truelove. “Thankfully, there are efforts underway across the country to address solutions on the scale and comprehensiveness of the problem.”

The panelists at the webinar discussed policies, such as producer responsibility, bottle bills and single-use plastic bans, that can be used to help us build a world without plastic waste. In addition to PIRG and Environment state directors, speakers included:

  • Massachusetts Rep. Marjorie Decker

  • Maryland Del. Sara Love

  • Pennsylvania Rep. Dianne Herrin

  • Oregon Rep. Janeen Sollman

  • California Sen. Ben Allen

  • Washington Sen. Mona Das

  • Recorded keynote: U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal

  • Hosted by: Zero Waste Campaign Director Alex Truelove

Across the country, U.S. PIRG and Environment America have worked to ban the most harmful single-use plastic products. Already, 11 states have banned single-use plastic bags and six have banned polystyrene foam — commonly referred to as Styrofoam — and a seventh, Washington, is expected to join  the list shortly.

“In Massachusetts, we bury and burn almost 6 million tons of waste a year, ” said Massachusetts Rep. Decker. “We need to reduce that waste, and we should start with single use plastics– which is why I am sponsoring bills to expand our bottle bill, and to ban styrene, both important steps toward a cleaner, healthier Commonwealth.”

The fight against plastic pollution is taking place on many fronts. Maryland has introduced the first bill in the country to ban a practice to convert plastic waste back into fossil fuels. Also referred to as “chemical recycling,” the process, which is heavily endorsed by the plastic industry, has a very high environmental cost.

“I appreciate the work of PIRG to bring legislators and activists together, united to address the problem of plastic waste,” said Maryland Del. Love. “We must reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, and we cannot fall for false solutions like the cleverly branded ‘chemical recycling’ pushed by the chemical industry. Stripping plastic back to it’s petrochemical base and then burning it like any fossil fuel is bad for the environment and public health.”

The plastic industry has successfully lobbied for legislation in Pennsylvania to preempt municipalities and local governments from setting their own single-use plastic bans. State Reps. Herrin and Danielle Friel-Otten have introduced legislation to end Pensylvannia’s preemption law.

“We are letting our children down,” Rep Herrin said. “We need to give local communities the authority they deserve and need to make their own decisions when it comes to protecting their constituents and communities from environmental harm.”

Across the country in California, lawmakers are pushing forward-thinking legislation. These include bills for  producer responsibility,  truth-in-labeling and a reusable beer bottle system, which follows similar work in Oregon.

“We’re trying to leverage state legislation as the world’s fifth largest economies in partnerships with sister states and Canada to pass comprehensive legislation that changes the game,” said California Sen. Allen. “We need to shift responsibility from individuals and communities to producers who have the power to decide whether the products they put on the market are truly reusable, compostable and recyclable.”

Under producer responsibility programs, manufacturers – not individuals or taxpayers – are responsible for the waste their products create, and bear responsibility for the collection and proper recycling of those products at the end of their useful lives.

“We need to eliminate over-production and consumption of plastics,” said Oregon Rep. Sollman. “A big reason that plastic pollution is on the rise is because producers are absolved of responsibility for their waste. When manufacturers are held responsible for their products at the end of their lives, they  tend to make different choices when designing their products making them more reusable, repairable, recyclable and resilient.”

Washington’s state legislature recently passed a comprehensive bill aimed at curbing plastic pollution. The bill, which would phase out Styrofoam and require that most beverage containers be made of at least 50 percent recycled material by 2031, will likely end up on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk as soon as next week.

“In 2021, we have the technology and nothing should be produced if it’s not recyclable, reusable or compostable,” said Washington Sen. Das. “We look forward to working with California and Oregon, and I believe our three states can pass legislation that other states can easily follow.”

Finally, lawmakers have introduced a bill at the federal level that draws on the plastic waste solutions that have been tested at the state level with plastic solutions. The legislation is known as the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.

“The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act incorporates best practices and common sense policies and is a roadmap to meaningfully tackle the plastic waste crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Lowenthal. “For far too long, Washington, D.C. has ignored this crisis and the damage to the environment as well as the health impacts. From here on, Congress is stepping up with you to break free from plastic pollution.”