Breaking Down The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020

Plastic Bottles

Global waste is on track to hit 3.4 billion tons by 2050 and over 12% of that waste is plastic. Of all the plastic waste we generate in the U.S., 92% of plastic isn’t recycled. The rest of the plastic goes to landfills or pollutes waterways and oceans. Senator Tom Udall and Representative Alan Lowenthal along with Senator Jeff Merkely and Representative Katherine Clark have a plan to reduce our plastic pollution with the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 (H.R. 5845 S. 3263). They introduced the bill to congress in January of 2020 and the bill is designed to reduce plastic consumption while also making it easier to recycle plastics. 

What’s In The Bill

If passed, the Bill would be the first national legislation in the U.S. to combat plastic pollution. The Bill focuses on reducing plastic use and consumption and shifting the burden of plastic disposal to the companies who produce plastic packaging. We’ve broken down the key tenets of the bill here. 

  • Product Producers To Take Responsibility For Collection And Recycling

Producers of “covered products” will be required to create, finance, and run programs to collect and recycle waste. Currently, waste collection and recycling is financed and run by state and local governments. Instead this shifts the burden to the production companies. 

  • Beverage Container Refund Program

A 10-cent refund program would be instituted for all beverage containers. When a consumer returns a beverage bottle (of any material) they would be refunded 10 cents. Refunds that aren’t claimed by the consumer will go toward funding recycling collection and infrastructure. 

  • Reduce Single-Use Plastics Starting In 2022

Single-use items that can’t be recycled like plastic bans, Styrofoam containers, plastic stirrers, utensils and straws will be gradually phased out starting in 2022 (plastic straws will be available on request). Prior to the phase out there will be alternatives provided and for sale. 

  • Nation-Wide Plastic Bag Fee

A fee would be placed on all single-use plastic carryout bags. This fee will be similar to the fee associated with the plastic bag ban in New York City. The money from the fees will help retailers offer a credit to consumers who bring their own reusable bags. If retailers don’t offer a credit to consumers the fee will go to public funding for recycling and trash collection. 

  • Standardize Recycling And Composting 

The bill will lean on the EPA to create standardized recycling and composting labels for products to help ease the recycling and composting sorting process. 

  • Minimum Recycled Content Requirement 

Plastic beverage containers would be required to be made from a certain percentage of recycled content. The percentages haven’t been established yet. 

  • Stop The Shipment Of Waste To Developing Countries 

Currently, the U.S. exports much of its non-recycled waste to developing countries to be recycled. Unfortunately, most of this waste isn’t actually recycled due to the volume and capacity of recycling centers abroad. The bill would stop exporting waste to developing countries that aren’t part of the OECD, and require consent from the countries accepting the waste before export. 

  • Pause Production Of New Plastic Plants 

The bill would temporarily pause the production of new plastic facilities in order to give environmental agencies ample time to evaluate and investigate the environmental impact of plastic plants.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 would be the first piece of nation-wide legislation aimed at combating plastic pollution in the United States. This bill could help reduce our plastic consumption and increase the recycling capacity of the plastic we do use.

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