Plastics Industry Slams new US Legislative Proposal

12.12.2022 - US chemicals and plastics producers have expectedly slammed a new legislative initiative called Protecting Communities from Plastics Act (PCPA) introduced by Democratic Party senators and representatives in both houses of Congress at the beginning of December.

In their proposal, the legislators take issue with almost every facet of the industry’s business. With plastics output on track to double in the next decade, they note that some studies project this industry will emit more greenhouse gases than coal by 2030, to the detriment of those living near the plants, especially people of color.

Building on key provisions of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act reintroduced in Congress by some of the same legislators in March 2021 after failing to advance a year earlier, PCPA’s backers are pushing call for farther-reaching restrictions on petrochemicals and plastics plants.

The Act would also create new nationwide targets for reducing the input of single-use plastics in the packaging and food service sectors, coupled with federal incentives to spur the expansion of reusable and refillable systems.

Among other things, the bill’s backers seek to limit chemical recycling, arguing that “transitioning away from fossil fuels for power generation and transportation only to replace that demand with more fossil fuel-based plastics production, is not a viable strategy and fails to protect communities.”

“In fenceline communities that are near plastic production plants, residents suffer from the release of harmful pollutants and increased rates of debilitating health conditions such as cancer and heart disease,” said Cory Booker, one of the two senators behind the newest proposal. 

Booker picked up the environmental justice theme that is gaining increasing prominence in the US  —  not least since media billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is also a UN special envoy on climate ambition and solutions, introduced an $85 million program supporting opposition to more than 120 proposed petrochemical projects.

Other key components of the legislation focus on the chemicals used in plastics production, with an eye to determining whether they may be causing or contributing to potential adverse public health impacts. Here, the authors single out “high-priority substances” such as styrene and vinyl chloride.

Under the bill, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), would be empowered to scrutinize the potentially adverse effects on health threatened by the targeted substances.

NGOS yea, Industry nay

Several NGOs, including Break Free From Plastic, Loop and the Ocean Conservancy, have endorsed the new bill. Anja Brandon, associate director of plastics policy at the latter, said passage would assure the US does not continue to rely on harmful systems that perpetuate single-use in the form of chemical recycling or incineration. It also would prevent the EPA from including chemical recycling technologies in the national recycling strategy, she said.

Unsurprisingly, industry groupings find nothing to like about the revived plans aimed at their sector. Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the industry association PLASTICS,  said he was “disappointed but not surprised by the continued hyperbole contained in this legislation which only causes divisiveness in the efforts to come to real solutions to the environmental challenges we face.

“Legislation like this takes us in the wrong direction, will destroy an American industry, the communities they claim to care about, and send manufacturing jobs overseas,” Seaholm added

Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), called the proposals “a raw deal for America that would stall the acceleration of a circular economy for plastics currently under way.”

American jobs would be lost, billions of dollars of investments in new technology jeopardized and the climate crisis would worsen if a switch to materials with a higher carbon footprint ensues, Baca said, apparently referring to a study by US consultants McKinsey that said many non-plastic alternatives used at scale contributed less to greenhouse gas reduction compared with plastics.

US plastic makers have called on Congress to introduce legislation incorporating the organization’s 5 Actions for Sustainable Change plan introduced last year. Among other things, this would require all US plastic packaging to include at least 30% recycled polymer by 2030 and establish producer responsibility systems for collection and recycling, Baca said.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist