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A coalition of more than 550 community and conservation organizations Tuesday released its Presidential Plastics Action Plan, urging President-elect Joe Biden to take eight key executive actions to solve the plastic pollution crisis.
These include a moratorium on new plastic production facilities, using federal purchasing power to curb single-use plastics, tightening up regulation of the petrochemical industry, ending fossil fuel subsidies and protecting environmental justice communities from pollution.
The plan responds to the plastic industry’s aggressive expansion of facilities using the country’s oversupply of fracked gas to make throwaway plastic that fills our oceans, landfills and landscapes. Petrochemical-plastic projects harm frontline communities with toxic air and water pollution and worsen the climate crisis.
“President-elect Biden can begin solving the plastic pollution crisis in his first days in office without any help from Congress,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Implementing this historic plan would protect vulnerable frontline communities and marine life while addressing a key driver of climate change. It’s time to rein in the fossil fuel industry’s insidious plans to keep fracking for plastic and polluting poor communities here and around the world.”
The Presidential Plastics Action Plan includes detailed steps Biden can take as part of eight priority actions:
- Use the purchasing power of the federal government to eliminate single-use plastic items and replace them with reusable products.
- Suspend and deny permits for new or expanded plastic production facilities, associated infrastructure projects, and exports.
- Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions.
- Advance environmental justice in petrochemical corridors.
- Update existing federal regulations using the best available science and technology to curtail pollution from plastic facilities.
- Stop subsidizing plastic producers.
- Join international efforts to address the global plastic pollution crisis through new and strengthened multilateral agreements.
- Reduce and mitigate the impacts of abandoned, discarded and lost fishing gear.
“There is nothing common-sense about increasing cancer rates, sterility, or developmental issues in poor communities of color just for plastic. I support the Presidential Plastics Action Plan because plastic is not worth the sacrifice,” said Yvette Arellano with Fenceline Watch. “My state of Texas leads the country in rates of uninsured people yet is home to the largest petrochemical complex — more plastic will only benefit one of those. Instead let’s reinvest in healthcare, healthy jobs, education and ending a global pandemic.”
Today’s plan builds on the momentum of the Break Free From Plastic movement and the bill by a similar name. The plan is endorsed by 551 groups, from national environmental organizations to small community groups fighting plastic pollution.
“Plastic production and pollution impact public health, the environment, and climate and it has reached crisis levels around the world, with the United States as one of the biggest contributors. It is for this reason that Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Jeff Merkley and I introduced the comprehensive Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act this year, and will reintroduce it next year,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47).
“The Presidential Plastics Action Plan lays out how the incoming Biden Administration can lead on this plastic waste issue and enact real solutions like updating important regulations and greater cooperation with the international community. We are running out of time to deal with this crisis, but our bill and the Presidential Plastics Action Plan are important approaches to put us on the right track moving forward.”
The plan dispels the industry-promoted myth that most plastic can be recycled, citing federal figures that only about 8% of plastic consumed in the U.S. is recycled. Plastic pollution accumulating in the oceans is predicted to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
“Surfrider Foundation normally approaches this problem through beach cleanups and proactively with the power of legislative proposals, but there’s untapped potential in the executive branch,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation’s legal director. “We’re calling upon this power today to solve the crisis of plastic pollution. Our ocean is dying a death of a thousand cuts, and we need a powerful, multifaceted approach to address it.”
The plan calls for Biden to appoint a Plastic Pollution Czar to coordinate plastic reduction efforts across federal agencies and internationally. It also asks him to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop new ways to measure and reduce plastic pollution and to update and better enforce its decades-old regulations for petrochemical plants that make plastic — something many groups behind this plan also demanded of the EPA in a pair of legal petitions last year.
“Rejoining the international community means not only rejoining Paris, it means joining the global fight against plastics as a partner, not an obstruction,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law. “President-elect Biden should commit the United States to actively support a new global treaty on plastic pollution; use U.S. trade power to support real development, not plastic polluters; and move quickly to reverse U.S. subsidies and export policies that are accelerating the plastic crisis globally.”
Today’s plan is endorsed by political leaders including U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and frontline activists like Sharon Lavigne, who is leading the fight against Formosa’s plan to build one of the world’s biggest plastic plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana.
“Plastics and the fossil fuels they’re created from are contributing to a global catastrophe. The more than 250,000 responsible businesses we represent stand ready to work with the Biden administration to reduce our reliance on plastic,” said David Levine, president and cofounder of the American Sustainable Business Council. “Together we can overhaul how we design, manufacture and distribute our products, transitioning from single-use plastics to a circular, sustainable economy that creates new business opportunities and more jobs.”
Anti-plastic activists across the country also recorded segments for a new video urging Biden to adopt the plan and become the first #PlasticFreePresident. They also projected anti-plastic messages on significant buildings in San Francisco, New Orleans and other cities. The video and images are available for media use.
“Everyone in America — regardless of the color of their skin, where they live, or how wealthy their community is — should be able to take a breath or pour a glass of water without ingesting dangerous chemicals and microscopic plastics,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley. “Nobody wants to go to the beach and see mountains of single-use plastic waste. And plastic production is a major driver of pollution accelerating the climate crisis that has already claimed lives and livelihoods in every corner of our country. America was creative enough to invent a million uses for plastic, and now we have to use that creativity to clean up our act and design better alternatives. Our kids’ health and futures depend on America tackling this urgent problem.”
Convening partners for the plan are Azulita Project, Beyond Plastics, Break Free From Plastic, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Coalfield Justice, Center for International Environmental Law, Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education, Clean Air Council, Earthworks, Food and Water Watch, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Last Beach Clean Up, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and Wishtoyo Foundation.
“Native nations are heavily impacted by oil and plastics industries — fracking unceded homelands and waters, plastics choking wildlife, and microplastics in every part of ecosystems, including our own bodies,” said Alicia Cordero, First Nations program officer with Wishtoyo Foundation. “Without free, prior and informed consent, this violation of tribal sovereignty and human rights cannot stand. In petrochemical corridors, the epidemic of human trafficking, sexual violence, and Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) must be stopped. We need the Biden administration to protect the health, wellbeing and rights of people and all beings.”
Published with permission from the Center for Biological Diversity.