Most environmentally oriented eyes on the Biden administration are targeted — appropriately — on mitigating local weather change, creating jobs and transitioning to a clear vitality future. Depend me amongst them.
So, I’m not holding out hope for a federal round financial system coverage any time quickly (I’ll let the EU take the lead on that entrance). Nevertheless, I’ll pay shut consideration subsequent 12 months to the administration’s stance on everybody’s favourite entry level into the round financial system: plastics. Extra particularly, the potential to weave collectively or harmonize our present patchwork of city- and state-level laws right into a coordinated federal effort to chip away on the U.S.’s outsized plastics footprint.
Probably the most formidable invoice that might come throughout Biden’s desk is the Break Free from Plastic Air pollution Act, launched earlier this 12 months by Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-California).
The sweeping laws would set up a nationwide container deposit system (a.ok.a. prolonged producer duty); set post-consumer recycled content material minimums for plastic packaging that progressively would improve to 80 % in 2040; and ban a lot of single-use gadgets together with plastic baggage, polystyrene foodservice containers and disposable utensils and straws. It’s controversial, to say the least, with predictable divisions between trade lobbying for voluntary commitments and activist teams demanding regulatory motion and accountability.
This week, a coalition of 550 environmental teams, together with lots of the invoice’s supporters, launched the Presidential Plastics Motion Plan, a proposed framework for the president-elect to cut back plastics getting into the waste stream and regulate their administration — with or with out the assist of Congress.
Right here’s what makes me optimistic: Plastic air pollution has change into a bipartisan difficulty.
Though Biden’s emphasis on infrastructure, local weather and environmental justice feels completely poised for an intersectional problem akin to plastic air pollution, I’m not feeling assured that that is the place Biden will spend his political capital with govt motion, at the least any time quickly. However I’m hoping to be stunned.
On the worldwide stage, I’ll be monitoring two main alternatives for the Biden administration: a world treaty on plastics air pollution and the Basel Conference, a United Nations treaty that regulates the transboundary motion and disposal of hazardous waste, amended in 2019 to manage the worldwide plastic waste commerce.
Greater than two-thirds of United Nations member states have declared they’re open to a brand new settlement to sort out plastic waste and harmonize coverage efforts amongst signatories, akin to a Paris Settlement for plastics. And whereas the U.S. has remained predictably silent on the treaty, WWF, the Ellen MacArthur Basis and Boston Consulting Group not too long ago launched a manifesto calling for companies to assist such a treaty, garnering early assist from main international manufacturers together with Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo, amongst different high international plastic polluters, signaling potential for broader assist to enter into negotiations.
Though the U.S. isn’t a celebration to the Basel Conference, come subsequent month, many shipments of plastic waste from the U.S. to different nations might be prohibited or difficult, rising the pressure on home recycling markets.
I’m not wildly optimistic that the Break Free from Plastic Air pollution Act will change into the legislation of the land whereas the president’s ambition for environmental motion is tempered by Republican management of the Senate. I’m additionally not full of confidence that the U.S. shortly will change into a world chief within the combat in opposition to plastics air pollution.
However right here’s what makes me optimistic: Plastic air pollution has change into a bipartisan difficulty.
If the historic inflow of recycling laws in Congress over the previous few years tells us something, it’s that recycling and supplies administration are on the nationwide agenda.
The education-focused RECYCLE Act and infrastructure-oriented RECOVER Act each obtained some bipartisan assist earlier than stalling amid the pandemic. And President Donald Trump signed the up to date Save Our Seas 2.zero Act not too long ago handed by each chambers of Congress. Amongst different issues, it’ll present $55 million in funding every year by means of 2025 to enhance “native post-consumer supplies administration,” together with municipal recycling applications (which may use the extra assist lately).
That’s a pittance in comparison with what’s wanted, however we’ll take it. Certainly, in terms of fixing the plastics waste drawback, these payments are woefully insufficient. They underscore the important thing distinction between tackling plastic air pollution and addressing the issue at its root: Are we turning off the plastics faucet, or bailing out the bath with a thimble? Nevertheless inadequate, some federal motion is definitely higher than none.