Federal legislation, set to be introduced by two Democrats in Congress, would shift responsibility to the industries producing the plastic encircling the globe. The bill, being introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Representative Alan Lowenthal of California, is one of the most aggressive, sweeping attempts to hold the plastics industry, beverage makers and other companies financially responsible for dealing with the waste they create.
The so-called Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act is a long shot, with no Republican co-sponsors and several provisions that seem sure to be nonstarters in an election year. But the legislative effort at the federal level, even if a politically unrealistic one, shows the growing sway of environmental groups that have pushed to stem the flow of plastic waste into the ocean.
The legislation includes measures that the sponsors argue will increase the nation’s meager recycling rates, such as a national “bottle bill” that would incentivize people to return their empty soda and water bottles by providing a 10 cent refund for each bottle. It would also require companies that produce and sell food service and plastic packaging to pay for the waste collection, a burden that now falls primarily on taxpayers. “The plastics pollution crisis has reached a tipping point and the American people are fed up,” Mr. Udall said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.
The bill calls for a pause on creating new plastic producing plants, which have been a boon for the oil and gas industry and a job generator in states like Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. As the supply of oil and gas swells but global demand shows signs of leveling off, plastic production is one of the fossil fuel industry’s most promising areas of growth. That dynamic is causing concern about increased greenhouse emissions and poor air quality caused by the new petrochemical plants, but it also means the oil and gas industry is poised to fight vigorously to defend its expansion. There are some provisions in the bill that could find broader support, like mandating standardized labels on recycling and composting bins to help people more effectively sort their used containers.