While it’s still early stages, some lawmakers are floating ideas like producer responsibility bills for packaging and European Union-style restrictions on some single-use plastics. But other legislators seem to be steering toward proposals that focus on more traditional goals, like building out government-financed curbside recycling infrastructure.

What’s emerging are the broad outlines of a debate. Both groups say municipal recycling programs should get more help in the wake of Asian countries cutting off imports of recyclables. But some lawmakers want Washington to go further and put requirements on industry, like recycled content. The main plastic waste legislation that made it through Congress just last year, the relatively modest and bipartisan Save Our Seas Act, is back. Senators and members of Congress behind that bill introduced a new version in June that has the support of the plastics industry.

In addition, one plastics group said the industry expects to introduce its main legislative proposal, the Recover Act, this fall. While details are being worked out, early drafts sought $500 million for local recycling programs and advocated a neutral approach that didn’t favor or punish particular materials. A detailed proposal released in July by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., floats EU-style bans on some single-use plastic products, as well as a national container deposit law and collection targets for single-use plastic bottles.

Material neutrality is a key part of what the American Chemistry Council wants in any legislation, said Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets for ACC, who declined to speak publicly on the Udall-Lowenthal plan but provided general comments. “Anytime you have legislation that just looks at one material, it provides an incentive for companies to switch to some other material,” Christman said. “They need to be careful about creating those kinds of incentives because they could switch you to a material that dramatically increases greenhouse gas emissions.”

Both ACC and the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association touted their legislation, the Realizing the Economic Opportunities and Value of Expanding Recycling (Recover) Act. It’s designed to support recycling of all materials. The plastics association said Recover would provide grants through the Environmental Protection Agency to states and cities for things like education or new equipment at materials recovery facilities. “We believe having a reliable, steady supply of recovered material will encourage companies to use more recycled content,” the association said in written comments delivered Aug. 21 to Udall and Lowenthal.

An aide to Lowenthal said those lawmakers plan to introduce formal legislation in the fall.

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