The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act that will be reintroduced in Congress in 2021 is the most important piece of federal legislation since the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed in 1976, and enforced starting in 1991. While the RCRA ended open dumping of municipal solid waste and imposed strict regulations for landfills, the Breaking Free bill would impose profound changes in an attempt to rein in the proliferation of plastic waste and its impact on air, land and water resources, as well as on human life.
The Break Free bill’s provisions would:
Declare a temporary moratorium on new virgin plastic production
Impose a national container deposit system
Require minimum recycled content in plastic products
Restrict exports of plastic
And ban single use plastic food service items.
It also comes at an opportune time, as recycling levels in the US are reentering the take off stage after two years of turmoil and declining levels caused by China and other Asian nations’ decision to cut off imports of US recycling bales.The legislation also includes funding mechanisms to channel much-needed capital for city and county recycling infrastructure.
Despite all these positives, however, the bill also could contain a poison pill that would undermine the entire recycling enterprise: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). One form of EPR in the bill would assign complete control over the recycling of all paper, products and packaging to stewardship organizations that are controlled by the same Fortune 500 companies that produce the products and packages that wind up in the waste stream. It means that massive companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle would have the authority to establish policies that would have the force of law. These corporate policies would replace state and local regulations and serve to undermine our democratic systems. Participatory democracy is the very engine propelling the development of a vibrant recycling industry that is now larger than the US auto industry, and this action would be, in effect, a hostile takeover of the recycling industry. EPR for all products, paper and packages (PPP) would disenfranchise local decision makers and therefore, threaten our democratic system that has been the basis for decision making in our country. It would impose corporate rule over citizen rule.