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PLASTICS' Government Affairs
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Congress turning eye more and more to plastics
Both coasts are hoping that recycled content mandates will spur demand, but something is missing
Help Us Show that Diversity and Inclusion are Important to the Plastics Industry
Truth in Labeling: The newest iteration of anti-plastics legislation
Future Federal Chemicals Management Has Unknowns but Something for Everyone


Congress Turning Eye More and More to Plastics

John Grant, Director, Government Affairs

The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently introduced and began hearings on the CLEAN Future Act, the majority’s bill to address climate change. Unfortunately, the initial committee language includes some of the more concerning aspects of last year’s Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, including a moratorium on new permits for plastic manufacturing facilities, including advanced recycling facilities. The “pause” in permits would be so that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can write and impose more stringent rules regulating plastic facilities. PLASTICS strongly opposes this provision and more broadly incorporating plastic into the climate package overall. PLASTICS staff have been working with coalition partners and members to educate staff and committee members why this is the wrong approach, particularly in climate legislation. Additional concerning provisions, as they are currently written in the waste section, include a recycling content mandate on plastic bottles reaching 80% required content by 2040, an extended producer task force to consider an EPR program at the national level and requiring the creation of national labeling standards for recycling.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has already begun holding subcommittee hearings on other sections of the almost one-thousand-page bill and will continue doing so each week. Title IX which addresses these plastic issues, will not likely be the focus of a hearing until at least the second week of April. However, members of the committees are free to ask any questions they would like at the hearings and some have already raised concerns on the efficacy of this title. It is not yet clear when the full committee will vote on the bill, but it will likely be through the summer before they do.

Activity on plastic-related issues is not confined to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies recently held a hearing entitled Efforts to Address Marine Plastic Pollution Through Recycling. In the hearing, the witnesses and questions they received focused on what the federal government can do to help keep plastics out of the marine environment. Recycling infrastructure, EPR and encouraging design for recycling were some of what was discussed during the short hearing.

But wait, there’s more! This week we saw the reintroduction of the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, as well as the RECYCLE Act, with the RECOVER Act soon to follow. No major changes to any of these pieces of legislation from their versions in the last Congress are expected. The RECYCLE Act will set aside funds to address educating the public on recycling and the RECOVER Act sets aside funds to help address deficiencies in recycling infrastructure. Later ths year, we also anticipate some form of legislation that would aim to continue the bipartisan success that the Save our Seas measures showed in the last two Congresses.

The attention, focus and pressure on addressing the issue of plastic in the environment has never been higher in Congress, and the reintroduction of the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is sure to gain increased attention with the new political realities in Congress. Unlike last year, we do expect committee activity on this bill which could lead to eventual consideration by the full House. Another concern is still the possibility of some provisions being included in a package being considered under reconciliation, though including major policy changes makes that a more difficult challenge. Senate activity on the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is also likely this year with the changes in leadership in that chamber, though we will know more once the bill is introduced. Fortunately, there will again be legislation that will make a positive difference as well as being reasonable, and we continue to highlight that effort to legislative offices.

For more information, please contact John Grant.

Both Coasts are Hoping That Recycled Content Mandates Will Spur Demand, But Something is Missing

Brennan Georgianni, Manager, State Government Affairs

We constantly hear the argument that mandating plastic packaging be manufactured with recycled material will spur demand and cause more material to be funneled into the recycling stream. It has been passed for bottles in California, but now Washington and New Jersey are considering a similar policy for other rigid packaging types like household cleaning and personal care products. But one very important element is missing in these proposals: any serious infrastructure investment. This is particularly important as the miniscule recycling rates that are occurring today are much lower than the rates that would need to occur to meet these mandates.

In Washington State, Senate Bill 5022 has cleared the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives. The bill proposes rates for beverage bottles, household cleaning products, and personal care product containers at 15% by 2023, 25% by 2026 and 50% by 2031. Trash bags would need to attain 10% recycled content in 2023, 15% by 2025 and 20% by 2027. Lengthy reporting requirements, penalties, and department duties are also spelled out. The Department of Commerce is also instructed to convene a stakeholder advisory committee to make recommendations on the development of mandatory postconsumer recycled content requirements for plastic packaging by November 2021, indicating more proposals may be just beyond the horizon. Certain expanded polystyrene products are banned and food service businesses are directed to only provide service ware upon request. No substantial effort is made to fund or improve the infrastructure of the system.

The New Jersey bill, S.2515 is in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration before a full Senate vote. This bill is more onerous in that most rigid plastic containers except those used for certain drug, medical device and hazardous materials would need to include 25% recycled content. This rate would increase 5% every three years up to a limit of 50%. Beverage bottles would need 15% recycled content with the rate similarly increasing 5% every three years up to 50%. Trash bags, glass and other bags would be subject to rates and dates as well. Food packaging is exempt for the first five years but then would be subject to the regulation. Again, no substantial effort is made to fund or improve the infrastructure of the system.

A recent report from AMERIPEN titled, U.S. Company Recycled Plastic Content Goals Analysis – Supply and Demand, highlights just how far off we are from these targets just by considering what would be required to meet some of the corporate commitments that have been made. Demand currently outranks capacity for all plastic resin types by the order of billions of pounds. The HDPE recycling capacity is just able to meet the demand goals by about 200 million pounds, but that is likely to be filled soon. Take for instance PET reclamation of bottles and thermoforms—this capacity would need to increase 50% in order to meet today’s demand and assuming no changes in demand from other markets. This doesn’t even take into account the additional hurdles that food packaging needs to jump to ensure safety of its use. 

We will continue to advocate for market-based solutions to these mandates. We are always touting the voluntary commitments and achievements of plastics manufacturers to incorporate more recycled content and ensure a sustainable environment. The Pacific Northwest Secondary Sorting Demonstration Project is one example that we point to frequently that exhibits manufacturers’ commitment to fund research that proves that material can be found where it was once thought of as lost. Likewise, consumer education tools like ThisIsPlastics will help remind consumers that the material they toss has very real value that can only be fully realized if it is properly recycled instead of disposed of in the trash.

For more information, please contact Brennan Georgianni.

Help Us Show That Diversity and Inclusion are Important to the Plastics Industry

Suzanne Morgan, Senior Director, Government Affairs & Grassroots Advocacy

One of the four elements of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan (BBB), as reported in the February edition of The Hopper, is diversity and inclusion in the workplace. After early interactions between PLASTICS government affairs staff and Biden Administration officials or congressional Democrats, it is clear to us that a worker-centered framework is being woven through presidential initiatives, executive orders and Democratic legislative proposals. We see the diversity in the Biden cabinet and among other presidential appointees. We hear about the need for “racial equity” and inclusivity in wages and opportunities in the workplace and how environmental injustice has impacted communities. We have been challenged by Biden Administration officials to come prepared to meetings with answers on how our industry is creating opportunities for all workers.

This is where we need your help. We know that PLASTICS’ member companies care about the environment, are great places to work and are good neighbors. We know there are some amazing things happening with the workers in our companies. We want to promote this as part of our advocacy efforts. If you have a great story to tell about how your company is making a difference, please share that with us. We will only give attribution where appropriate and with your permission.

Please contact Suzanne Morgan with real-world examples that will help with our positive messaging about plastics manufacturing as we promote sound public policies to benefit the entire plastics industry value chain.

Truth in Labeling: The Newest Iteration of Anti-Plastics Legislation

Shannon Crawford, Director, State Government Affairs

A suite of bills introduced on the West Coast target truth in labeling of plastic products as the solution to cleaning up the recycling stream, but are these bills just the latest slew of anti-plastic legislation? This is part of a growing effort amongst west coast states to restrict the definition of “recyclable” and then ultimately prohibit the sale of nonrecyclable packaging.

- California: Senate Bill 343 requires CalRecycle to amend the definition of “recyclable” and restricts the use of the chasing arrows symbols to only those materials that qualify under these new restrictive standards.     

- Oregon: Senate Bill 581 would restrict the use of the RIC in the chasing arrows triangle to products that are accepted for collection by a majority of recycling collection services in the state. 

- Washington: Senate Bill 5022 removes the requirement that the RIC include the chasing arrows around the number.

On the surface, these bills may seem like altruistic efforts to reduce contamination of the recycling stream, but a closer look reveals different motives. These bills are being primarily pushed by haulers on the west coast. For decades, the primary markets for #3-7 bales were overseas. Recyclers and haulers had no incentive to push for additional sorting or markets of these materials because they could be baled as mixed plastics and shipped out. Additionally, in an effort to win local government contracts, haulers would guarantee collection of an increasing amount of material as a competitive advantage over their competition.

With China Sword in 2018, the foreign markets for #3-7 bales have essentially closed. Now these same haulers are stuck in contracts they negotiated that mandate collection of material they never invested in. Blaming plastic as the culprit for their woes is an easier solution than working collaboratively to establish new end markets domestically that increase the profit of these materials.

What haulers deem “contamination” are valuable, recyclable materials. Although limited markets make these materials a “nuisance” to haulers, there are no substitutes with the performance capabilities provided by these recyclable plastic materials. What is frequently lost in this debate is why packaging materials are chosen. Manufacturers chose the best material for the application, and that material is frequently plastic.

Instead of imposing a severely restrictive labeling system, stakeholders should work together to advance a more modern recycling system that can capture and recycle more material. Real improvements in the system can only be achieved by an emphasis on developing end markets and advanced sortation of materials.

For more information, please contact Shannon Crawford.

Future Federal Chemicals Management Has Unknowns but Something for Everyone

Marie Gargas, Senior Technical Director, Regulatory Affairs

No matter where you are in the plastics industry value chain, federal chemicals management under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has an impact that will continue to evolve under the new administration and with increased pressures.

The day Michael Regan was sworn in as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Defense Fund published this blog. It asserts “collusion” between the EPA under the previous administration, industry trade associations and law firms over elements of the new chemicals review program under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), citing the release of emails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Welcome back, Administrator Regan. No stranger to EPA, he now brings leadership on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and environmental justice from his role as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. But what else awaits him—and the plastics industry—on the chemical management front?

Looking at specific chemicals, PFAS will remain in focus, with calls for its regulation as a group despite the PFAS umbrella covering substances posing no significant risk when used as intended (think fluoropolymers) beyond those of concern. Ortho-phthalates will remain a target, also with calls for a class approach. With TSCA requiring EPA to always have at least 20 chemical risk evaluations underway for high-priority designated substances, and at least half coming from the 2014 TSCA Work Plan list, PLASTICS and others have continued to encourage EPA to make public a prioritized list so stakeholders can plan sooner versus later.

Potential influences on EPA’s future approach to chemicals management also include recommendations from EPA’s Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), such as on evaluation, prioritization and data gaps, and recommendations from the Environmental Protection Network that addressed review processes, data gaps, immediate risks, and notably, EPA resources. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported that “EPA’s process for assessing and controlling chemicals” is a high-risk area requiring significant attention that has “regressed” since 2019. With a heavy workload, positions to fill and reported low levels of EPA staff confidence in their leadership to overcome, we see EPA with much to sort out to meet statutory deadlines and other obligations.

For now, companies in the plastics industry are working through issues such as the “No Action Assurance” and new public comment period on phenol isopropylated phosphate (3:1), PIP (3:1), and mixed conclusions on the final risk evaluation for C.I. Pigment Violet 29 (PV29). Litigation is ongoing for some chemicals, further underscoring the lack of certainty with actions that may not be final after all.

Looking ahead, we encourage companies to increase supply chain communications on chemicals impacted by TSCA or elsewhere, such as state programs or company environmentally preferable purchasing programs. Industrial hygiene monitoring, hierarchy of controls measures, training and other data will be important to gather for chemicals in the spotlight, particularly for educating EPA on how chemicals are used in the plastics industry and how the industry works to protect human health and the environment.

For more information, please contact Marie Gargas.