July 7, 2021
I’m a plastics industry CEO. We have a responsibility for plastic waste.
By Tony Radoszewski, President & CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS)
Folks, the world is not ending, but we do have a plastic waste problem. And the plastics industry has a significant responsibility in solving it.
As a society, we’re at a crossroads. We can pursue activist-driven, partisan policies like in Maine and Oregon that actually are detrimental to the environment in the long-run. Or we can have a serious, bipartisan policy discussion about real sustainable solutions.
Let me explain.
Make no mistake — we live longer, healthier and better lives because of plastic. However, as the world discovers new uses for plastic every day, production has far outpaced our ability to reuse or recycle it. Valuable material ends up in landfills or the environment. That’s unacceptable. It’s also solvable.
The plastics industry has and continues to invest billions of dollars into new recycling technologies and programs at home and abroad. Plastics companies, and the more than one million American workers they employ, are continuously inventing new materials, improving product designs and processes that conserve resources and protect the environment. Lightweight and strong, plastic itself has significant environmental benefits, especially when compared to other materials.
For years, the U.S. has depended on overseas export markets, primarily China, for recyclable material. While China has been increasing its own plastic waste and building its own recycling infrastructure, our country has been asleep at the wheel.
It’s time for the U.S. to step up to the challenge and become a worldwide recycling leader. To enhance our current recycling infrastructure, a privately-funded, industry-led Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) plan is a pragmatic solution. Such a plan should rest on three basic principles:
This plan would fund 21st Century recycling infrastructure for a 21st Century material. It would raise recycling rates for every common material. Recycled content requirements for consumer products, which are becoming popular at the state level, would be possible. Without infrastructure investment, those requirements are merely aspirational.
Alternatively, some states like Maine and Oregon, are unilaterally moving ahead with less practical, overly-complicated and overly-prescriptive EPR plans. These plans tend to be reactive to environmental activist demands and create new fees and bureaucracy without creating new sustainability infrastructure.
As a result, many of these plans that attempt to solve the plastic waste problem would actually make the problem worse. These plans divert funds away from badly needed recycling infrastructure improvements towards unrelated pet projects demanded by state agencies. These plans also add additional costs to consumers to simply maintain the status quo.
However, federally funded infrastructure investment, a workable EPR plan, and recycled content requirements could help America achieve a sustainable future. Partisan, punitive laws to defund recycling or eliminate plastic would harm jobs, the economy, and public health. Importantly, these misguided proposals wouldn’t address the underlying plastic waste problem.
The truth is that people around the world rely on plastic for access to food, water, medicine and other necessities of daily life, but it can negatively impact the environment if not properly disposed. We fully acknowledge this dynamic. But environmental stewardship requires practical solutions, not overheated rhetoric that sounds good in a campaign advertisement.
The plastics industry stands ready and willing to address the plastic waste issue with elected leaders and environmental organizations acting in good faith. There is an opportunity at this critical juncture for a bipartisan infrastructure compromise to solve the plastic waste problem. Let’s not allow politics to get in the way.
Tony Radoszewski has served as President and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) since September 2019 and has over 40 years of experience within the plastics industry.