The world is not ending, but we do have a plastic waste problem. And the plastics industry has a significant responsibility in solving it. In this Oct. 22, 2019, photo, plastic and other marine debris sits on the beach on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In one of the most remote places on Earth, Midway Atoll is a wildlife sanctuary that should be a safe haven for seabirds and other marine animals. Instead, creatures here struggle to survive as their bellies fill with plastic from faraway places. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

I’m a plastics industry CEO. We have a responsibility for plastic waste

Tony Radoszewski July 05, 12:00 AM July 05, 12:01 AM

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, like Maine and Oregon, pursue activist-driven, partisan policies that are actually detrimental to the environment in the long run. Or we can have a serious, bipartisan policy discussion about real, sustainable solutions.

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 invested and continues to invest billions of dollars into new recycling technologies and programs at home and abroad. Plastics companies, and the more than 1 million workers they employ, are continuously inventing new materials and 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 United States 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 plan is a pragmatic solution. Such a plan should rest on three basic principles:

Across most of the country, most common household material enters a single collection and sortation stream, so any EPR plan should include paper, glass, and metal industries. A nonprofit product stewardship organization should manage the program. State officials should have a seat at the table, but state control would reduce flexibility and innovation. Fee assessments should be fair and equitable, taking into account the full life cycle of materials.

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 such as 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, sustainable 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 toward unrelated pet projects demanded by state agencies. These plans also add additional costs to consumers simply to 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 affect the environment if not properly disposed of. 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 since September 2019 and has over 40 years of experience within the plastics industry.

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