Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020

Earlier this year my students caught wind of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. They had been undergoing research and action to try to reduce single-use plastics at their school. When they saw this act, they were immediately hopeful that the prevention and ban of single-use plastics could actually become a reality.

We had been studying Earth’s 4 systems and how the ocean plays a role. Two of the California Environmental Principles and Concepts also played a role in our studies, https://www.californiaeei.org/curriculum/whatistaught/epc/ :

Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 was introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udell of New Mexico and Congressman Alan Lowenthal of the 47th District of California (Eastern Los Angeles County and Western Orange County) to the House of Congress in February 2020. The bill can be found here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845

This bill will:

  • Require manufacturers to be charged with designing and funding recycling systems. The producers must be part of the Producer Responsibility Organization, where they are held responsible for the recycling their own products.
  • Create a nation-wide deposit system for beverage containers. This means that when a customer returns a beverage container to the retailer they are given back the deposit they paid for when purchasing the container. The producer initially charges the retailer for each beverage container, and then the retailer charges the customer that amount. If the customer returns that beverage container, the customer will get the deposit back. In turn, the retailer then charges the producer the deposit amount. If people return their beverage containers, this holds the producer more responsible for their production and recycling efforts.
  • Phase out most polluting single-use plastics, such as utensils and bags by creating programs that refund customers and create taxes on plastic bags.
  • Require a mandated minimum recycled content for products. Producers must use create products that use more recyclable parts, therefore making the product something that can actually be recycled and not just trash.
Students at ReThink Waste, learning where their trash ends up, and what can actually be recycled.
  • Prohibit the U.S. from shipping waste to countries that cannot manage it. The U.S. cannot export their plastics to other countries that are not a part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In addition those countries must be in an agreement with the U.S. on the export of plastics to their county. This would give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Put a temporary hold on new companies, or those looking to expand that must address the pollution they create from plastics in their facilities and find healthier ways to combat this issue. 
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have to enforce guidelines for producer labeling, making it easy to read whether that product is recyclable, compostable, or reusable.
Trash and recycling found at the beach.

If this bill passes, it will not only force producers to take responsibility for the plastic pollution they are creating, but it will also make information more available to everyone. 

There is a great limitation of knowledge in the plastic world. We don’t quite know the ramifications of the plastic bottle we drank from, or the take-out utensils we used from the restaurant or in the cafeteria at school. Often times, we don’t quite know if we can recycle certain plastics. If that information was neatly and easily labeled on the product the decision we make of where to dispose it becomes easier. This kind of information and education is important part of environmental justice, which is stated by the EPA as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies, https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice. More often it is not the consumers fault that there is plastic in our waterways, or that the fossil fuels burned to make those products are polluting the air we breathe. That education must be made available to all to make more informed decisions. 

The producers of these plastic products if held responsible for their actions will lead to greater change. Which is #12 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGD): “Responsible Consumption and Production.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/. The SDGs are goals set to create equity and peace across the world, as well as sustainable practices “in order to leave no one behind.”

Knowing how to take action takes much research. If you want to read more, visit The Plastic Pollution Coalition, https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/. They are working towards bringing more information to you, and showing ways to take action and come together as a community of change-makers.

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