The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its draft “National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution” for public comment, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to reduce pollution and build a circular economy. It includes ambitious actions to eliminate the release of plastic and other waste from land-based sources into the environment by 2040.
“Plastic pollution negatively impacts our environment and public health, with underserved and overburdened communities hit hardest,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “As a global leader in the efforts to address these challenges and pave the way for the future, we must combat plastic pollution from every angle and prevent it at every step of the plastic lifecycle. As we take comments on EPA’s draft national strategy, the agency will continue this work to protect people and the planet, ensuring the benefits reach our most vulnerable communities.”
The April 21 draft was part of the EPA’s and Biden administration’s efforts to recognize Earth Week. It was released with a new White House Interagency Policy Committee (IPC) on Plastic Pollution and a Circular Economy. The IPC is designed to coordinate federal efforts on plastic pollution, prioritizing public health, economic development, environmental justice, and equity to ensure that the benefits of acting on plastic pollution — including jobs, minimized exposure to harmful chemicals, and clean communities — are available to all.
In the last 20 years, global annual production of plastics and plastic waste has more than doubled, the EPA said. As a result, communities face pollution from the manufacture and transportation of plastic and associated chemicals, and also from the millions of tons of plastic products that end up in waste streams and “leak” into neighborhoods, waterways, and oceans.
Key EPA objectives and strategies
The EPA said it worked closely with industry leaders and additional stakeholders to identify three key objectives for the strategy:
- Reduce pollution during plastic production;
- improve post-use materials management;
- prevent trash and micro/nanoplastics from entering waterways and remove escaped trash from the environment.
The “National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution” draft, combined with EPA’s “National Recycling Strategy,” identify how the agency can work collaboratively with US organizations to prevent plastic pollution and reduce, reuse, recycle, and capture plastic and other waste from land-based sources. The EPA said these actions support a circular approach to the management of plastics — one that is regenerative by design, enables resources to maintain their highest value for as long as possible, and aims for the elimination of waste.
Examples of actions in the draft strategy include:
- Improve the design of plastic products to provide more reuse and refill opportunities;
- increase solid waste collection and ensure that solid waste management does not adversely impact communities;
- produce fewer single-use, unrecyclable, and frequently littered plastic products, and reduce pollution from plastic production facilities;
- increase public awareness of ways to reduce plastic and other trash in waterways.
EPA aims to finalize plastic pollution strategy by end of year
The EPA said it invites public comments on the draft and expects to finalize the strategy by the end of the year.
The EPA also is posting public comments on the Federal Trade Commission’s request for comment on potential updates to its “Green Guides” for the use of environmental marketing claims. These include recyclable, compostable, renewable energy, and general environmental benefit claims, among others. EPA said it supports strengthening requirements for environmental marketing claims and combating greenwashing, including requiring higher thresholds for plastic products and packaging to be marketed as recyclable.
In support of the National Recycling Strategy and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA has also developed an interactive map of recycling markets that highlights existing infrastructure, per capita generation and recycling of post-consumer material, and other relevant market factors.
American Chemistry Council responds
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said its members are committed to being good neighbors and helping safeguard communities and the environment. “The cities and towns where we operate include our families, friends, and employees. Environmental justice and listening to and addressing the concerns of local communities are vital issues today. We believe stakeholders deserve a seat at the table and welcome dialogue on how we can work together to protect our air, water, climate, and land.
“Through Responsible Care, ACC member companies work every day to be safer and more sustainable. By tracking and transparently reporting environmental stewardship metrics, we are continually improving and enhancing safety and sustainability processes in our facilities and throughout the supply chain, said the council.
“EPA and other federal agencies should provide ample opportunity for engagement with stakeholders, including industry and other regulated parties. This engagement can promote open dialogue and transparency while allowing agencies to understand the full scope of impacts of their actions and policies. Local industry can offer valuable community-specific technical expertise and should be an integral part of discussions to identify effective, workable solutions that make a difference.
“We support transparent and objective action and the use of the best available science and approaches. As EPA evaluates impacts on local communities, the agency should use a rigorous, science-based approach that evaluates and assesses risk in an appropriately tailored way. Cumulative risk analysis is scientifically complex, and considerable care needs to be taken to avoid misuse and miscommunication of results from screening approaches that are not designed to perform risk assessments.
“ACC welcomes opportunities to work with community partners on programs to help advance environmental health and social and economic stability and prosperity.”