Technological watch

Perspective: What you may not have heard at the hearing

"If 'crafted correctly' means that we recycle a high amount, certainly, my door is open," said Sen. Jeff Merkley. He made this remark on Dec. 15 at the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee in response to my statement that the plastics industry can be supportive of policies like bottle deposits or extended producer responsibility, if crafted correctly.

To the honorable committee chairman and author of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, potentially agreeing with the plastics industry on policy goals, given the right set of details, might have appeared to be quite a breakthrough.

Unfortunately, the activist sitting to my right indicated that compromise isn't really the goal from her perspective. Judith Enck, the president of Beyond Plastics, made a very important distinction exhibiting that solutions to truly address America's recycling woes isn't really the ideal outcome.

Keeping in mind that she heads an organization that exists for the purposes of "training individuals to become leaders in the anti-plastics movement," "eliminating single use plastic," and to "help block new plastic manufacturing," this shouldn't come as a surprise. The Center for the Elimination of Plastic, which also offered testimony, wants to outright eliminate the production of plastic and offered comments for the record throughout the hearing to that effect.

At a pivotal point during the hearing, I specifically raised the plastics industry's support of policies like extended producer responsibility (EPR), a concept that assesses a small fee on products to fund the infrastructure to recycle them. As you likely know, programs like this exist for the recycling of things like carpet, mattresses, paint and car batteries. However, EPR programs don't exist to eliminate the usage of these products. You wouldn't create an EPR policy that would eventually eliminate the number of cars that use batteries. That would be silly.

I raise this very important nuance because typically EPR can be an all-encompassing term for anti-plastics policies. Ms. Enck's response to this issue was very telling. When referring to EPR policies, she clarified her position, saying, "I call them plastic reduction and reuse requirements," which suggests a very different purpose. So, while the plastics industry is saying, "OK, let's figure out a funding mechanism like EPR to build the necessary recycling infrastructure," activists like Enck are essentially saying, "You can call it whatever you want; we have a different agenda."

Setting aside that the feasibility of a 50 percent reduction of plastic production in the next decade, as was proposed in the hearing, is impossible without massive harm to the American economy, it completely ignores the essential need for plastic to protect, preserve and provide safety to our society. If there's one thing a pandemic and now a war on the European continent have taught us, stable supply chains are imperative. Producing plastic in America is a good thing and something that I believe should be embraced as essential, not abruptly stopped.

The plastics industry clearly stated throughout the hearing that compromise and collaboration are necessary for the passage of sound public policy that would indeed reduce plastic waste. Leaders of the Senate committee reiterated that through collaboration, we must establish clear and concise goals for our country to increase recycling. Mr. Eric Hartz, representing Nexus Circular, and I talked about improving recycling infrastructure, increasing the use of recycled content and the commercial-scale viability of advanced recycling.

Reducing plastic waste is a solvable problem and our industry is investing billions of dollars to collect, sort and recycle more plastic — creating tens of thousands of jobs in the process. I believe that policymakers like the honorable Sen. Jeff Merkley convened us to have an honest discussion about this challenge and identify ways to solve it. Personally, I was very encouraged by the chairman and his committee's desire to identify those solutions. That was evidenced by his obvious intrigue at the industry's support of a national beverage deposit law.

Our industry sees Congress as a very important partner in this process, and with a group of newly elected senators and representatives arriving in Washington, I'm certain there is opportunity for compromise and collaboration that the plastics industry would embrace.

Publication date: 18/01/2023

Plastics News - automotive

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Last update: 2022-01-31