Skip to content

Americans United Against Plastic Waste | New Legislation in America

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Did you know that the US is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide? Commodity polymer manufacturing, which includes plastics, is responsible for GHG emissions equivalent to the global aviation sector!

In fact, manufacturing these products is projected to represent >20% of annual global fossil fuels consumption by 2050. In addition to GHG emissions there is a vast amount of plastic waste accumulating in our landfills. GHG emissions and growing landfills is concern enough to find innovative solutions that go beyond using petroleum-based plastics. 

This is why we need support from our government to create opportunities, through policies, that pave the way for expanding the use of biobased products to offset plastics that come from petroleum. What is needed is a more circular economy for the fossil carbon-based polymer production that we are so familiar with and to be able to source chemical building blocks in the future for recyclable-by-design plastics from bio-based and waste sources.

For many, the policy landscape for greater circularity in the US seems to resemble a patchwork of legislative efforts by some states but what it lacks is consistent a unification of effort. Typically, the federal government is responsible for a unified response to any crisis.  So, what’s the current response? 

As we know passing legislation in a divided Congress isn’t easy, however, in 2022 Republicans and Democrats made some headway and passed the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The treaty will phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These chemicals are used in refrigerators and air conditions and when they leak, they are thousands of times more harmful than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming our climate. President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats also passed the Inflation Reduction Act which provides $369 billion for different climate priorities aimed to move us away from fossil fuels. We can expect to see, among other things, utilities receiving investments to transition away from coal.

Now what about plastics?

Well, there is some activity that could be promising. In September of last year, the President signed an Executive Order (E.O.). The EO calls for a whole-of-government approach to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing by creating a research agenda that is intended to lead to innovative solutions to, among other things, provide solutions to climate change. The E.O. also launched an initiative to ensure that we have the domestic capacity to make in the United States all the bio-based products that are invented here.  In conjunction with the E.O., a document was released that outlines bold goals for the US bioeconomy. One of those goals calls for, in 20 years, cost-effective and sustainable routes to convert bio-based feedstocks into recyclable-by-design polymers that can displace more than 90% of today’s plastics and other commercial polymers at scale.

No doubt this is a big undertaking and perhaps many will say it can’t be done - as I am sure many of us have heard, “Can’t never did anything”. For the rest of us, we won’t lean back on cynicism but will choose to be part of the change by staying informed and looking for opportunities in our lives to bring about a circular economy while setting the expectation for elected representatives to act. 

[1] The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics | Ellen MacArthur Foundation

[2] Bold Goals for U.S. Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Harnessing Research and Development to further Societal Goals March 2023.

Leave a Comment