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building a movement to end plastic pollution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. A group of 38 environmental organizations have banded together to urge the Committee members to reject this flawed piece of legislation and demand meaningful action. (See the joint letter below that was sent to the members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.)

Local governments and businesses across the country are working hard to reduce the use of plastic as evidenced by the hundreds of new local laws that ban plastic bags, straws and polystyrene. The European Union has adopted a new law banning ten major sources of plastic pollution. In stark contrast, The Save Our Seas 2.0 bill, which is strongly supported by the chemical industry, perpetuates the continued production of single-use packaging and meekly attempts to clean up plastic pollution after it has entered rivers, lakes and oceans.

“The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act does virtually nothing to require a reduction in the production of plastics while propping up an anemic approach to recycling. Congress can and must do much better on this urgent matter,” said Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Administrator and founder of Beyond Plastic, adding, “We cannot solve the climate change crisis without addressing the production and disposal of plastics, particularly with the petrochemical industry’s ambitious plans to build new ethylene cracker facilities to turn ethane, a byproduct of hydrofracking, into new plastic. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has been a champion on climate change issues and it is puzzling to see him sponsoring this bill which would lock us in to further fossil fuel production.”

“The continued reliance on single-use plastics has resulted in irreversible consequences for our air, water, and land, not to mention the serious effects on human health. We need to see real change at the federal level to effectively address this crisis by focusing on reducing the overall production and consumption of plastics, not cleaning it up after the fact,” said Shilpi Chhotray, Senior Communications Officer at Break Free From Plastic in Oakland, California.

Until yesterday, the bill promoted risky and false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis including incineration, gasification, and pyrolysis of plastics. Significant contributors to climate change and air pollution, these approaches are harmful to both the environment and public health. Expanding the role of these burning- and chemical-based approaches to the management of our ever-growing plastic pollution crisis will make it even harder to reduce the usage and production of single-use and other unnecessary plastic. It is unclear if the pro-burning provisions will be added back in to the bill after the committee vote.

“Instead of focusing on reducing plastics, the Save Our Seas Act had promoted false solutions like incineration that poison our communities and drive up the greenhouse gas emissions that are killing our oceans. This bill is a swing and a total miss,” said Denise Patel, U.S. and Canada Program Director at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

“By focusing on waste management, this legislation fails to address the climate, health, and environmental impacts of fracking, cracking, and manufacturing plastic,” said Steven Feit, a staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Without dealing with the problem of plastic production, this legislation risks further entrenching a linear system of plastic production which is damaging in all its stages.”

Per a recent report by CIEL and partners, Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, emissions from U.S. plastic incineration in 2015 accounted for an estimated 5.9 million metric tons of CO2e. If growth in plastic production and incineration continue as predicted, the conservative estimate for cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will be over 56 gigatons CO2e, or between 10-13 percent of the total remaining carbon budget.

The section of the Senate bill which requires a “Study on Options to ADVANCE Technologies For Converting Plastic Waste to Chemicals, Feedstocks, and Other Products” will not be voted on in the EPW committee on September 25, 2019 but may be back again in the next version of the bill.

“We sincerely hope that incineration, gasification, and pyrolysis options are not falsely presented as solutions to the plastic pollution crisis in any future versions of the bill,” said Chhotray.

CONTACT
Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics – 518.605.1770, JudithEnck at Bennington dot edu
Steven Feit, staff attorney at Center for International Environmental Law – 202.742.5832, sfeit at ciel dot org


Beyond Plastics is a nationwide project based at Bennington College in Vermont that works to reduce plastic pollution. Using our deep policy and advocacy expertise, we aim to build a well-informed, effective movement seeking to achieve the institutional, economic, and societal changes needed to protect the planet and the public from the plastic pollution crisis. www.BeyondPlastics.org

Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,500 organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.BreakFreeFromPlastic.org

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) uses the power of the law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training, and capacity building. www.ciel.org

GAIA: Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. www.no-burn.org

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OPPOSITION LETTER TO SAVE OUR SEAS LEGISLATION

September 24, 2019

Re: Opposition to the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, Senate bill 1982, Senate bill 2260, Senate bill 2364, Senate bill 2372

Dear Senator Whitehouse and Senator Sullivan:

The undersigned are writing to oppose the “Save our Seas 2.0 Act”. While we appreciate your attention to the important issue of plastic pollution, this legislation does not provide a comprehensive approach to solving the growing problem of plastic pollution and certain provisions of the bill will make the problem worse.

We need Congress to pass legislation that reduces the generation of plastic, particularly single-use plastic packaging. This bill does not do that.

The public and a growing number of businesses are focused on the impacts of the entire lifecycle of plastic, from production, including fossil fuel extraction, to manufacturing, use, disposal – especially plastic incineration – and pollution in the environment. These impacts include significant and growing greenhouse gas emissions, toxic health impacts, plastic and microplastic pollution, degradation of water quality, damage to fish and wildlife, and the severe and too often unnoticed environmental justice impacts in communities where petrochemical facilities are sited. That is why hundreds of local governments, many in bi-partisan fashion, have adopted laws that ban or limit a range of plastic packaging such as plastic bags, polystyrene containers, plastic straws, balloons, plastic utensils and other single-use plastics. Beyond bans, we need a national law that reduces plastic generation, not just end-of-pipe approaches to manage plastic waste once it has been produced.

The primary focus of legislation addressing the plastic pollution crisis should focus on reducing the manufacturing and use of plastics – not attempts to clean it up after the fact. Your legislation directs a number of federal agencies to do studies, launches a Genius prize, and establishes a new Foundation housed at NOAA. While these efforts may have some positive impact, the bill ultimately approaches the issue as one of waste management, not overproduction of plastic, and risks further entrenching the systems that produce plastic rather than dislodging them. In particular, sections 305 (Study on repurposing plastic waste in infrastructure) and 306 (study on options to advance technologies for converting plastic waste to chemicals, feedstocks, and other useful products) are likely to expand markets for plastic waste which will then rely on a steady stream of plastic to stay viable. Many of these false solutions, such as incineration, waste-to-fuel, and pyrolysis approaches, are dangerous in their own right, and expanding their footprint on the American economy will only make it harder to phase out single-use and unnecessary plastic. We understand that the section of the bill dealing with incineration, gasification, pyrolysis of plastics has been removed from this bill but may be again added at a future date.  We applaud it being removed and urge you to keep that section out of all future bills. 

This is particularly concerning when considered alongside the enormous investments being made by the petrochemical industry in new facilities to produce ever more virgin plastic. According to the American Chemistry Council, over $204 billion in capital investment have been announced for 334 new or expanded facilities linked to US shale gas. Most of this investment is in facilities to produce plastic or plastic precursor chemicals. Industry plans to expand plastic production will overwhelm any efforts to strengthen the US recycling system.

This expansion is a climate and environmental justice crisis. The climate crisis cannot be solved without dealing with plastic production. A recent report calculated that, if trends in the plastic industry continue as planned, the plastic lifecycle could account for up to 13% of the global carbon budget just by 2050. Moreover, communities living close to facilities which produce and incinerate plastic, disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color, will be exposed to dangerous levels of air toxins while massive amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. 

We the undersigned organizations request that you withdraw this bill or fundamentally change it so it focuses on reducing the generation of plastic, not the continued generation of plastic that inevitably damages the marine environment and then adds a new layer of problems from the air pollution at the gasification or incineration or pyrolysis or waste to fuel facilities that are not viable environmental or economic options.

The American people are actively working on the perils of plastic pollution and taking action at the local and state level. It would be a shame not to capitalize on the growing public interest in this issue and pass federal legislation that does not effectively address this problem.

We would be happy to discuss these concerns with you at your convenience. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

  1. Judith Enck, Beyond Plastics, Bennington, Vermont
  2. Steven Feit, Center for International Environmental Law, Washington, DC
  3. Jackie Nuñez, The Last Plastic Straw, Santa Cruz, California
  4. Harith Wickrema, Island Green Living Association, St. John, Virgin Islands 
  5. Young Grguras, Post-landfill Action Network, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 
  6. Ellie Cohen, CEO, The Climate Center, Santa Rosa, California
  7. Elise Semonian, Town PLanner, San Anselmo, California
  8. Anna Cummins, The 5 Gyres Institute, Los Angeles, California 
  9. Heather Trim, Zero Waste Washington, Seattle, Washington 
  10. Stiv Wilson, Story of Stuff Project, Berkeley, California 
  11. Leslie Tamminen, 7th Generation Advisors, Los Angeles, California
  12. Denise Patel, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, New York, New York
  13. Yvonne Taylor, Seneca Lake Guardian, a Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate, Watkins Glen, New York 
  14. Jon Phillips, Co-Chair, Keep-It-Greene, Catskill, New York
  15. Mark Lichtenstein, Embrace Impatience Associates, Mexico, New York
  16. Debby Lee Cohen, Cafeteria Culture, New York, New York
  17. Craig Williams, Kentucky Environmental Foundation,  Berea, Kentucky
  18. Tricia Cortez, Rio Grande International Study Center, Laredo, Texas
  19. Christopher Chin, The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Oakland, California
  20. Paul Burns, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Montpelier, Vermont
  21. David Bezanson, Ph.D., 350, Silicon Valley, California 
  22. Dianna Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Los Angeles, California
  23. Patricia Wood, Grassroots Environmental Education, Port Washington, New York
  24. KT Andresky, Breathe Free Detroit, Detroit, Michigan
  25. Bradley M. Campbell, Conservation Law Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
  26. Miriam Gordon, UPSTREAM, San Francisco, California 
  27. Theresa Landrum, Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit, Detroit, Michigan
  28. Pamela Carter, 48217 Community and Environmental Health Organization, Detroit, Michigan
  29. Mary Buxton, 350, Silicon Valley, California
  30. Nicole Kemeny, 350, Silicon Valley, California 
  31. Shilpi Chhotray, Break Free From Plastic, Oakland, California
  32. Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Concerned Health Professionals, New York, New York
  33. Robert Nuñez, Californians Against Waste, Sacramento, California
  34. Tracy Frisch, Clean Air Action Network, Glens Falls, New York
  35. Joanie Steinhaus, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Galveston, Texas
  36. Charlene Lemoine, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, Waukesha, Wisconsin
  37. Melissa Cooper Sargent, Ecology Center, Detroit, Michigan
  38. Lynn Hoffman, Eureka Recycling, Minneapolis, Minnesota