Julia Stein, LEGAL PLANET
Plastic pollution appears to be arising ever more frequently in the news. Companies like Starbucks have announced voluntary steps to rid their stores of plastic straws. China is wielding its “National Sword” policy, which places restrictions on the amount and type of plastic waste it will accept from abroad, which has prompted cries for improvements to recycling technologies and infrastructure in the United States. A young entrepreneur designed a floating boom intended to rake up debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a large accumulation of plastic debris and other waste floating in the Pacific Ocean—but it returned to port in pieces in early January, battered by unrelenting wind and waves, indicating the challenges of ocean cleanup.
All this attention is warranted: There are trillions of pieces of plastic debris in the oceans, and over 700 species—including 84 percent of sea turtle species—have been impacted. Marine wildlife can mistake plastic debris for food, and necropsies of birds, sea turtles, and whales have shown stomachs full with plastic. Plastic pollution affects humans as well: Plastic has made its way into our food, our table salt, and our drinking water. Chemicals used in plastic, like bisphenol A, have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and adverse developmental consequences in children.
Comprehensive federal legislation to address single-use plastics does not yet exist in the United States. Instead, the conversation has focused on encouraging foreign governments to control plastic waste, making improvements to recycling and waste management infrastructure, and promoting voluntary steps industries can take to improve plastic products and reduce waste.
Missing from that conversation is a critical piece of the puzzle: reducing consumption of single-use plastic at the source to limit the amount of plastic trash Americans generate. To reduce single-use plastics more effectively, Congress must step in and regulate through source control.
Source control is important for a number of reasons. Less than 10 percent of the world’s plastic waste is recycled, and many kinds of single-use plastic waste, like thin plastic bags and Styrofoam, cannot be recycled entirely.