End Plastics

Ten by Earth Day 2021: Putting Plastic Pollution in Its Place

The legacy of the first Earth Day in 1970 is rooted in the sweeping environmental laws and regulations that resulted, many of which are under threat today. In honor of the 50th anniversary, and now with less than 90 days until the November elections, Earth Day Network is rolling out the policy initiatives we want to see within the first 100 days of the next Administration, by Earth Day 2021.

This blog is the second of a series to share details about our policy initiatives on ending plastic pollution and how they will improve the health and well-being of our neighbors and our environment.

For decades, unmitigated plastic production and disposal have infiltrated nearly every nook and cranny on this planet, and recently we have learned that microplastics appear everywhere from the deep ocean to our own intestines. The undissolvable waste forms an ocean garbage patch across millions of square miles and washes up on beaches in the most remote corners of the globe.

Recently, though, the tides of plastic overtaking our earth seem to be turning.

In dozens of states across the U.S., policies on plastic pollution are being set into motion. Plastic straw bans hit D.C. last year, a Honolulu bill banning many single-use plastics passed last December and starting just last month, Vermont banned plastic bags from stores. These policy changes are a good start, showing steps to address the global issue at hand. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen temporary suspensions of many of these single-use item reduction policies and increased plastic pollution.

We must address the harmful effects of plastics in our environment —  the damage to marine and human health, littering of beaches and landscapes, clogging of our waste streams and landfills — and move beyond recycling and into a comprehensive approach to reducing plastic pollution.

Earth Day Network supports the passage of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act 2020, a bill that would push plastic back to whence it came, to large corporate manufacturers. By holding producers of plastic pollution accountable and putting power in the hands of the people, this act serves as a benchmark for many other bills to come. 

The act, introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), would phase out unneeded single-use plastic while forcing the producing corporations to be held accountable for the vast quantities of waste upon which their empires are built. This bill demands that responsible corporate entities finance, create and oversee proper waste management, a burden normally borne by local governments and the taxpayer.

Attacking the issue at its many levels, this bill also would establish a national beverage container refund program, empowering the EPA to establish more comprehensive recycling and compost labeling along with requiring more plastic packaging to be produced with recycled waste. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act 2020 makes large scale polluters responsible for their generation of waste and gives individual states the freedom to enforce additional plastic pollution policies of their own. 

Far too often the responsibility to ‘do the right thing’ falls to the consumer. Everyday people are left with the burden of plastic pollution, while corporations do not bear the responsibility of cleaning up the waste created by chip bags, plastic bottles or plastic grocery bags. No amount of recycling will tackle the issue of plastic pollution at its core. With this bill, plastic pollution will be the producer’s problem before and after it hits the shelves, even amid COVID-19 disruptions.

Plastic is in our food, our water and our air, all while the producers of those plastic items escape responsibility. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act 2020 would help to reverse this trend and set a  precedent for other plastic pollution policies to come. 

Earth Day Network is changing human attitudes about and behavior toward plastics and reducing plastic pollution. The End Plastic Pollution campaign informs policymakers, provides press availability and contributes to the international discussion on plastic pollution and its causes, including pushing for national legislation and corporate commitments. At the same time, we as individuals can get a jump start on making our communities plastic-free by participating in the Great Global Cleanup where appropriate. EDN encourages participants to check in with their local health guidelines before planning and to limit cleanups to individuals and small groups. Join us to create a plastic-free tomorrow!