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Requiring deposits on bottles in US could garner plastics industry’s support

Legislation would have to be ‘drafted correctly,’ association leader says

by Cheryl Hogue
December 15, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 44


Plastic and other liitter on the ground behind leafless bushes.
Credit: Shutterstock
A Dec. 15 hearing in the US Senate focused on plastic pollution.

A major US plastics industry organization could support federal legislation to require consumers to pay deposits on beverage bottles, the head of the group told a congressional panel Dec. 15.

The Plastics Industry Association would back such a bill “if drafted correctly,” Matt Seaholm, the group’s CEO, said without elaborating further. Seaholm spoke at a hearing convened by the Senate Environment and Public Works panel’s Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight Subommittee.

Seaholm made his comment in response to a question from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who chairs the subcommittee and is the sponsor of S. 984, the proposed Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act. Among its extensive provisions, the measure would impose a national program for paying and redeeming monetary deposits on beverage bottles.

Merkley had asked Seaholm if the plastics industry would back a federal version of what is popularly called a bottle bill. This kind of legislation requires retailers such as grocery stores to charge customers a deposit fee as part of the purchase of beverages in bottles made of glass or plastic. Customers can recoup the money when they return bottles to retailers or redemption centers.

Ten US states have bottle laws, with cash redemption of 5 or 10 cents per beverage bottles. They are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. These states have a higher rate of bottle returns for recycling than do jurisdictions without such laws.

Historically, food and beverage manufacturers, distributors, and retailers have opposed bottle bills.

Also speaking at the hearing was John Peterson Myers, cofounder of Sudoc, a start-up focusing on sustainable cleaning products. He’s also the scientist who coined the term endocrine disruption. He urged the Senate panel to require toxicity testing of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in plastics, noting that most of these compounds have not undergone such scrutiny. Some chemicals used in plastics are already known to disrupt the human body’s hormone systems, he said. Plus, plastics makers are not required to disclose the chemicals used in their products, Myers pointed out.

In addition, Eric Hartz, cofounder and president of Nexus Circular, spoke to the panel in favor of the chemical recycling of plastic. His company, which is in Atlanta, recycles polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and plastic films via pyrolysis.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) asked Hartz whether the chemical recycling of plastic takes away feedstock from and threatens the mechanical recycling business.

Mechanical recycling, which involves chipping up used plastic, melting it, and forming new products, takes less energy than pyrolysis, Hartz said. The used plastic the mechanical recycling depends on is “not the plastic we seek” for chemical recycling, he said.



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