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US EPA plastics plan reaps discontent

Industry, environmental groups say draft targets the wrong issues

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
August 10, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 26


Neither industry groups nor environmentalists are happy with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution, but not for the same reasons.

Plastic bottles come off an assembly line at a plastics plant.
Credit: Shutterstock
The EPA's Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution includes the suggestion that plastics manufacturers reduce production of single-use plastics.

The document was released in April, and the public comment period ended July 31; it garnered over 91,000 responses. Those from chemical and industry groups disagree with the draft’s suggestion to reduce the production of single-use plastics. Environmental groups say the proposal doesn’t go far enough and lacks meaningful action to cut the generation, use, and disposal of plastics.

The plan includes suggestions such as reducing the production of “single-use, unrecyclable, or frequently littered” plastic, improving recycling, and keeping plastic waste from getting into waterways and other parts of the environment.

The responses are polarized. In an email, Judith Enck, founder and president of Beyond Plastics, says, “Beyond Plastics and other groups would like a greater emphasis on reducing the generation, use and disposal of plastics. Chemical companies, plastics companies, and fossil fuel companies have an economic interest in making more plastics. So there’s little opportunity for common ground.”

Matt Seaholm, CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, criticizes the suggestion of reduced use and production. “The EPA was directed by Congress in an overwhelmingly bi-partisan way to focus on post-consumer materials management and infrastructure, and instead the agency’s first stated objective in this strategy is to reduce the production of essential materials rather than address plastic waste,” he says in a statement. The group says the EPA should focus more on improving recycling management and infrastructure.

The American Chemistry Council also provided a comment to the EPA, suggesting that recognizing advanced recycling could enable the US to recycle many more types of plastics.

The EPA will read all the comments and potentially revise the draft based on the feedback. This phase will go slowly, says Enck, who was an EPA administrator under former president Barack Obama. “Snail’s pace slow.”



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