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Lawmakers push Biden administration to act faster on plastic pollution

A new letter urges President Biden to “set meaningful standards to address the global plastic pollution crisis at home and beyond.”

A group of 24 U.S. senators and representatives are calling on the Biden administration to set legal standards to reduce plastic pollution at home and abroad.

The letter, sent on December 20, points to the recently introduced “Protecting Communities from Plastics Act” bill, which would require a mandatory reduction in single-use plastics, address pollution in environmental justice communities by pausing plastic facilities’ permitting and implementing stricter rules for current petrochemical plants, and would invest in research to better understand the human health impacts of plastic production and waste.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), builds upon the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which was introduced in 2020. The four lawmakers also spearheaded the letter to President Biden, which was co-signed by 20 others, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“These types of actions show leadership and demonstrate that the U.S. is eager and supportive of policies that will meaningfully reduce plastic pollution,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to President Biden.

The U.S. is the top consuming country of plastic and is one of the “leading drivers of this crisis,” they write.

Plastic pollution treaty 

The letter follows the first meeting of the international Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, a group convened by the United Nations to develop a global plastics treaty, which concluded its first (largely procedural) session earlier this month.

“In light of the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which continues to work to develop an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, U.S. leadership in reducing environmental harm from plastics has never been more critical,” the members said in their letter.

Plastic pollution and our hormones

The letter also comes on the heels of testimony from Environmental Health Sciences’ founder and chief scientist Pete Myers to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment & Public Works last week. Myers warned the committee that chemicals in plastic can block, mimic, increase or decrease our body’s hormones. Properly functioning hormones are vital for our health, and exposure to these chemicals is linked to a host of health problems including cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, impaired brain development and reproductive issues, among others.

“Each year, nearly 11 million metric tons of plastic waste flow into the ocean from land-based sources alone. Without immediate action, that number is expected to triple by the year 2040,” the lawmakers wrote. “There is growing scientific evidence that microplastics, and the toxic chemicals they contain, are impacting human health to degrees not yet understood.”

Leadership on plastic pollution 

Beyond the health impacts, the lawmakers point out the plastics sector is set to account for 20% of oil demand by 2050, and remains a key driver of greenhouse gases and climate change.

“We need to take leadership and urgent action, starting here at home, to protect our communities, our economy, and our climate from the continued threat from plastics,” the lawmakers wrote.

See the full letter.

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