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November 19, 2019
Re: Opposition to Save our Seas 2.0, Senate bill 1982
An editorial in the Newark Star Ledger got it exactly right with the headline: “Our oceans are choking in plastic, and half measures are inadequate.” (October 29, 2019). Millions of pounds of plastic pour into our treasured rivers, streams and the ocean every year. We write in opposition to the Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation, which builds on the Save Our Seas law signed by President Trump last year. This is a controversial bill that warrants some time on the Senate floor for careful consideration. We, the undersigned groups numbering over 100, urge you to oppose Unanimous Consent when Senate bill 1982 comes to the Senate floor.
While we appreciate Congressional attention to the growing problem of plastic pollution, this legislation does not provide an effective approach. Certain provisions may make the problem even worse. We need Congress to pass legislation that reduces the generation of plastic, particularly single-use plastic packaging. Instead, this legislation has four major flaws.
This bill will do little to reduce the staggering amount of plastic polluting our streets, streams, shores and seas, as it does not curb upstream production or provide for a transition to reusable and refillable packaging.
The U.S., alone, created 35.4 million tons of plastic waste in 2017, most of it from single-use plastic packaging and products. This plastic is used for minutes, yet if it is littered or landfilled, it lasts in the environment for centuries. An effective plastics bill must reduce the generation of single-use plastic items – especially those that are the most common forms of plastic pollution. This bill does not do that.
Instead, it focuses on collecting small amounts of litter after the fact and attempts to prop up an anemic recycling system. For the past 30 years, the plastics industry has lulled Americans into thinking that recycling is the solution to the plastic problem. It is not. While recycling is essential for many materials including cardboard, paper, glass and metals, the highest recycling rate ever achieved for all plastics was 9.5% nationwide in 2014. The plastic recycling rate in 2017 dropped to 8.4%, and that was before China banned the importation of American recyclables. This means that over 90% of American plastics are landfilled, burned or discarded, posing a threat to public health and the environment.
Most importantly, eight of the top ten plastic pollution items found in the 2018 U.S. Coastal Cleanup were single-use plastic food and service items that have no waste material value and are not accepted by recyclers in the U.S. (Link to report). U.S. E.P.A. data shows that these single-use items have never been measurably recycled. Globally, Coca-Cola has been repeatedly identified as the Top Polluter in brand audit cleanups (Link to report) – and they admitted in their own disclosure last year to being solely responsible for nearly 1% of the worldwide demand for plastics.
In short, we cannot recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis.
We cannot solve climate change without reducing plastic pollution.
Second, plastic production is a major contributor to climate change. This bill will do virtually nothing to reduce the carbon emissions from plastic production facilities. Plastics have historically been made from chemicals and oil. Today, they are primarily made from chemicals and ethane – a by-product of hydrofracking. Dozens of new ethane cracker facilities have been proposed. If these facilities are built, they will serve as a major source of new carbon emissions. According to the American Chemistry Council, over $204 billion in capital investments have been announced for 334 new or expanded facilities linked to hydrofracking, with most of this money invested in facilities to produce plastic or plastic precursor chemicals.
According to a recent report from several organizations in partnership with the Center for International Environmental Law, “Plastic and Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet” (Link to report), the link between plastics production and disposal and climate change is stark. If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030 these emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year – equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new coal-fired power plants. By 2050, the accumulation of these greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons – 10 to 13 percent of the global carbon budget by 2050. Moreover, communities living close to facilities which produce and incinerate plastic, disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color, will be exposed to dangerous levels of air toxins while the massive amounts of new greenhouse gases will make climate change even worse.
Spending Tax Dollars to Study False Solutions Wastes Valuable Time and Resources.
Third, should the chemical industry’s lobbying efforts succeed, the final bill will include previously removed language that directs the National Academies of Sciences or a federal agency to spend federal tax dollars and take years to study options to burn or process plastics through various high temperature incineration processes such as gasification, pyrolysis, waste to fuel and other risky approaches. The U.S. Department of Energy is already spending $7.6 million (Link here) to study these technologies. We do not need to spend more tax dollars on a new study to validate these technologies when we already know that they are fraught with environmental and health problems and are not economical at scale. We do not have time to go down the rabbit hole of false solutions, many of which have been proposed and have not worked for the past 30 years.
International Negotiations Should Focus on Reducing Plastic Pollution.
Fourth, while we appreciate the focus on international cooperation, this legislation does not recognize the explosion in plastic production that is underway and has no targets for reducing production of plastics intended for wasteful single-use applications. Instead, the focus is on “marine litter” and directs other countries to improve their waste management practices. The bill does not acknowledge that the U.S. has inadequate domestic waste management and recycling infrastructure and continues to export large amounts of unrecyclable plastics to other countries. This bill limits the U.S. policy direction in any new international agreement to only that of improving waste management and collection, discounting the considerable harms of plastic and plastic pollution along the entire life cycle. We must recognize that climate change, public health and marine impacts demand more action and leadership than admonishing other nations to do better. Rather than restricting our participation in comprehensive policy to solve the crisis, the U.S. should instead be leading with other countries to adopt measures to reduce the harms from plastics across its life cycle. Meanwhile, our government should be proactively incentivizing the innovation of refill and reuse solutions that will reduce the overall need for wasteful and harmful plastics.
Public interest in plastic pollution has never been higher. Hundreds of local laws have been adopted in U.S. cities and communities that actually reduce plastic pollution. Ten states have had decades of success with container deposit laws, known as “bottle bills.” California is working towards adopting an effective plastic packaging reduction law. A small but growing number of businesses are reducing their plastic footprint. Globally, more than 127 nations have taken legal action to eliminate plastic pollution. The E.U. has banned single-use plastic items that are the most common forms of plastic pollution in their region.
The chemical industry strongly supports the Save our Seas 2.0 legislation because it does virtually nothing to reduce single-use plastic production, even with the massive increase in greenhouse gases that accompany plastic production and various pyrolysis / gasification / incineration technologies.
We have been told to settle for this bill because the political climate in Washington does not allow for anything better. We disagree. The time has come to work on real solutions such as the policies that are included in the legislation soon to be introduced by Senator Udall and Representative Lowenthal.
Half of all plastics ever made were made in the past 15 years. There are microplastic particles in the air we breathe and the food we eat. Scientists estimate that adults are consuming roughly a credit card’s worth (5 grams) of plastic particles per week. Legislation must go to the root of the plastic pollution crisis.
We would be happy to discuss these issues with you at your convenience. Thank you for your consideration.
Jeff Bridges, Actor
Jack Johnson, Musician/Activist
Bonnie Raitt, Musician
Alice Waters, Chef and Owner of Chez Panisse, Founder of the Edible Schoolyard Program, Berkeley, California
Jackson Browne, Musician and Ocean Elder
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance, New York, New York
Gerry Lopez, Ocean Elder
Sven Lindblad, Ocean Elder
Kim Johnson, Kokua Hawaii Foundation President/Co-Founder
Judith Enck, Beyond Plastics, Bennington, Vermont
Bill McKibben, 350.org, Middlebury, Vermont
Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca Tribe, Ponca City, Oklahoma
Patricia Wood, Grassroots Environmental Education, Port Washington, New York
Christopher Chin, Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Oakland, California
Julie Teel Simmonds, Center for Biological Diversity, Boulder, Colorado
Elizabeth Moran, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Albany, New York
Jackie Nuñez, The Last Plastic Straw/ Plastic Pollution Coalition, Santa Cruz, California
Yvonne Taylor, Gas Free Seneca Watkins Glen, New York, New York
Joseph Campbell, Seneca Lake Guardian, a Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate, Watkins Glen, New York, New York
Robin Schneider, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Austin, Texas
Tricia Cortez, Rio Grande International Study Center, Laredo, Texas
Tran Hoang, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Occidental, California
Nick Lapis, Californians Against Waste, Sacramento, California
Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Concerned Health Professionals of New York
Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA, Washington DC
Melissa Aguayo, The 5 Gyres Institute, Los Angeles, California
Meredith Faltin, Queens Climate Project, Jackson Heights, New York
Meryl Greer Domina, Circle Pines Center, Delton, Michigan
Denise Patel, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Berkeley, California
Debby Lee Cohen, Cafeteria Culture, New York, New York
Sharon Hoffmann, 350Merced Merced, California
Michael Green, Center for Environmental Health, Oakland, California
Joseph Wagner, Glens Falls, New York
Sarah Edwards, Plastic Free Waters Partnership, New York and New Jersey
Ana Baptista, The Tishman Environment and Design Center, The New School, New York, New York
Gary J Lessard, P.E. Schenectady, New York
Lynn Neuman, 350BK, Brooklyn, New York
Jill Jedlicka, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Buffalo, New York
Steven Feit, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Washington, DC
Bradley M. Campbell, Conservation Law Foundation, Boston, Massachusetts
Diane Wilson, San Antonia Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, Seadrift, Texas
Shilpi Chhotray, Break Free From Plastic, Oakland, California
Mark Dunlea, Green Education and Legal Fund, Poestenkill, New York
Karen MacWatters, Indivisible 518:Justice for All, Niskayuna, New York
Gary E Jennrich, Hinckley 350, Hinckley, Ohio
Jerry Rivers, North American Climate, Conservation and Environment (NACCE), Roosevelt, New York
Heather Trim, Zero Waste Washington, Seattle, WA
Mónica Weiss, 350NYC, New York, New York
Tracy Frisch, Clean Air Action Network of Glens Falls, Greenwich, New York
Ellen Connett, Fluoride Action Network, Binghamton, New York
Mazeda Uddin, South Asian Fund For Education, Scholars Hip and Training, New York, New York
Mary Biggs, Beloved Earth Community, Riverside Church, New York, New York
George Povall, All Our Energy, Point Lookout, New York
Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC
Jennifer Scarlott, Bronx Climate Justice North, Bronx, New York
Brook Lenker, FracTracker Alliance, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
Mary Smith, Church Women United in New York State, Rochester, New York
Scott Meyer, Don't Waste Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona
Justin Green, Big Reuse, Brooklyn, New York
Laura Haight, Partnership for Policy Integrity, Pelham, Massachusetts
Wayne Stinson, Peacemakers of Schoharie County, Cobleskill, New York
Melinda Gelder, Get REAL Counseling & Education, Port Angeles, Washington
Joseph Naham, Green Party of Nassau County, Long Beach, New York
Mary-Alice Shemo, People for Positive Action, Plattsburgh, New York
Kate Kurera, Environmental Advocates of New York, Albany, New York
Emy Kane, Lonely Whale, Brooklyn, New York
Jan Dell, The Last Beach Cleanup, Laguna Beach, California
Susan Hughes-Smith, Rochester People's Climate Coalition, Rochester, New York
Mandi Billinge, KIDS for the BAY, Berkeley, California
Hannah Testa, Hannah4Change, Cumming, Georgia
Christine Pardee, Plastic Free Curriculum, Martin, Michigan
Shaina Kasper, Toxics Action Center Campaigns, Montpelier, Vermont
Nada Khader, WESPAC Foundation, White Plains, New York
Kei Williams, Peoples Climate Movement - NY, Brooklyn, New York
Alan Bentz-Letts, Beloved Earth Community, The Riverside Church, New York, New York
Sarah Doll, Safer States, Portland, Oregon
Lorraine Ruffing, Assembly Point Water Quality Coalition, Lake George, New York
Juan Parras, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Houston, Texas
Martha Torregrossa, Clean Air Action Network, Queensbury, New York
Doug Bullock, Solidarity Committee, Capital District, Albany, New York
Arthur Schwartz, NY Progressive Action Network, New York, New York
Laurie Valeriano, Toxic-Free Future, Seattle, Washington
Mary Beth Mylott, Bolton Coalition, Bolton Landing, New York
Christopher-Robin Healy, Warren County Zero Waste, Glens Falls, New York
Tessa Harber, Chevy Chase, Maryland
Jane Kana, Zero Waste Community, Queensbury, New York
Charlene Lemoine, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Goffinet McLaren, Chirping Birds Society, Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Julie Wash, Saratoga Unites, Inc., Saratoga Springs, New York
Lisa Adamson, Tricounty New York Transition, Glens Falls, Queensbury, Lake George, New York
Mary Gutierrez, Earth Ethics, Inc., Pensacola, Florida
Sam Pearse, Story of Stuff Project, Berkeley, California
Teresa Kotturan, Sisters of Charity Federation, New York, New York
Ed Chadd, Olympic Climate Action, Port Angeles, Washington
Meryl Greer Domina, 359Kishwaukee, DeKalb, Illinoiis
Toni Jean, Lexington, Massachusetts
Young Grguras, Post-Landfill Action Network, Philadelphia, PA
Wyldon King Fishman, New York Solar Energy Society, Bronx, New York
Matt Prindiville, UPSTREAM, Damariscotta, Maine
Liz Hitchcock, Safer Chemicals, Washington DC
Dianna Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Los Angeles, California
Paul Burns, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Montpelier, Vermont
Alex Cole, The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Huntington, West Virginia
Michael Schade, Mind the Store, Brooklyn, New York
Kathy Curtis, Clean and Healthy New York, Albany, New York
Michele Baker, New York Water Project, Hoosick Falls, New York
Drea Leanza, Troy Zero Waste, Troy, New York
Paul Tick, News from the Neighborhood, Bethlehem, New York
Rebecca Newberry, Clean Air Coalition, Buffalo, New York
Logan Welde, Clean Air Council, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania