, , - Posted on October 27, 2023

Vital Improvements to New Comprehensive Federal Legislation on Plastic Pollution

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 builds upon earlier versions of the bill, incorporating proven state and local policy solutions that protect people from toxic chemicals, uphold environmental justice in frontline communities, and hold plastic polluters accountable.

Comms Hub and Brett Nadrich, US Communications Officer
Photo by Tim Aurby/Greenpeace

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-02) reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, the most comprehensive federal legislation to address the toxic plastics crisis and protect people and the planet from corporate polluters. 

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 expands upon earlier versions of the bill by advancing common sense solutions that have been proven through policies enacted at the state and local levels across the United States for nearly a decade. “We’ve seen many of the policies in the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act work tremendously in California, not only saving natural resources but creating over 100,000 jobs,” said Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy, Californians Against Waste. “It’s time to take these policies nationwide.”

The new bill strengthens prohibitions on single-use plastic bags and certain single-use food service items, and further establishes a prohibition on black plastics at food and retail establishments because they are virtually impossible to recycle. It also expands environmental justice protections at covered facilities by incorporating crucial language from the “Protecting Communities from Plastics Act” that was introduced in the U.S. Congress last year.

“As original peoples of the land, we have an inherent right to protect the environment, land, air, water and all creation. We are the air. We are the water. We are the land. We are the environment,” said Frankie Orona, Executive Director, Society of Native Nations. “The chemicals used during the production of plastics are destroying communities that industry and enabling governments have deemed sacrifice zones. As those who have suffered the worst impacts of toxic plastic production and pollution, we cannot be forgotten. We have a collective responsibility to examine and rectify the harmful impacts of extraction, petrochemical refinement, manufacturing, and the consumption and accumulation of plastic waste in all environments. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act sets us on a path to do so.” 

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023 features vital policy tools that will hold corporate polluters accountable for the harmful impacts of their toxic plastics throughout the full use of those products and/or packaging, from production through disposal, including:

  • Eliminate toxic substances in beverage containers and post-consumer recycled material 
  • Create a nationwide refund program for beverage containers
  • Ban black plastics (which are virtually impossible to recycle) and most non-recyclable single-use plastic food service products and bags 
  • Establish a moratorium on new permits for petrochemical infrastructure
  • Spur investment in recycling and composting infrastructure 
  • Stop plastic waste exports from the US to non-OECD nations (which are not only unethical, but also get counted towards abysmal U.S. plastics recycling rates)
  • Set strict limitations for wastewater, spills, and runoff from plastic polymer production facilities
  • Establish a nationwide Extended Producer Responsibility program to ensure that producers are covering the costs to clean up their discarded plastic waste

“Plastics are made of fossil fuels combined with PFAS, phthalates, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. They are produced in some of the nation’s most overburdened and underserved communities, blanketing neighborhoods in carcinogenic air pollution. Many plastics are used for mere minutes, but their impact can leave a mark for centuries to come,” explained Dominique Browning, Director and Co-Founder, Moms Clean Air Force. “By restricting the most problematic single-use plastic products, investing in reuse and refill systems, and insisting on robust protections for frontline communities, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act seeks to protect people at every stage of the plastics supply chain and to set this country on a healthier and more sustainable path forward.”

Current levels of plastics production are already inconsistent with a sustainable and just future, and increasing production levels would lead to deeper and potentially irreversible consequences for the climate, biodiversity and human health. More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced globally each year, and the United States generates more plastic waste than any other country. Most of these plastics are intended to be used for only a few seconds or minutes before being discarded, where they either wind up incinerated, discarded as waste in our streets and waterways, or landfilled where they break up into smaller and smaller microplastic particles. Each of us has these microplastic and nanoplastic particles inside our bodies, and they have been found in every part of the world from Mt. Everst to the Marianas Trench.

“Plastic pollution is a public health crisis that can only be solved with bold actions,” said Sen. Merkley. “It’s frontline communities who are disproportionately exposed to the dangers from plastic production. And downstream plastics are creating a massive pollution problem for our rivers and oceans. The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is the boldest legislation yet to address this crisis with the seriousness it deserves.”

The annual U.S. recycling rate for post-consumer plastics is between 5-6%, which not only speaks to tremendous inefficiencies in our recycling infrastructure, but also underscores the fact that the vast majority of these cheap plastics were never designed to be recycled in the first place. The Department of Energy confirmed that only 5% of plastic waste was recycled domestically in 2019. Faced with this shameful performance record, the plastics industry is now using terms like “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling” to point to pyrolysis, gasification, and other unproven techno-fixes for what is essentially “plastic burning.”“Communities are overburdened with plastics’ toxic air and water emissions and the false promises of so-called chemical recycling,” said Rep. Huffman. “Big Oil is aggressively promoting even more plastic – it’s how they plan to keep us addicted to planet-killing fossil fuels even as we transition to a clean energy future.  We can’t let this happen … We must start putting people and communities over these corporations’ greed.”

The world has a responsibility to substantially reduce plastic production in order to protect human and environmental health, enshrine human rights for current and future generations, and uphold environmental justice for the most impacted frontline and fenceline communities. "Plastic pollution hurts everything and everyone: It contaminates our recycling system, the environment and all living beings," said Jackie Nuñez, Advocacy & Engagement Manager, Plastic Pollution Coalition. "The United States has a chance to show the world that it's not too late to turn the plastic tide by facing our role as the world’s biggest source of plastic pollution and acting to pass the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act."

We are at a critical turning point in the plastic pollution crisis, which calls for divesting from single-use plastic production and reinvesting in equitable non-toxic reuse systems. This is what a future free from plastic pollution looks like.

“Systemic changes needed to shift away from single-use plastics are highly unlikely to occur if they rely solely on voluntary efforts from industries and consumer goods companies,” added Alejandra Warren, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Plastic Free Future. “Federal requirements for reuse and refill systems through the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act will be essential to accelerate a rapid transition to non-toxic, affordable and equitable reuse.”




Press Contact

Brett Nadrich, US Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic – brett@breakfreefromplastic.org, +1-929-269-4480

Graham Hamilton, US Policy Officer, Break Free From Plastic – graham@breakfreefromplastic.org

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