How wastepickers are affected by COVID-19

How wastepickers are affected by COVID-19

“I went to my sister’s place,” Rama says. “She told me, ‘I have two kilos of rice left. Let’s just divide it up.’” That’s what they did. Divided up the rice, cooked it with salt and made it last for 2 days. Now, when I called her up, she was brewing tea leaves for breakfast. “What to do? There’s nothing left,” she sighed. Rama picks trash on one of Delhi’s largest landfills. In her gali (slum-alley), the kids are all being fed tea for lunch and dinner. “Lal chai-what to do?” Rama’s neighbour, Shanti, tells us. What she means is boiled tea without milk and sugar. One of the problems with this, they explain over the course of our various telephonic conversations, is that the tea runs out of colour and flavour when you keep on boiling the same tea leaves again. Truth be revealed, the children of Bhalsawa landfill are drinking boiled water for meals.

These are the same children who excel in science and math-the focus of Chintan’s No Child in Trash Programme here. Two years ago, a child invented a cooler for the summer, made entirely of the trash from the landfill nearby, so his mother wouldn’t sweat so much while cooking his lunch. Today, she can’t sweat, because there’s nothing to cook. A community kitchen the chief minister promised hasn’t yet started-nobody has seen this scale of crisis, and they’re struggling to with relief.

Meanwhile, there’s curfew. The police is not letting anyone out of their homes. It’s the most desolate you’ll ever see this city of 25 million plus. Zoom is the new Chintan office, where dozens of people are collecting donations to create ration kits. A kit will have enough rice, wheat, oil and a few spices for a family of 6, if they eat modestly-enough, but nothing to spare. There’s soap too, and masks. School students, interns, retired folks, former colleagues-they’re all transferring donations. While one teams tracks this, another is getting permissions to step out to distribute the kits. Two colleagues are convincing stores to let them buy in bulk-assuring them they are no hoarders or profiteers.

Wastepickers who offer formal services can hope to work-Chintan’s got them their documents. But they won’t get to sell the recyclables they collect, leaving them without significant incomes. Those who work at landfills, or operate in dumpsters and other informal spaces, are entirely jobless. They have nothing, not even the money for food, which they buy every few days, as they sell waste. Most Indian wastepickers experience COVID19 like this. Jobless.

Bordering Delhi and Haryana, Kusumpur Pahari was ravaged beyond hunger. Located on the border of one of India’s most ancient forests earlier, this slum began asking for a basic human right to survive the pandemic: water. It had none. The government ignored its plea. “How are we supposed to survive this disease? They’re saying wash your hands. But with what?” asked Ram Agya, an anguished father of two. A twitter campaign by Chintan and Safai Sena resulted in a response by the government: There are hundreds of places to wash hands, use those. Problem was, there was nothing walking distance. “The police are beating us if we go looking for water,” said a despondent Rekha, on a video the community made. Eventually, using phones and videos, the story was shared with the Indian Express. And then, pressurized, water reached these folks.

Most wastepickers also experience COVID19 like this: marginalized. They often live in un-recognized slums (yes, the worst housing is also stratified). This means they need to fight harder to ride out this pandemic. “Here we are, serving all these people all these years, keeping their localities spotless,” says Rokhan, a wastepicker in New Delhi. “Don’t you think we are right in asking for their help now? We also have to keep our children safe.” He’s been asking people whose waste he collects, to help. Some give him food every day, others some money. Some have told him it’s also hard for them. “I know everyone won’t help us, but I know some people are decent. And some understand that if we don’t show up tomorrow, the disease may become worse for everyone,” Rokhan points out. “I’m seeing who is what kind of person-it’ll be clear now.”

Tips to Score High on the Rokhan Test:

  • Be civil to waste collectors. Tell them you know of their conditions, and you are available to help them in ways they need.
  • Give them dry rations to cook
  • Give them soap
  • Help them wash their hands when they finish their work near your home
  • Give them money-even small amounts help
  • Segregate your waste, compost the wet fraction
  • Hand over dry waste, without sharps
  • If anyone is ill or even quarantined, don’t hand over waste. It can infect. Follow municipal advisories.
  • Talk to your neighbours to do the same.
  • Ask the waste collectors what specific problems they face. Help iron it out.


Online donations:



The Chintan Team



Dear friends,

‍We hope you are safe and doing OK. We know that, like us, you may be stuck at home, worried about loved ones, or your job, or about having enough food and toilet paper. Right now, many of us are without childcare, without community, and with a lot of worry and anxiety.

The next several months and possibly even longer will be really hard for everyone around the world. But we’re in this together, and we know this time will end. We will come out the other side looking to rebuild the connections that sustain our communities and economy. In the meantime let’s stick together in the ways we can – sharing information, keeping safe, making soup, and washing our hands.

At UPSTREAM, we want to support you and add value to your lives during this time of crisis. We’ve been getting lots of questions from the UPSTREAM and Break Free From Plastic communities about reuse in a time of pandemics like COVID-19. Here are some thoughts on the common questions we’ve received:


1. Are reusables safe?

– Yes, the short answer is that soap and hot water are effective at killing coronavirus, other viruses, and bacteria. Home and commercial dishwashers are more effective than hand-washing because of the added benefit of high temperature and prolonged washing.

– State health codes ensure that commercial dishwashing will kill all pathogens, and the coronavirus is especially sensitive to soap and heat.

– As Dr. Vineet Menachery, a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch recently said, “I wouldn’t expect any virus to survive a dishwasher.”‍

2. Aren’t disposables safer?

– No, they’re not when compared to properly washed reusables. Single-use disposables can harbor viruses and pathogenic bacteria. They are subject to whatever pathogens have settled on them from manufacture, transport, inventory stocking, and eventual use.

– In addition, according to a recently-released peer-reviewed scientific consensus statement, over 12,000 chemicals are used in food packaging, and many of them are hazardous to human health. Migration of these toxic chemicals out of disposables into our food and drinks is not an issue with non-plastic reusables. ‍

3. Can I use my reusable water bottle or coffee cup?

– Absolutely. Coronavirus mainly spreads through coughs and sneezes, not your reusable water bottle or cup.

– The best water refill options when you’re out and on-the-go are hands-free electronic water refilling stations like you see at the airport. If you don’t have easy access to one of these, then you can use the tap or the water cooler. Just don’t let your water bottle directly touch the spigot, and be mindful about washing your hands after touching communal surfaces.

– The same logic applies to your coffee cup. Just don’t touch your cup directly to the spigot or coffee pot, and wash your hands.

– Also, don’t forget to wash your bottle or cup with soap and water, preferably in a dishwasher.

4. Large coffee chains (like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts) recently announced they are no longer allowing customers to bring their own cups to use and refill in its stores. Do you think this will continue, and what does this mean?

– Today, businesses like Starbucks are rightly focused on how to keep us all safe. But when the coronavirus passes, plastic pollution will continue to be a huge environmental issue.

– The coronavirus crisis is showing us that we don’t have the systems we need for reusable to-go, take-out, and food delivery. Because of this, there is likely to be an explosion of single-use products as restaurants scramble to shift to food delivery to survive, and people shift to dining at home instead of eating out.

– But in parts of the world, companies have already developed reusable to-go services for take-out and food delivery. These businesses provide clean, sanitized reusable cups and to-go containers to restaurants and cafes. The dirty ones are collected, washed and sanitized in commercial dishwashers, then put back into service.

– Imagine a future with food delivery systems built on clean, sanitized reusable to-go containers and cups. How great would it be if we had reusable food delivery systems in place all over the United States like Green Tiffin and Planted Table in San Francisco, and Superfine Tiffins in New York City? Imagine how much less waste would be generated in this crisis if we had all this in place already.

– And so, we’re going to continue to focus on how to help restaurants, cafes and venues – who are going to be greatly impacted – to be empowered and ready to make these changes. Especially because doing so can help them save money.

5. Will coronavirus kill the growing zero waste lifestyle, built on bring-your-own (BYO), reuse, and bulk shopping?

– No, the zero waste lifestyle is here to stay and is gaining more traction every day. While the coronavirus will change many things in our lives for a time, it won’t change our core values like working for healthy people, a healthy planet, and a sustainable economy.

– But just like take-out and food delivery, this crisis is also showing us that we need better systems for BYO and bulk shopping. Hands-free dispensers and methods are part of the solution, as are on-site sanitizing for BYO. In addition, businesses can create new systems to provide clean, sanitized reusable containers for bulk purchasing on deposit – similar to how local dairies are bringing back the reusable milk bottle.

We hope these thoughts and tips are useful to you as you navigate these difficult times. We’re going to be working to provide helpful insights, build community, and add value to your life in the coming months.

If you’re interested, sign up to receive e-mail updates from us, connect with us on social, or stay tuned to the Indisposable Podcast. If you’ve got kids at home, check out our just-launched YouTube channel where they can learn about solutions to plastic pollution – including an episode on how kids got single-use plastic out of their school. We’d also love to hear from you! Drop us an email at or send us a direct message on Instagram or Facebook.

Most importantly, take care of yourself, stay safe and hold your loved ones close.


All our Best,

Matt, Julie, Lauren, Berna, Inder, Eva, Brooking, Erin,
Miriam, Vanessa, Samantha and the rest of the UPSTREAM Team


Chemicals in food packaging: a global health threat

Chemicals in food packaging: a global health threat

Environment groups in Asia Pacific call on policy makers to beef up single-use plastics ban; phase-out toxic chemicals from food packaging; and mandate safe, reusable alternatives

Australia/India/Malaysia/Nepal/Philippines—Close to 200 environmental and public health organizations led by the UNWRAPPED Project (UPSTREAM, Zero Waste Europe, and GAIA) released a Call to Action in response to a recently issued peer-reviewed Scientific Consensus Statement signed by 33 world-renowned scientists warning chemicals used in single-use plastics and food packaging represents a significant threat to human and planetary health-particularly the health of children.

The Consensus statement clearly states the facts:

  • Approximately 12,000 chemicals are intentionally used in packaging and other forms of food contact materials
  • An enormous body of research – over 1200 studies- shows that these chemicals migrate from packaging into food and beverages
  • Amongst those chemicals, many have been proven hazardous for human health: exposure may lead to cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, genotoxicity, chronic diseases (such as atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases), and autoimmune diseases
  • Many of these chemicals are never tested for human health effects
  • For most of these chemicals, their presence is undisclosed

Many of those chemicals, including phthalates, bisphenols and PFAs, are used in single-use packaging, made of plastic but also paper & board. The lack of disclosure by producers regarding chemicals used in packaging means that the risks associated with the use of those packaging cannot be evaluated. Consumers and regulators aren’t the only ones in the dark — many packaging producers and waste managers are unaware of the chemicals present in the packaging they process and possibly recycle in other products.

Hence, close to 200 organizations signed the Call to Action and demanded regulators and industry to protect public health and the environment by acting to:

  1. Ensure full disclosure and traceability of chemicals used in packaging throughout the supply chain;
  2. Restrict the use of hazardous chemicals in food packaging (and products), and prevent regrettable substitution; and
  3. Adopt policies that support the transition towards safe, reusable, and refillable packaging.

The Call to Action is launched globally with simultaneous media events in the Asia Pacific region (Australia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, and Philippines).

We are in close contact with plastic toxins daily and our exposure to chemicals continue to grow as plastic continues to be produced and used. Plastic is not only out there, it’s in all of us!  Consumers can make a difference by refusing single use plastics and food packaged or wrapped in plastics. Stay safe, revive our traditional practices. – Mageswari Sangaralingam, Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia)

The ever-growing body of evidence that plastics is not only damaging our environment but is also a menace to health underscores the urgent need to transition away from single-use plastics, especially as food packaging.  The health and environmental havoc that single-use plastics bring far outweigh any of their perceived benefits, and it is time for us to be smart and start avoiding them to protect our health.  Nothing is more vital than our health, and nothing sustains life better than a healthy environment. – Ramon San Pascual, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (Philippines)

Australia is on the cusp of significant systemic change following the decision to ban waste exports to our Asia Pacific neighbours.  This week the Australian government held a National Plastics Summit to respond to the global plastic pollution crisis.  The success of these initiatives will depend upon the Australian government’s recognition that plastic food packaging currently represents a global human health threat.  Unless immediate action is taken to address the systemic regulatory failures that have allowed toxic and hazardous substances to be used in plastic food packaging, then there is a very real likelihood that Australia’s circular economy will be poisoned and further harm caused to human health, our environment and future generations.  The Australian government must act swiftly to eliminate toxic and hazardous substances from plastic food packaging and require full life cycle assessments of all chemicals used in plastic production.  It is well past time for the plastic packaging industry to be held accountable for their design failures and the adverse global consequences this has inflicted on human health and our planet. – Jane Bremmer, National Toxics Network (Australia)

Plastic packaged food has flooded the Himalaya in recent times, dramatically changing food habits, especially of the younger generation. This enticement and promotion of ill health needs to stop. These plastic packaging litter the entire Himalaya and retrieving it is near impossible in the high mountain. – Priyadarshinee Shrestha/Rajendra P. Gurung/Roshan Rai, Zero Waste Himalaya, India

For many years in Nepal, we serve our food in leaf plates and clay cups during big social or religious festivals.  Similarly, when we go shopping, we used to get the items in paper or leaf packaging and for liquid items, we get it in glass or metal pots.  We were practicing Zero Waste in Nepal for as long as I can remember.  But nowadays, everything is packed in plastics and other packaging loaded with toxic chemicals.  It is time we return to our traditional practices and discourage the use of those packaging to make ourselves healthy while promoting Zero Waste. – Mahesh Nakarmi, HECAF360 (Nepal)

Our communities are a rich resource of traditional materials, practices and systems that worked without exposing the consumer to the toxic chemicals that came with plastic food packaging.  We got sidetracked for a few decades by the plastic packaging industry.  It’s time to reject this plastic-packaged food culture and reclaim and, if necessary, update and scaleup on the sensible, safe alternatives we used to have. – Beau Baconguis, Plastics Campaigner, GAIA Asia Pacific

In the Philippines, so much of our food is in plastic bags and plastic containers and some people even microwave food in plastics, yet many studies have shown that chemicals can migrate from plastics into food.  About half of the nearly 12,000 chemicals allowed as food additives are food contact chemicals (FCCs) but many of them have never been tested for endocrine disruption and other hazardous properties. – Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, Silliman University, Dumaguete, Philippines

Call to Action

Scientific Consensus Statement

Links to national press releases:

New scientific report reveals toxic and hazardous chemicals in plastic food packaging (Australia)

International experts call for food packaging safety measures (Philippines)



Sonia G. Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer, +917-5969286;

Jane Bremmer, National Toxics Network (Australia);

Roshan Rai, Zero Waste Himalaya (India);

Mageswari Sangaralingam, Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia);

Mahesh Nakarmi, HECAF360 (Nepal);

Pats Oliva, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia Communications Officer (Philippines);


GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) is a worldwide alliance of grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals whose mission is to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. 

UPSTREAM works with businesses, schools, and communities to transition to a throw-away-free culture. We have launched campaigns across the country to make single-use history and “indisposable” the new norm.

Zero Waste Europe is the European network of communities, local leaders, businesses, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society.

We empower communities to redesign their relationship with resources, and to adopt smarter lifestyles and sustainable consumption patterns in line with a circular economy.


Immediate and massive rejection to Coca Cola advertisements

Immediate and massive rejection to Coca Cola advertisements

Coca-Cola recently released several TV ads, which were strongly criticized in social media. Two of them, in particular, refer to environmental problems: global warming and forest fires in one of them and the problem of waste, in the other. Just a few days before, the company declared in Davos that it won’t stop using single-use plastic bottles, excusing themselves on consumers’ demand. Coca-Cola is the worst plastic polluter at a global level. It is one of the main corporations that scaled up the consumption of single-use plastic bottles and systematically lobbied against any kind of regulation. Coca-Cola must stop greenwashing, take responsibility for the problem it created and abandon single-use packaging.

In one of the ads, there is a TV broadcasting the news about forest fires and the headline “Global Warming” together with young people that, while drinking Coca-Cola in plastic bottles, say “In the world, there are many things to do” and “ It’s time to be awake”. In the other spot, there are young people that, after drinking Coca-Cola, collect waste on a beach, with the statement reading
“A world without waste”. These ads caused an immediate and massive reaction in social media, particularly on Instagram. On one of them, users wrote over 600 comments rejecting it, and more than 100 on the other. Instagram was filled up with comments like these:

A fake message coming from the company that leads the ranking of plastics found in rivers and seas since there are waste audits in riverbeds and

Seriously? Global Warming with plastic bottles in hands? You’re a joke. If you will commit, do it with true actions, not lying ads. Shame!

Wouldn’t it be better if you took responsibility for the disaster you are causing?

It’s better to stop producing single-use plastics. This advertisement is a lack of respect.

You should start avoiding single-use bottles, instead of promoting them, if you really care. More actions, less greenwashing please!

In October 2019, the global movement Break Free From Plastic submitted a report identifying the main corporations polluting ecosystems with plastics. To do that there were 484 cleanups with brand audits in the shores of 51 countries. For second year in a row it was found that Coca-Cola is the most polluting corporation.

In the city of Rosario (Argentina), Taller Ecologista, as part of Más Río Menos Basura (More River Less Waste) a group of organizations and institutions, participated in BFFP Brand Audit collecting waste in the Paraná river shoreline. In this action, just like in others organized by the local group, they always found that Coca-Cola was responsible for the majority of waste polluting the river. For that reason, in November 2019 the local organizations took the bottles collected in the river to the company’s distribution facility in the city of Rosario. They demanded “Stop Using Disposables” and claimed the company to go back to returnable bottles.

Coca-Cola has to change and lead the path to other companies. In the past it led the path to an unsustainable system, scaling up the use of disposable bottles and then creating the problem of which today we are seeing the consequences: millions of tons of plastics in the oceans, in the rivers; microplastics in animals and our bodies and so on. It is unacceptable that Coca-Cola maintains, as it did in Davos, that it will continue using single-use bottles because consumers are demanding them. Everybody knows the big corporations have always been creating the demand for the products they want to sell. We say: Coca-Cola, don’t wash your hands, take responsibility and stop using disposables.



View this post on Instagram


#EstemosDespiertos para despertar al mundo 🙌

A post shared by Coca-Cola Argentina (@cocacolaar) on




View this post on Instagram


Estemos despiertos para que nos importe lo que tiene que importarnos. 🌊🏄🏻‍♀️☀️♻️

A post shared by Coca-Cola Argentina (@cocacolaar) on


More information:
Mirko Moskat (Taller Ecologista): 341 5795088


UCLA to phase out single-use plastics

UCLA to phase out single-use plastics

By phasing out one-use plastics in food service, UCLA could drive regional change as one of the largest universities nationwide to make the shift

By phasing out one-use plastics in food service, UCLA could drive regional change as one of the largest universities nationwide to make the shift. CALPIRG Students at UCLA campaigned to make it happen.

“My generation is concerned about the immense amount of plastic ending up in our waterways and ocean and its impact on marine life.  That’s why I’m excited that UCLA is taking action it mitigate plastic pollution.” – Sithara Menon, UCLA junior and CALPIRG Chapter Chair

UCLA is developing a new policy to remove environmentally harmful single-use plastics from campus food-service, making it one of the largest universities nationwide to pursue phasing out one-use plastics.

The draft single-use plastics policy, announced Jan. 24, aims to reduce the university’s impact on the environment and to encourage similar changes in the region. The first phase of the policy is scheduled to begin in July 2020, when UCLA plans to officially phase out plastic utensils, cup lids, bowls, plastic bags and similar “food accessory” items. Locally compostable or reusable alternatives would be provided only on request, and would shift over time to only reusable alternatives for all dine-in eaters.

“Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our oceans and environment for hundreds of years,” said Sithara Menon, UCLA chapter chair of the California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG Students). “My generation is concerned about the immense amount of plastic ending up in our waterways and ocean and its impact on marine life. That’s why I’m excited that UCLA is taking action it mitigate plastic pollution.”

Students brought student support to the policy, collecting 1,900 student signatures supporting the move away from single-use plastics. The group also made classroom announcements to approximately 10,000 students to help raise awareness about the need for change. Over the last two decades, Menon has noticed a dramatic increase in the amount of plastic littering Southern California beaches.

The policy is envisioned as ultimately including not only sit-down and take-out restaurants at UCLA, but also dining halls, events, and even departmental meetings. Everything from conferences, panel discussions and lectures to catered meetings, rallies and concerts would be covered. The draft policy envisions a path to ultimately eliminate single-use plastic water bottles on campus and increase water-refilling hydration stations.

“UCLA is part of the larger culture shift moving away from wishful recycling,” said Nurit Katz, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “Only a small percentage of plastic is successfully recycled despite decades of efforts nationwide and globally. By getting rid of single-use plastics, we will make the planet a little healthier, and help Bruins approach their goal of zero waste.”

CALPIRG students across the state are also advocating for bill that would address plastic pollution statewide, and hope this action at UCLA can embolden state leaders to act.

California’s Legislature is currently considering the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act which would chart a path to reducing single-use packaging and foodware by 75 percent by 2030. The bills, SB 54 and AB 1080, are authored by Senator Ben Allen and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, and having getting attention by celebrities like Jeff Goldblum, who lobbied for the bill in Sacramento yesterday.

If passed, the bills will require manufacturers to design their product, food, and beverage packaging to reduce unnecessary waste. All remaining packaging will need to be able to be recycled or composted by 2030, and producers will have to demonstrate that their packaging products are being recycled at rates that ramp up over time to 75 percent by 2030. Finally, the bills require that common single-use foodware like plates and utensils also be fully recyclable or compostable by 2030.

“It’s tragic how often we see animals harmed by plastic pollution in our oceans, whether it’s straws in their nostrils or bags in their bellies” said Nic Riani, state Chairperson for CALPIRG Students.

The UCLA policy is expected to be ready for a 30-day public review by mid-March, and it is targeted to go into effect July 1. The campus has already eliminated Styrofoam and many single-use plastics in food service, and has shifted almost entirely to locally compostable flatware and to-go food service items.

Michael Beck, UCLA’s administrative vice chancellor said, “the enthusiasm and commitment of UCLA students to environmental causes help buoy the university’s progress. We have already eliminated several kinds of single-use plastics on campus, and students helped stimulate us to convert practice into policy.

UCLA Calpirg students thank you

The change won’t be easy, but UCLA sustainability staff say the campus is ready. They added hundreds of compost bins on campus, including in washrooms for paper towel waste. Conversations are already changing vendor habits, such as among those who once supplied individually plastic-wrapped tablecloths for special events but who now use reusable bags for linens. Likewise, years of campus “trash talks,” waste audits and awareness campaigns have prepared many Bruins, and the proposed policy change will include more outreach, said Kikei Wong, UCLA zero waste coordinator.

“It will be challenging,” Wong acknowledged. “There are so many single-use plastics everywhere in our lives that we depend on for convenience, but for the planet, this is the next step that we have to take.”

UCLA isn’t the first university to take this step, but it will likely inspire others, said Bonny Bentzin, deputy chief sustainability officer.

“UCLA is a leader with the ability to drive new policies and influence the purchasing practices across the region,” Bentzin said. “Vendors won’t change just part of their business. They’ll change their whole inventory and start to shift others over with us.”

Erin Fabris, sustainability manager for UCLA Housing and Hospitality, helped develop both the UC and UCLA draft policies.

“UCLA has a huge footprint,” Fabris said. “Expand that to all nine other campuses, and that’s a pretty significant change we can make in California.”

Plastic-pollution bills gain steam on Capitol Hill

Plastic-pollution bills gain steam on Capitol Hill

A bipartisan bill to boost plastics recycling could soon find its way to the president’s desk, but a more controversial package is dividing lawmakers and stakeholders.


A multi-track effort is afoot in the House to rein in the staggering 8 million tons of plastic dumped into oceans each year.

Lawmakers in the lower chamber are now preparing to take up legislation dubbed Save Our Seas 2.0, which sailed through the Senate earlier this month to the applause of Republicans, Democrats, and The Washington Post editorial board.

That bill aims to boost recycling technologies through a “Genius Prize,” while also charging the diplomatic corps with a global effort to prevent plastic pollution and incentivizing ship operators to collect plastic found at sea.

new Republican strategy on environment policy bodes well for those policies. But Save Our Seas 2.0, the second iteration of plastic-pollution legislation led by Sens. Dan Sullivan and Sheldon Whitehouse, is largely noncontroversial and cautious.

“This is an important step, not the end of our work,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, the sponsor of the House companion bill, told National Journal.

Lawmakers across the aisle and Capitol will soon have to position themselves on a far more controversial package—one that is praised by advocates against plastic pollution and denounced by industry and recyclers.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal and Sen. Tom Udall are set to introduce legislation in February that would, according to a staffer for Lowenthal, force plastic producers to set up coalitions to collect and recycle plastics, akin to a system underway in Canada’s British Columbia province. The bill will also establish national container and deposit rules for beverage distributors.

And a ban on some single-use plastics, including carryout bags, is triggering some of the most pointed opposition from industry groups.

“While we agree that plastic waste must be addressed, domestic bans of otherwise completely recyclable materials will not solve our country’s waste management issues,” John Grant, a top lobbyist for the Plastics Industry Association, said in a statement. The association declined a request for an interview.

The plastic-recycling rate in the U.S. is just 8.4 percent annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent analysis. Environmental experts say new plastic production is often much cheaper—but more energy-intensive and polluting—than recycling.

Rock-bottom prices for natural gas, a critical input to plastics, are bolstering the plastics industry, and fossil-fuel producers are increasingly eyeing petrochemical and plastic production as a fallback amid growing pressure to curtail energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions.

But another core component of the Lowenthal-Udall legislation is attracting both intrigue and concern: a potential ban on plastics exports to non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

“The export restrictions are a critical element of this legislation. They are important to not only build up a domestic recycling infrastructure, but also necessary from an international human rights and environmental-justice standpoint,” Lowenthal said. “These are nations that simply do not have the infrastructure to be able to handle not just the volume, but also the longer-term impacts.”

Despite evidence that mismanaged recycling practices in China and other Asian countries led to mass plastic dumping, exports constituted roughly 40 percent of the 8.4 percent U.S. recycling rate in 2017, according to Jan Dell, an independent engineer and founder of The Last Beach Cleanup.

“There’s no way we can keep blaming other countries for plastic pollution while we keep sending them our plastic waste,” Dell said. “We’re causing the problem and hurting their efforts to stop by continuing to export.”

At least 88 percent of river-borne ocean pollution flows from 10 rivers mostly in Asia, including critical waterways like the Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong, according to analysis of a 2017 study. China, traditionally the most popular destination for U.S. plastic-waste exports, closed its doors on the trade at the outset of 2018 as part of the country’s National Sword policy.

Now, U.S. plastic-waste exports are headed to some of the globe’s poorest countries, where recycling infrastructure is limited and some primitive recycling practices threaten public health. Those countries include Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, Dell’s research shows. Meanwhile, a 2015 study ranked the U.S. at 20th globally for mismanaged plastic waste, meaning Americans are also contributing significantly to plastic pollution.

China isn’t the only country cracking down on the plastic-waste trade. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vowing to end plastic-waste exports altogether. The United Kingdom is planning to push legislation to ban plastic exports to non-OECD countries.

But much of the exported U.S. plastic waste is successfully recycled. And the U.S. recycling industry is coming out in opposition to export restrictions ahead of the Lowenthal-Udall-bill release.

“Recycling will happen if there’s a market,” said Adina Renee Adler, senior director for international relations at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. “A lot of this is on the manufacturing industry. We try to encourage companies to use more recycled plastic in products and make more products that can be easily recycled.”

Just last week, Nestlé announced it will invest more than $2 billion to shift from virgin plastic to food-grade recycled plastics. Pepsi and Walmart, along with other companies, have also made recycling commitments.

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act could find its way to President Trump’s desk this Congress. Other bills, like the Recycle Act and the Recover Act, boast similar bipartisan support.

But Judith Enck, an advocate against plastic pollution and former EPA regional administrator, says the Lowenthal-Udall package is the only legislation with the teeth to tackle a daunting plastics crisis.

“The problem with Save Our Seas and a lot of the other things being considered in Washington is they propel the myth that we can recycle our way out of the plastic-pollution problem,” Enck said.

“They’re just like 20 years behind the times in terms of what the real issues are related to plastic.”


WordPress Video Lightbox Plugin