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.
A 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.”
Though experts describe the new policy as a “milestone,” they also believe encouraging the use of biodegradable plastics is equally damaging to the environment.
China plans to ban the production of certain single-use plastic items by the end of this year to curb the amount of waste clogging the country’s landfills and waterways.
According to the guideline co-published Sunday by China’s National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the country aims to gradually limit the production, use, and sale of single-use plastic items — from plastic bags to delivery packages — while also promoting alternative means to improve the recycling rate of plastic and reduce the amount of plastic sent to landfills.
Mao Da, founder of the nonprofit group Zero Waste Beijing, sees the long-awaited guideline as a “milestone policy” to replace the previous 2008 plastic ban and set new five-year goals combatting plastic pollution. However, he added that encouraging individuals to use biodegradable plastic, rather than reducing plastic use, would only hurt the environment in the long run.
Biodegradable plastics can break down into water, carbon dioxide, and biomass through a specialized treatment process, but experts say China doesn’t have enough treatment facilities. If improperly disposed of, biodegradable plastics can damage the environment.
“Biodegradable plastics have shortcomings and should be limited in use as well,” Mao told Sixth Tone. “Replacing nonbiodegradable plastics with biodegradable ones may cause misuse and a new type of pollution, as well as increased pressure on waste-recycling systems.”
China is the world’s largest plastics producer and exporter, accounting for over one-quarter of global plastic production in 2018. However, due to high consumption and low recycling and waste-management efforts, plastic waste often ends up polluting the land and sea.
Over 88% of waste on the sea surface and ocean floor is plastic, such as plastic bags and bottles, according to a 2018 report from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Another study published the year before estimated that up to 1.5 million metric tons of plastic waste from the Yangtze River is dumped into the Yellow Sea each year — the most among 10 rivers globally that together account for 90% of all plastic found in the oceans.
Authorities have now set specific timelines to minimize China’s plastic pollution.
A number of routine items — including single-use plastic straws, cotton swabs, and cosmetic products containing microbeads — as well as certain plastic soil coverings that are considered a main source of farmland soil pollution are expected to be entirely eliminated nationwide by the end of 2020.
According to the guideline, by 2025 all hotels and hostels will be banned from offering free single-use plastic items, while mail and delivery services will be prohibited from using nonbiodegradable plastic packages, tape, and single-use plastic bags. Cities will be required to ban nonbiodegradable plastic bags and aim for a 30% reduction in the consumption of single-use cutlery.
China prohibited the import of 24 types of foreign waste — including plastic and electronic waste — in 2017, and additional items were added to the list the following year. The new guideline also reinforces a blanket ban on importing any type of foreign plastic waste.
“Plastics have a close connection to chemical pollutants,” Mao said. “We use plastics indiscriminately because we think they are clean, when they actually do harm to the environment.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Eyeem/Tuchong)
SEBERANG PERAI, Jan 20 — Malaysia sent 150 containers of plastic waste weighing about 3,737 metric tonnes back to its 13 countries of origin since the third quarter of 2019, said Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin.
She said France and United Kingdom have been co-operative in the process; out of the 150 containers, 43 were sent back to France and 42 to United Kingdom.
“The repatriation of the containers did not incur any costs on us which is unprecedented as the importers and shipping companies paid for the costs,” she said during a press conference after visiting the North Butterworth Container Terminal (NBCT) at Penang Port here.
The remaining containers were sent back to the United States (US) (17 containers), Canada (11), Spain (10), Hong Kong (9), Japan (5), Singapore (4), Portugal (3), China (3), Bangladesh (1), Sri Lanka (1) and Lithuania (1).
Yeo said there are 110 more containers, from all three ports in Klang, Penang and Sarawak, that will be sent back to nine countries by the middle of this year.
“A total 60 out of the 110 are from the US and we are working closely with the US government and agencies on the process,” she said.
The remaining containers to be sent back are to Canada (15 containers), Japan (14), UK (9), Belgium (8), Mexico (1), Hungary (1), France (1) and Jamaica (1).
She said each container weighs about 20 metric tonnes so the estimated weight of the plastic waste to be sent back are around 2,200 metric tonnes.
“We will continue to take enforcement action to stop the import of plastic waste and close down illegal plastic waste factories here, we want the world to know that Malaysia is not a plastic waste dumping ground,” she said.She said a new national action plan on illegal plastic waste importation will be launched next month so that all agencies involved will have proper enforcement procedures to follow.She said the action plan will smoothen procedures for agencies such as Department of Environment, Customs Department, National Solid Waste Management Department, port authorities and local governments.
Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeoh Bee Yin (centre) speaks during a press conference after a site visit to the North Butterworth Container Terminal in Penang January 20, 2020.
On enforcement action against illegal plastic waste factories in the country, Yeo said last year, joint operations by the police, customs, local councils, immigration and other agencies were held at a total 393 factories in the country.
“A total 218 illegal plastic waste factories were closed down and enforcement actions will continue to close down more illegal factories,” she said.
She said even if the factories were to reopen in a different state, the enforcement team will close it down again.
“We will act on any reports of these factories operating illegally in any states in Malaysia so we call on the public to be our eyes to report to us,” she said.
Jakarta (January 10, 2020). The Governor of Jakarta Province, Anies Baswedan, has just issued Regulation of the Governor of Jakarta Province Number 142 of 2019 concerning Obligations to Use Environmentally Friendly Shopping Bags at Shopping Centers, Supermarkets, and Traditional Markets. The long-awaited regulation has been welcomed by the people of Jakarta Province, as news of its preparation had been circulating for more than one year. This regulation adds to the long list of provinces and regencies/cities in Indonesia that have banned the use of plastic bags, beginning with the city of Banjarmasin in 2016 followed by other regions, including the city of Bandung and the province of Bali which have also issued a similar regulation.
“The movement to phase out plastic bags that began almost 10 years ago in Indonesia is starting to show tangible, at-scale results. We are thrilled that early successes with a plastic bag charge trial in 2016 showed retailers and cities that it is possible to reduce dependency on single use plastics, and that snowball is still rolling thanks to a persistent civil society movement” said Tiza Mafira, as Executive Director of the Indonesian Movement for Plastic Bags Diet (GIDKP). “We at GIDKP appreciate the concrete steps taken by the DKI Jakarta Provincial Government to ban plastic bags, one of the worst culprits of plastic pollution in Indonesia’s rivers. We hope that these regulations are strictly enforced and the people of Jakarta pitch in to making it a success,” added Tiza.
A similar expression was also conveyed by D. Yuvlinda Susanta, Head of Corporate Communications and Sustainability of PT Lion Super Indo, “We greatly appreciate the substance of the regulation that accommodates the application of incentives and sanctions. We also appreciate that this regulation applies equally to supermarkets and public markets. ” Super Indo is one of the supermarkets that has more than 10 years of implementing plastic bag reduction efforts and is the only supermarket that has continued to implement non-free plastic bags since it was tested nationally in 2016.
Appreciation was also conveyed by one of the leading beauty and body care product stores, The Body Shop Indonesia, which has also been campaigning for the reduction of plastic bags since 2013. “The Body Shop and I feel happy and appreciate that the Jakarta Province finally realized the dangers of plastic bags for our environment and took action. Since 2013, The Body Shop and its customers have always supported various movements and petitions for the #Pay4Plastic campaign, which led to the adoption of a plastic bag charge trial in 2016, as well as Jakarta’s efforts to mandate the use environmentally friendly shopping bags since early 2019. Congratulations for Jakarta, which has finally officially banned the use of plastic bags. Hopefully in the future there will be a policy to ban other disposable plastics such as plastic straws and styrofoam, which have been banned in Bali. We hope the same for other regions in Indonesia,” said Suzy Hutomo, Executive Chairwoman of The Body Shop Indonesia.
A similar tone was conveyed by fellow civil society groups who are members of the Alliance of Zero Waste Indonesia (AZWI). AZWI leads a campaign in efforts to reduce single use plastic waste, namely “Ban the Big 5”, which consists of plastic bags, polystyrene foam, straws, sachets, and microbeads.
“Nexus3 welcomes the new regulations issued by the Jakarta Governor regarding the ban on disposable plastic bags. This regulation will help reduce the release of toxic additives in plastics into the environment. Let’s watch together and monitor the implementation!”, said Yuyun Ismawati Drwiega, Senior Advisor of the Nexus3 Foundation.
“Based on data on brand audits conducted by Greenpeace in Indonesia in 2019, plastic bags are one of the most common types of waste with a finding of 1,503 items or 11% of the total waste being audited. In other words, the ban on plastic bags has indeed been urged to be implemented so that it can reduce the waste production that we produce,” said Muharram Atha Rasyadi, Urban Campaigner Greenpeace Indonesia.
“Only about 20-30% of urban solid waste cannot be recycled and must be transported to landfills. If this policy is accompanied by the application of sorting and recycling of organic and inorganic waste, only a small amount of waste remains to be sent to the landfill site. Thus, the Jakarta Province can soon be free of dependence on landfill, and will not need expensive and polluting incinerators,” said David Sutasurya, Executive Director of YPBB Bandung.
The impetus for the issuance of regulations on the prohibition of disposable plastics, especially plastic bags in Jakarta Province, is also one of the demands echoed by the Plastic Free Parade in July 2019, a peaceful march attended by thousands and supported by 49 civil society groups including GIDKP, Greenpeace Indonesia, Indorelawan, Divers Clean Action, Pandu Laut, Pulau Plastik and others. Initiators of the march expressed appreciation for the new regulation.
“We see the enthusiasm of volunteers increasing on environmental issues, especially the problem of plastic waste. Several times we collaborated with environmental organizations to make various activities on the issue, ranging from workshops, discussions to campaigns on social media. As a result, many young people want to take the role to be involved. This means they have been moved and want to learn more about plastic issues,” said Marsya Nurmaranti, Executive Director of Indorelawan.
“The majority of inorganic waste found from our research in coastal areas in 2019 is disposable plastic waste that is still difficult to recycle. The disposable plastic waste referred to is plastic bags, polystyrene foam, sachets, straws and bottled drinking water. Waste that pollutes the ocean can come from human activities in urban areas, where the waste is thrown away or thrown into the river and ends up at sea. This regulation should have a positive impact. If we close the source of waste, it is hoped that it will reduce the leakage of waste into our oceans,” said Swietenia Puspa Lestari, Executive Director of DIvers Clean Action.
“The ban on plastic bags in Jakarta is a big step in creating a cleaner and healthier Jakarta Province. The snowball effect of this kind of action will drive a positive impact, not only on the problem of municipal waste disposal, but also in providing better air and water quality. A cleaner Jakarta means healthier Jakartans and creates a positive impact on lifestyle and economy,” said Wijaya Surya, the initiator of the Jakarta Beach Clean Up Community.
The scope of this regulation is the obligation to use environmentally friendly shopping bags that have adequate thickness and are designed to be reused. Retailers must stop providing single-use plastic shopping bags, and the use of single-use plastic packaging for food wrapping should be limited. This regulation applies to supermarkets, shop owners in shopping malls and traditional markets. Incentives will be given to those who perform well in complying with regulations and sanctions for those who do not comply.
Support from various civil society and business sectors above are a strong evidence that enforcement of regulations prohibiting plastic bags in Jakarta Province can be carried out for the creation of an environment free from plastic pollution. It is expected that this regulation will contribute to achieving the national target of 30% waste reduction by 2025 and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030.
Rahyang Nusantara – National Coordinator of Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement
+628122096791 – email@example.com
(Quezon City, Philippines, December 16, 2019)—Environment groups today lambasted the Philippine government’s moves to lift the anti-incineration provisions of the Clean Air Act and Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. On November 13, the bills amending these laws passed at the committee level in Congress to make way for thermal waste-to-energy facilities, which are essentially still incinerators. Also recently, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued guidelines for the establishment and operation of waste-to-energy facilities, in violation of the country’s incineration ban.
“The Philippine Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act have been praised among environmental circles worldwide for their zero waste vision as well as the anti-incineration provisions. It is unfortunate that it is our government bodies who are mandated to protect the environment and the Filipino people from harm who are the purveyors of these dirty technologies,” said Froilan Grate, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Philippines Executive Director. “Although there is a complete ban on incineration, it has not deterred the DENR, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to push for waste incinerators in the guise of waste-to-energy projects,” Grate added. Currently, there are WtE incinerator proposals in Quezon City, Davao, Cebu, Pampanga, and other provinces in the country, most of them set to be operational by 2020.
Incinerators are facilities used to burn waste using high temperature releasing various types of toxic emissions including lead, mercury, dioxins and furans, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, acidic gases (i.e., SOx, HCl), heavy metals (cadmium, lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic, and beryllium), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and chlorinated and brominated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the process. Direct exposure to such toxins risks the health of facility workers and residents in nearby communities while indirect exposure, through the food chain, poses global risks. (1)
Toxic emissions, high costs, and bad history
Contrary to the proposal’s emphasis that there is no high operational costs and environmental risks involved with waste incineration, Merci Ferrer of WOW Dumaguete countered, “what was not mentioned in the bill is that other than the toxic emissions that come from burning waste, there is still the fly ash and bottom ash (FABA) that needs to be handled carefully as toxic waste after burning. The Philippines currently does not have the capacity to this.”
Learning from the experiences of other communities who ended up in debt when they failed to provide the volume of waste for an incinerator to run which is under the “put or pay” contract with incinerator industries, “waste incineration will not solve the country’s waste problem. It will put the country in debt from the private contractors, and worst, open the door to imported waste. In short, we will open our doors to toxic incinerator facilities and the toxic emissions that comes from its use while they (industry) enjoys tax holidays. This is the height of hypocrisy for the government to claim they are solving solid waste problems when they are in fact opening the country to waste importation,” said Beau Baconguis, Asia Coordinator for Break Free From Plastic (BFFP).
The bill will grant waste treatment facilities 7 year tax holiday and 10 year tax and duty exemption on imported capital equipment and vehicles.
“It seems that our leaders have already forgotten the 26 defunct medical waste incinerators that the Philippine and Austrian Governments have entered into in the 90s,” said Ferrer. The 26 medical waste incinerators were decommissioned after it failed to pass emission levels set by the supplier, the Dept. of Health (DoH), and the World Health Organization (WHO). “The Philippines paid US$2 million every year for the incinerators until 2014 even when they were decommissioned as early as 2003 ,” Ferrer added.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Sonia G. Astudillo, Communications Officer, GAIA-AP, +63 917 5969286, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jed Alegado, Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic, +63 917 6070248, email@example.com
Note: The 26 medical waste incinerators were hosted in Albay Provincial Hospital (now Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital), Baguio General Hospital, Batangas Regional Hospital, Bicol Regional Hospital, Cagayan Valley Regional Hospital, Davao Medical Center, Davao Regional Hospital, Dr Paulino Garcia Memorial Hospital, East Avenue Medical Center, Ilocos Regional Hospital (now Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center), Jose B. Lingad Memorial General Hospital in Pampanga, Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center in Ilocos, Northern Mindanao Medical Center, Philippine Orthopedic Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Teofilo Sison Memorial Medical Center (now Region I Medical Center) in Pangasinan, Vicente Sotto Sr. Memorial Medical Center in Cebu and Western Visayas Medical Center
To date, the Philippines remains the only country in the world that has a total incineration ban.
The Honolulu City Council today passed Bill 40, which will implement the strictest ban on single use plastic utensils, straws and polystyrene foam containers in the State of Hawai‘i.
The latest draft of Bill 40, by Councilmembers Joey Manahan and Tommy Waters, evolved after many meetings, both public and private, and many hours of written and oral testimony.
Bill 40 was introduced back in July by Councilmember Manahan after discussing this issue for many years. He felt he had to finally take action to protect health, life and property and preserve the order and security of the City and its inhabitants.
Councilmember Manahan issued this statement:
“In all my years of dealing with the plastic issue, over a decade now, I’ve never seen a more fair process to both proponents and opponents. While there’s still a huge divide between the two groups, we listened to all sides when crafting Bill 40. I appreciate the wave of support from the proponents including those in the food industry, who may have not supported the bill, but cared enough to provide their input. The result is evident in the legislation we passed today. Most of all, I want to thank the youth leaders, our keiki, who really were a source of inspiration to me, my true north, my guiding star, my hoku‘lea.”
Councilmember Waters issued this statement:
“At a fundamental level, this is about protecting our Hawai‘i nei. We know that plastic pollutes our parks and beaches, we know that it ends up in our food and bodies, and we know that it will never ever go away. We owe it to our keiki who have mobilized in the thousands, yes thousands, in support of Bill 40. Of course, we owe so much to Councilmember Manahan, who not only introduced Bill 40, but has been working in this area for over a decade.
I also want to mahalo Chair Emeritus Ron Menor and Councilmembers Brandon Elefante and Kym Pine for previously introducing various bills that attempted to address components of what Bill 40 stands for today. Both the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency and the Office of Council Services provided their expertise to help move Bill 40 through Committee. I want to thank the many community organizations that have spurred this conversation, including Surfrider Foundation – Oahu Chapter Zero Waste Oahu B.E.A.C.H. Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii
I also want to thank the many small businesses that led the way and voiced support for this measure and mahalo those in the industry that worked with us to make Bill 40 a measure that won’t harm local businesses. I especially want to mahalo the many youth that came out to take a stand for their future – including the dozens of students from Hahaione Elementary School and Dyson Che (Project OCEAN Hawaii) who has really proven to be a leader. They really are the reason we are doing this.”
Thousands submitted testimony and testified since the bill was first introduced. Students of all ages and from all over Oahu have rallied behind this legislation, testified in strong support, pleaded with the Council to think of them, be brave and show society that we have the will and ability to adapt.
For more information on this bill and the Honolulu City Council, please go to the following web sites: http://www.honolulucitycouncil.com or http://www.honolulu.gov/council