The American Chemistry Council is calling on Congress to set a national standard that all plastic packaging use at least 30 percent recycled content by 2030, as part of a new legislative push the group unveiled July 13.
As concern has grown in Congress and with some Democrats proposing tougher plastics bills and taxes on virgin resin, Washington-based ACC released a blueprint it calls a practical response to the concerns over waste and recycling.
ACC's five-part agenda, contained in a new report "A Plan for Congress to Accelerate a Circular Economy for Plastics," also calls for Washington to back policies to boost chemical recycling, adopt federal producer responsibility legislation and enact a national framework for plastics recycling.
Some of the ideas echo an ACC statement in October, but the most far-reaching new element may be its endorsement of federal legislation mandating 30 percent recycled content in all plastic packaging.
If it became law, it would be a significant step up from the current level of less than 10 percent recycled content, although a 30 percent figure would be in line with voluntary targets set by many major consumer brands over the next five to 10 years.
Joshua Baca, ACC's vice president of plastics, said the new ACC plan is in response to calls asking what the plastics industry supports. He sees it as policy ideas to boost both supply and demand for recycled plastics.
"On all of these issues, stakeholders, lawmakers and policymakers have asked our industry to outline the specifics of what we're for, in a comprehensive way to accelerate the circular economy for plastics and waste in the environment," Baca said. "That's what this vision does."
There's no specific legislation in Congress, though, detailing ACC's ideas at this point. Baca said the group, which represents the plastics materials sector, will be working with lawmakers on that.
"We live in a very divided Congress right now," he said. "We think we've crafted something that is realistic, implementable and pragmatic. … I think we will have a great opportunity to generate bipartisan support across the board for our ideas."
The first priority listed in the report is the recycled content mandate. ACC said it would apply to all plastic packaging across commodities, food and beverages.
"We absolutely need to increase the demand for this," Baca said, pointing to a recent report from consultancy ICIS that said the U.S. would need to roughly double the amount of plastics it recycles annually, to 13 billion pounds, to meet a 30 percent recycled content standard.
One bill in Congress now, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, would mandate recycled content in plastic packaging nationally. And California passed a far-reaching law last year requiring many plastic beverage bottles to have 25 percent recycled content by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.
ACC's plan would apply to all packaging, not just bottles. Baca said ACC sees the different elements of its plan as connected.
"The components all tie together; a recycled plastic standard of 30 percent by 2030 is going to be successful based on the second key point of our proposal, which is creating a modern regulatory framework and ensuring that things like advanced recycling are recognized as part of the solution," Baca said.
ACC wants Congress to pass a national law for advanced recycling, similar to ones that the industry has successfully pushed to pass in 14 states. The new laws treat the chemical recycling facilities as manufacturing plants rather than waste disposal.
Baca called for more specific legal recognition of advanced recycling, which break plastics down into monomers or uses solvents to recycle them.
"Advanced recycling is going to play a critical role in meeting this recycled plastic standard that we're calling for," Baca said. "It should be codified into law."
ACC's press release linked to an ICIS report that estimated that chemical recycling could meet 23 percent of the demand for recycled plastic in packaging by 2030, if the 30 percent content goal becomes reality.
The ACC report also calls for more support of traditional sort-and-grind mechanical recycling technologies for plastics, saying that 40 percent of that capacity is underutilized.