Plastic became an issue in the 2020 U.S. presidential race again Jan. 3, when candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden said plastic bags should be phased out.
The news was prompted by Biden’s response to a question at a campaign stop in Iowa, according to media reports. A woman who told Biden she was from Kenya asked how he felt about plastic grocery bags, pointing out that Kenya has banned them “to clean the environment.”
“I agree with you, 100 percent. We should not be allowing plastic,” Biden said to applause. “What we should do is phasing it out.”
Zach Parkinson, a communications official for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, shared a 23-second video of the exchange on Twitter. Conservative media including the Washington Examiner reported on the video.
Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association, released a statement saying that phasing out plastic bags was not the answer to environmental problems.
“The process of ’phasing them out,’ when it comes to plastics, would be a disaster for our economy and our environment,” Radoszewski said in a news release. “We’re disappointed that Biden would endorse the idea of a misguided reduction in the use of plastic materials, as bans and taxes aimed at accomplishing these tasks have only driven consumers to use more environmentally harmful and resource-intensive products.”
He added that developing countries with a lack of waste management infrastructure may ban materials as a last resort, but “the U.S. has the chance to be a leader in this area, by investing in new recycling technologies that can improve waste management systems at home and abroad — reducing litter and marine debris while creating jobs and helping grow the global economy.”
Radoszewski called on Biden to support the Recover Act, a bill that would commit $500 million of federal tax money over five years to matching grants to help local governments and organizations build out recycling infrastructure.
“This is a historic moment for the global economy and the environment, and the U.S. should take this chance to set an example by showing how every country can convert its waste into a valuable resource,” Radoszewski said.
This is not the first time that plastics have popped up during the 2020 campaign.
In August, Trump spoke at a Shell Chemical polyethylene plant under construction in Pennsylvania where he told workers: “When completed, this facility will transform abundant natural gas — and we have a lot of it — fracked from Pennsylvania wells, which they never would have allowed you to take if I weren’t president.”
Several Democratic candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, favor a ban on fracking, as did candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Prior to his speech at the Shell Chemical plant, Trump was asked by reporters about plastic marine debris, and he put the blame on other countries.
“Plastics are fine, but you have to know what to do with them. But other countries are not taking care of their plastic, and they haven’t for a long time,” Trump said.
In September, plastic straw bans came up during a CNN town hall on climate change. Then-candidate Sen. Kamala Harris called for a ban on plastic straws. Warren was also asked about straws, but she used the question as an opportunity to criticize the “fossil fuel industry,” which she said has too much influence in Washington.