Whatever happens around recycling and plastics policy in the United States, it's looking like Washington is going to play a much larger role in an area historically left to state and local governments.
A broad coalition of consumer products companies, the Recycling Leadership Council, unveiled a policy plan Feb. 4 that wants the federal government to be much more involved in regulating and financing recycling.
To buttress their point, the group's online unveiling included appearances by several U.S. senators and members of Congress.
The lawmakers said there's bipartisan interest in Washington in doing more, even if they did not identify specific legislation on the scale of what the RLC report is urging.
RLC, which is organized by the Consumer Brands Association, urged Washington help standardize U.S recycling, provide more funding for local systems and recyclers, and build better data collection.
One RLC recommendation that Washington could do soon: Any new infrastructure legislation in Congress should include money to help struggling recycling programs.
The report also made some plastics-specific points.
It argued that low virgin resin prices cause major problems for making plastics recycling economically viable, although it didn't detail what to do about that.
As well, it urged Washington to support development of advanced recycling technologies favored by the industry and study the "global impacts of U.S. plastic pollution," including whether U.S. plastic waste exports are actually properly recycled in other countries.
But mostly the RLC, which includes some of the world's biggest corporate buyers of plastic resin, intended its report as a statement from consumer product companies and allied groups that they want Washington to step up.
"Recycling in the United States is at a breaking point due to thousands of disparate systems, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the massive fractures in its foundation," said Geoff Freeman, CBA president and CEO. "The time is now to solve this crisis, and Americans overwhelmingly want federal leadership."
Other coalition members include the American Beverage Association, the Flexible Packaging Association and glass and metal packaging groups.
The report came on the same day that more than 250 environmental groups made their own pitch to President Joe Biden for $1.3 billion in new federal spending aimed at plastics pollution.
Like RLC, they also suggested funds come from new federal infrastructure spending, and they added climate or stimulus legislation.
The Break Free From Plastic coalition asked Biden for $75 million to better regulate and enforce environmental laws aimed at the plastics industry, as well as $150 million to investigate the health impacts of plastics and $500 million to support recycling of non-plastic materials.
The RLC report came in for criticism from Greenpeace, which said government should try to reduce the use of throwaway packaging and abandon the idea that recycling paid for with tax dollars can solve the problem.
"Real solutions start with an honest assessment of the problem, which goes well beyond waste and will require far more than recycling to solve," said John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA oceans campaign director. "It is time to abandon throwaway packaging, especially plastics, and incentivize systems of reuse. … Today's blueprint is just another 'call to action' from an industry front group that fails to acknowledge this fundamental reality."