Joshua Baca, who took over as head of the ACC's plastics division this year, sees a consensus building within industry around issues like extended producer responsibility fees on packaging and requirements for recycled content.
"There seems to be growing momentum for issues like recycled content standards," Baca said. "There's broad momentum and coalitions and partnerships for … the need for there to be more standards when it comes to recycling.
"I think there's a growing movement within the brands and a bunch of other organizations who are working through the Recycling Partnership on advancing forms of EPR like packaging fees and landfill disposal fees," he said.
Ahead of the election, industry lobbyists saw a divided government in Washington, with control of Capitol Hill and the White House split between the two major parties, as a good election outcome.
In a Nov. 10 interview, Baca said he thinks it's possible to have some plastics-related legislation move in a divided Washington because the partisan splits around them may not be as sharp as with other environmental issues.
He pointed to the developing consensus within industry groups as potentially more important than agreements among Republicans and Democrats.
"The most important thing is that you have pretty wide agreement among industry on how to deal with some of these issues right now," Baca said. "And often when you're dealing with some of these big battles that involve industry in Congress, you're usually having to bring industry kicking and screaming along. I don't really think that's the case right now."
What's not clear yet, though, is whether the details of any consensus would prove workable to enough industry, environmentalists, local governments and lawmakers to win passage.
Industry associations including ACC, the Consumer Brands Association and The Recycling Partnership have in recent months come out with various platforms endorsing combinations of packaging fees, recycling standards and recycled content.
Lawmakers from both parties in Congress have noted concerns around plastics in the environment, but bipartisanship legislative progress has been more limited to measures like the Save Our Seas Act in 2018 and an updated version that seems headed to approval this year.
Both versions have focused on global efforts to fight plastics in the oceans or funding for recycling grants in the U.S. — areas that are less controversial and complex than new fees to finance major reforms of recycling or national laws requiring recycled content.
Legislation that included EPR, recycled content provisions, plastics bans and limits on plant expansion introduced this year by Democrats did not advance. That bill, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, does count influential Democrats among its supporters.
Baca argued a bipartisan approach will be needed, saying he reads the election as voters "deliberately" choosing divided government.
"If we're strictly talking about the legislative process itself, the way it looks like our government will be made up next year, no one party is going to have the ability to dictate what needs to get done," he said. "I think there's going to be a window of opportunity for us to work on some of these solutions."
He said the industry wants to solve the problem of plastic waste in the environment and pointed to billions of dollars in announced investments in plastics recycling in the U.S. since 2017, as well as industry funding for the $1.5 billion Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
He also said the industry would be pushing for chemical recycling to be part of any solutions.
While President Trump has not conceded the election, ACC issued a statement Nov. 7 congratulating "President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris on a fair and transparent [and] historic and hard-fought victory."