Democrats in Congress reintroduced their far-reaching plastics pollution legislation March 25, hoping they can turn gains in the Senate and Joe Biden winning the White House into a vigorous national approach to clean up plastic waste and build up recycling.
But the legislation, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, got strong pushback from the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups, which warned that it could block much-needed investments in chemical recycling.
ACC and several senior executives, including Dow Inc. Chairman and CEO Jim Fitterling, held an unusual online news conference March 23 and directed much of their attention against a provision in the bill that would halt construction of new virgin plastic plants for up to three years.
"It would prevent advanced recycling technologies that can dramatically expand the types and amounts of plastics that can be recycled," said Fitterling, who is also chair of ACC. "Under the Act, these facilities are subject to a pause. We need to accelerate, not pause, progress on these important recycling innovations."
In sometimes sharp comments, industry officials suggested the legislation could disrupt supply chains by restricting the production of plastic, including in medical goods needed to fight COVID-19, and incentivize shifts to other materials with higher carbon footprints.
"This legislation would be absolutely devastating to manufacturing jobs and America's overall economy just as we begin to rebound from the effects of COVID-19," said Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.
His group said it would put $7 billion in investment in the plastics resin industry in "serious jeopardy."
But supporters of the huge bill, which includes many provisions besides the pause in permits, said that with less than 10 percent of plastics recycled in the United States and growing pollution from the build-out of the plastics production, a stronger government response is needed.
One of the bill's chief authors, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said at a March 24 news conference that it was "silly" to argue the bill will stifle innovation, saying it would create incentives for a more circular use of plastics. He said the bill does not ban chemical recycling.