Washington — One of the main voices in the U.S. Senate on plastics policy, Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, is trying to craft framework legislation for a national bottle bill that would set broad performance targets for recycling but largely leave implementation details up to individual states.
Merkley disclosed the plans at a Sept. 28 Senate recycling hearing he chaired, saying that he sees rising concern about plastic waste creating at least initial bipartisan interest in talks around a national bottle bill.
"I know there's a number of my colleagues across the aisle who really have started to see the impact of plastics, especially those ocean states, and would like to ponder if there is a framework that could make sense, both as good policy and perhaps good politics," he said at the close of the hearing titled "Examining Solutions to Address Beverage Container Waste."
Merkley has pushed national bottle bills previously, including as part of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act where he's a lead sponsor, and before that on the state level as a lawmaker in Oregon.
While a national bottle bill could be a heavy lift, at least in the short term, Merkley's comments at the hearing of a subcommittee within the Environment and Public Works Committee suggest he's searching for new approaches.
In a question to one witness, Steve Alexander, president and CEO of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, Merkley suggested that changing economic and political conditions are softening the traditional opposition to bottle bills from the beverage industry.
"At one time the bottling world was deeply opposed to deposit systems," Merkley said. "I've started to kind of hear little bits of things like 'maybe we are interested in a nationwide system with some parameters,' as interest grows about the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or ends up in rivers or ends up in the oceans. Do you see kind of a shifting attitude and the possibility of creating a national framework?"
"Absolutely," Alexander said. "We've experienced the same thing, particularly from the beverage industry. They are now working very closely with us. They need supply."
Alexander told the hearing that plans by the beverage industry to use recycled content in containers — and state laws requiring them to do that in some places — are driving demand for more recycled plastic, but supplies are limited.
APR, for example, analyzed a 2021 California law requiring recycled content in PET beverage containers and found that there was enough supply to get to the 25 percent recycled content the law requires in 2025 but not enough to reach the 50 percent level the law calls for in 2030, Alexander said.
"The issue is we need to have the supply available in order to meet those contents," Alexander said.