A big attempt by the plastics industry to offer its own recycling and pollution legislation in Congress as an alternative to the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act continues to be a slow climb.
A year ago, American Chemistry Council CEO Chris Jahn told reporters at a media briefing that an ACC-backed, bipartisan alternative to the Democrats' favored BFFPPA would be released "relatively soon."
Fast forward to the ACC briefing for this year, during its winter leadership meetings in D.C., and there's still no sign of that bill.
Jahn told reporters Feb. 7 that ACC continues to work on finding sponsors in Congress but also argued that Washington is not where the action is for plastics recycling and pollution legislation.
"Quite honestly, the outlook for activity on this at the federal level, in the short term, is very limited," he said. "As a result, you see a lot of that activity taking place at the state level. There's any number of states right now that either are in the process of implementing some [extended producer responsibility] type schemes or actively considering legislation right now."
He said he wanted to make clear that ACC has not given up trying to find support for something to sit opposite Break Free, and he pointed to a five-point national framework that ACC introduced in 2021 that includes 30 percent recycled content in plastic products, EPR and probably most controversially, national recognition of chemical recycling.
The new head of ACC's plastics division said in September that ACC was finding skepticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are leery of chemical recycling and Republicans question the need for the bigger federal role ACC seeks.
Break Free also seems to have stalled, not moving substantively since it was first introduced in 2020. That said, one of its lead sponsors, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has been holding Senate hearings that for the first time on Capitol Hill are diving deep into plastics.
Jahn also suggested the topic is not dead in Washington and some "federal conversations remain active."
In particular, he noted that the plastics treaty talks, which aim to wrap up later this year, may require implementing legislation in Congress, Jahn said.
"Whatever happens on the international stage, you may in fact need federal implementing legislation," he said. "Clearly, we don't know how that turns out yet."
But the larger political paralysis in Washington hurts the ability to move ahead.
"You may have noticed that it's really hard to get things done in this town these days," Jahn said. "We've got literally a speaker with a one-seat majority. It's very difficult keeping the government open, let alone accomplishing big things like that."
Still, plastics will remain a topic of conversation in Washington.
Six environmental organizations, for example, sent a letter to President Joe Biden Feb. 8 asking him to take a "whole-of-government approach" to plastic pollution.
That letter, from World Wildlife Fund, the Recycling Partnership, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others, called for Biden to set a goal of ending plastic pollution in the U.S. by 2040, set reusable and refillable packaging targets and develop a national framework for EPR.
They also asked Biden to set national targets for reducing production of problematic or unnecessary single-use plastics, integrate environmental justice into plastics policy and push for a strong plastics treaty.
A WWF leader said some companies would welcome action by Biden if it sets clearer rules.
"Presidential action to address plastic pollution here at home will spur the regulatory certainty that leading companies are calling for to enable them to innovate and move further faster," said Alejandro Pérez, senior vice president of policy and government affairs. "It will also help to drive global ambition at a pivotal moment."
Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts. It's hard to disagree with Jahn that the outlook for big plastics legislation in Washington looks very limited.
But it's also clear that the conversations and lobbying will continue, and that with action both in states and at the global treaty, Washington at some point could find itself in a pincer that pushes action.