A group of 10 state attorneys general is urging the Biden administration to set "realistic but aggressive" timelines to reduce government buying of single-use plastics, while industry groups are warning such a step could do more harm than good.
The back-and-forth comes as the General Services Administration, which writes the rules for government purchasing, is considering whether it should write new regulations to limit federal agencies from buying "unnecessary" single-use plastics like bags, containers and bottles.
The idea was first proposed to President Joe Biden in February by 180 environmental groups.
GSA followed up in July by formally announcing it would look at the idea, and thus far it seems to have gotten an earful.
A government website to collect input Sept. 8 said it received 22,500 comments on the proposal, and some groups began publicly releasing their recommendations after a Sept. 6 deadline set by GSA.
The attorneys general from California, Illinois and other states told GSA that changing packaging purchasing regulations for the federal government — essentially the world's largest buyer — could give a major push to companies developing alternatives to single-use plastics.
"GSA should set a realistic but aggressive deadline for phasing out the procurement of single-use plastic products," the states wrote in comments they released Sept. 6. "Phasing out these products will hasten the economic, environmental and health benefits of a nationwide reduction in plastics, protect front-line communities and reduce plastic pollution."
Plastics and other business groups are pushing back hard on idea, saying that plastics are better for the environment than many alternatives, when looked at across the product life cycle.
A group of plastics and other business associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told GSA any federal action should be material neutral to avoid running afoul of other government procurement laws.
"If this proposal moves forward, it will run directly counter to the administration's environmental goals to reduce emissions," said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association. "This proposal would not only cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars, it would force the use of products and materials that will have a much larger environmental footprint than the plastic products the administration would be looking to phase out."
There's no timeline on any GSA decision, and at this point the agency is only studying it and has not made a proposal of its own. It recently extended its comment deadline to Sept. 27, after some urged more time given the complexities.
The GSA action comes against a backdrop of other Biden administration decisions around plastics policy, including phasing out single-use plastics at national parks and public lands, as well as endorsing talks on a global plastics treaty at the United Nations.