Washington — The head of the American Chemistry Council says the plastics industry could be getting more favorable legislation in Congress that would be an "alternative framework" to the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.
The Break Free Act, which was first introduced in 2020 by Democrats on Capitol Hill, includes some features that plastics groups have strongly opposed, like limits on permitting of new plastics plants while the government updates emissions rules.
But it's also been the most — and, in some ways, the only — comprehensive plastics legislation in Washington. Industry groups have generally lined up behind much more limited bills.
That now appears likely to change, ACC President and CEO Chris Jahn told a meeting with reporters Feb. 8 at the close of an ACC board meeting in Washington.
"We expect that there will be a bill introduced that will provide an alternative framework approach to the Break Free bill, and we expect that that will happen relatively soon," Jahn said. "We're having bipartisan conversations with multiple members of Congress."
Jahn declined to discuss details of the legislation or which members of Congress may introduce it, but he pointed reporters to a five-point framework for national legislation that ACC unveiled in mid-2021.
That framework includes 30 percent recycled content in plastic packaging by 2030, national recycling standards, a regulatory system that allows for the "rapid scaling" of chemical recycling while growing mechanical recycling, and producer responsibility legislation for packaging.
"Members of Congress will decide what they want to do and where they want to go with it," Jahn said. "We would expect an alternative vision to be introduced in the near term."
One industry source said ACC's five-point plan is "a starting point, not an end point" in talks around any potential bill.
That source, speaking on background, said the legislation could contain four of ACC's framework points but may not include extended producer responsibility, since EPR generally applies to all packaging material types.
The Break Free Act includes EPR, as well as minimum recycled-content standards for beverage containers, foodservice items and packaging, as well as bans on some single-use plastics that are not recyclable. It also includes a national container deposit program.
Regulation of chemical recycling — or advanced recycling, as ACC and some industry groups call it — has been a hot button in Washington and in state governments.
Some congressional Democrats have pushed for tighter rules, and the Environmental Protection Agency opened a rule-making in 2021 on how it should regulate the technology.
Environmental groups and others skeptical of the technology question how much plastic waste it can process economically as well as say its emissions pollute nearby communities.
At the same time, ACC and other industry groups have successfully passed advanced recycling legislation in 21 states. Industry groups have said standards would provide clear rules for investments in advanced recycling facilities.