The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft national plastics strategy on April 21 that includes a focus on the health impacts of plastics production and microplastics and looks at ways to improve recycling and waste management.
The EPA report came as the White House announced a new interagency policy committee on plastics pollution and the circular economy, an indication of stepped-up interest in President Joe Biden's administration.
"Plastic pollution negatively impacts our environment and public health with underserved and overburdened communities hit hardest," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement where the agency noted that both plastics production and plastics waste have more than doubled in the last 20 years.
EPA's news release announcing its strategy also said the new White House interagency plastics committee will look at health and environmental justice concerns around plastics.
"The IPC will coordinate federal efforts on plastic pollution, prioritizing public health, economic development, environmental justice and equity to ensure that the benefits of acting on plastic pollution — including jobs, minimized exposure to harmful chemicals and clean communities — are available to all," EPA said.
Industry groups gave a mixed reaction, saying they shared EPA's goal of preventing plastic pollution.
The American Chemistry Council's plastics division said the draft EPA plastics strategy, which is open for public comment for 45 days, aligns with some of ACC's policy agenda but also risks sending plastics production overseas and could hinder development of new recycling technologies.
"Some components of EPA's draft strategy align with the federal policy proposal from [ACC], detailed in our 5 Actions for Sustainable Change, such as expanding recycling capacity and public education on recycling," said Joshua Baca, ACC's vice president of plastics.
"However, other components of the strategy risk sending plastic manufacturing and jobs overseas where plastic is often made with less stringent environmental standards and more greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions," Baca said. "We caution the Administration that prescribing alternative materials, capping plastic production or limiting innovative recycling technologies could work against its climate objectives as plastic almost always has a lower life cycle GHG footprint compared to paper and metal."
Baca pointed to plastics benefits like food safety, making vehicles lighter and enabling medical products.
"The EPA and America's plastic makers share the same goal: preventing plastic pollution," Baca said. "These words are backed by the billions of dollars plastic makers have invested to scale up a circular economy to help keep plastics from entering the environment, conserve natural resources by recycling valuable plastic materials and shrink the environmental footprint of manufacturing."