Noting ongoing talks toward a global plastics treaty, 24 members of the House and Senate sent a letter to President Joe Biden Dec. 20 urging the administration to set "meaningful standards" to reduce plastic pollution.
The letter from California congressional Democrats Jared Huffman and Alan Lowenthal and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., asked the Biden administration to play a leading role in the negotiations.
"The global legally binding instrument is an unprecedented opportunity to address our plastic pollution crisis and our climate crisis in tandem," the lawmakers said. "We applaud your administration's continued leadership on this issue and stand ready to support you in setting ambitious reduction targets for plastics at the domestic and international level."
The letter did not detail those standards but pointed out the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act, which all four of the legislators introduced Dec. 1.
That bill calls for pausing permits on new plastics plants to protect fence line communities and would have the federal government set targets for reducing single-use plastics and increasing reusable packaging by 2032.
Plastics industry groups have criticized the permit pauses in that legislation, saying they could cripple the U.S. industry, and they've said the bill ignores the contributions of plastics in reducing society's carbon footprint with lighter weight cars, insulation in buildings and packaging preventing food waste.
As well, industry groups have put forward their own plans for a plastics treaty, including recycled content standards and extended producer responsibility laws, while urging governments not to put caps on plastics production.
The lawmakers, however, said they wanted the Biden administration to support plastics reduction targets in the treaty.
The first negotiating session took place in late November and early December in Uruguay, and was attended by diplomats from 160 countries, including the U.S.
"In light of the recent [treaty] meetings, it is imperative that the United States work both at home and abroad to set high rules and standards to address the plastic production and waste crisis upstream at the source," they wrote. "We need to take leadership and urgent action, starting here at home, to protect our communities, our economy and our climate from the continued threat from plastics."
The letter said the U.S. is the world's largest consumer of plastics and could "rank as high as third among countries contributing to coastal plastic pollution."
The lawmakers noted concerns about health harms suffered by people processing plastic waste exported around the world, and from people living next to petrochemical production zones in the U.S. and globally.
"A global agreement to address plastic pollution should start at home, ensuring would-be sacrifice zones transition into communities who benefit from a clean, circular economy," the letter said.