Plastics industry groups are telling the Environmental Protection Agency it has gotten off track with its national strategy on plastics pollution by focusing too much on reducing plastics without considering the impact of other materials.
But environmentalists and local governments in the debate said Washington should drive toward less plastic manufacturing for single-use or hard-to-recycle products, because even managing existing waste is proving too difficult.
The EPA released its first draft strategy around plastics in April, and in a sample of comments posted publicly by the federal government following a July 31 deadline, industry groups said EPA should focus on improving recycling and waste infrastructure.
Plastics and other manufacturing groups argued that the draft strategy is not following the intent of Congress with its Save Our Seas 2.0 law in 2020.
"The EPA was directed by Congress in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way to focus on post-consumer materials management and infrastructure, and instead the agency's first stated objective in this strategy is to reduce the production of essential materials rather than address plastic waste," said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.
The American Chemistry Council's plastics division, for its part, said a lower carbon economy can't happen without plastics and called for "clear understanding" of chemical recycling to handle more plastic waste.
ACC said the EPA's strategy called for single-use plastics reduction, including in federal government purchasing programs, while sometimes implying "that alternatives to plastics are always environmentally preferable."
"Misguided policies could impede domestic manufacturing, export jobs and hinder the supply chains for goods we rely on daily," said Lee Salamone, senior director of ACC's plastics division. "Unfortunately, this initial draft fails to deliver an achievable solution for plastics in a circular economy."
The Ohio Manufacturers Association said EPA erred by focusing only on plastics and not considering direction in the SOS 2.0 law to also look at other post-consumer materials.
"Will there be a separate strategy to address the 'other post-consumer materials?'" OMA wrote. "At its core, the issue of marine or land pollution, whether plastics or any other material, is the problem of litter."
The Consumer Brands Association, which represents consumer goods companies, called on EPA to harmonize recycling standards nationwide, review the "misunderstood" chasing arrows symbol and plastic resin identification code and work to integrate advanced recycling technologies.
It also urged EPA to step up reviews of the safety of recycled plastic in products, as its member companies have made major commitments to use more recycled material in their packaging.
"It is essential that the EPA coordinate its work alongside the [Food and Drug Administration] to expeditiously collect, review, and publish data analyzing the safe conditions of use, limitations and availability of food grade [post-consumer recycled] materials, including an analysis of existing infrastructure and supply chain needs," CBA said.