A proposal for a sweeping 20-cent-per-pound fee on virgin, single-use plastic is back in the U.S. Congress, reigniting a debate on a tax that the industry spent more than $1 million to block two years ago.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, reintroduced the bill Sept. 19, saying it would boost the use of recycled plastic, provide funds for recycling infrastructure and put the plastics industry more on the hook for the cost of pollution.
"A polluter fee would hold the biggest plastics companies accountable for the damage they've caused and increase the amount of plastic that actually gets recycled," Whitehouse said. "We are living with a flood of plastic pollution. Microplastics have reached the most remote parts of Antarctica, and they've been found in human blood and infant formula."
In 2021, Whitehouse used his seat on the Senate finance committee to get the same 20-cent tax plan on a short list of Democratic priorities for funding its $3.5 trillion Build Back Better initiative, but it was ultimately dropped from those plans.
At the time, the plastics industry spent over $1 million lobbying against it, when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. With Republicans now controlling the House, the bill could face a more uphill climb.
The American Chemistry Council and its America's Plastics Makers subsidiary criticized the latest bill from Whitehouse and Doggett, who is a senior Democrat on the tax writing House Ways and Means Committee, as the wrong approach.
"America's plastic makers share Congress' concerns about the serious problem of mismanaged plastic waste but imposing a 20-cent-per-pound tax on virgin plastic materials would harm consumers, be a step backward in the fight against climate change and hinder U.S. efforts to rein in inflation," said Ross Eisenberg, president of APM. "When this tax was introduced in 2021, we said it was the wrong approach. It's still the wrong approach."