Here are two things you would never have seen a year ago in the plastics industry: a U.S. Senator tweeting about a resin tax and a group of plastic bottle makers saying we need container deposits.
Yet both were there this month.
There was Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., the author of a proposed 20-cent-per-pound tax on virgin resin in packaging, on social media discussing the "fraud" of recycling and explaining why he was "pushing so hard for a pollution fee on single-use plastic that will make recycled plastic competitive and raise funds for real recycling and cleanup."
The American Chemistry Council responded and pushed its own plan to Congress, including recycled-content requirements and producer responsibility systems to have companies pay to help support recycling.
If you're following the debate, you've heard the broad outlines before.
But what struck me was that it's hard to imagine this exchange happening a year ago. A resin tax was not part of any serious debate in D.C.
Now, a virgin plastics fee is being floated in leadership circles on Capitol Hill as one way among many to pay for the Democrats' $3.5 trillion spending and tax cut plan, as Plastics News recently reported.
A year ago, the idea like this would have been confined to European parliamentary debates, not conversations among senior members of the U.S. Congress.
Today, it's serious enough that 38 plastics industry CEOs sent a letter to House and Senate leaders Sept. 13 urging them to scrap any ideas about putting a resin tax into the Democrats' Build Back Better plan.
You could make a similar point about the pro-bottle bill column Sept. 13 from the National Association for PET Container Resources and the metal can and glass packaging industries.
NAPCOR and associations for the other two industries published their joint call for container deposits in Real Clear Politics, arguing that deposits are the quickest way to raise recycling rates. The trio also wanted to present their take on how to best design a bottle bill system.
The politics around bottle bills are changing. Worldwide, they're growing, even if not so much in the United States.
Advocates for deposits say since 2017, countries and regions with 300 million people worldwide have added them.
That's not to say it's an easy push in this country. The three groups, including the Can Manufacturers Institute and the Glass Packaging Institute, are not planning any joint lobbying around specific bottle bill proposals, NAPCOR said.
And it's hard to imagine the U.S., with our decentralized state-by-state recycling policy, leapfrogging ahead to enact a national bottle bill. But then again, this kind of endorsement from industry groups wouldn't have been so publicly on the table in the United States even a year ago.
We're at a unique moment for waste and recycling policy in the U.S., certainly in the last several decades.
Public interest in this country is much higher than it's ever been, whether that's because of concerns around climate change, images of turtles having plastic straws pulled from their nostrils or cities complaining about footing the bill for weak recycling markets.
We've seen two states this year, Maine and Oregon, pass legislation for extended producer responsibility, which basically requires companies that use packaging, like big brand owners and retailers, pay fees to support recycling of their products.
The resin tax, the bottle bill statement and the EPR legislation mean there's a lot more of what I'd call facing financial reality around these debates now.
Along the same lines, I participated in an online conference earlier this month on how the investment community is asking more questions about financial risks for plastics firms and how to position capital flows for a more circular industry.
People are getting down to details — quickly — about how to pay for upgrades to waste collection and recycling systems and how to build systems that may be able to make a dent in the poor recycling rates in the U.S.
It makes you wonder what this will look like in another year or two.
Steve Toloken is a Plastics News assistant managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @Steve_Toloken.