What Is the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act?

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Plastic has found its way into every ecosystem on Earth, from the Texas-sized Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the ocean to the very food we eat. Did you know that we ingest almost a credit card sized amount of micro plastics every week? Plastic has proven itself to be useful but not sustainable, so something needs to be done in order to clean up the mess and keep Earth viable for future generations. A great step in the right direction would be for Congress to pass the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.

What Would the Act Do?

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California, the bill would take important steps toward lowering our dependence on plastic and also clean up the plastic pollution that has saturated our environment. One of the most difficult aspects of reigning in plastic production is the fact that it is cheaper to manufacture new plastic than recycle old plastic. The act seeks to address this monumental challenge from different angles.

Require Real Recycling

One of the most effective ways to reduce plastic pollution is to recycle the plastic that already exists. As of right now, most plastic becomes waste, leaving us at an abysmal recycling rate. The bill would require actual recycling of plastic waste to take place and transfer the cost from municipalities to the corporations that are creating the plastic. By putting the onus on the manufacturers of plastic, it could help take the burden off taxpayers and motivate corporations to find new and novel ways to efficiently recycle.  

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Reduce Single-Use Plastics

The very definition of waste can be summed up with single-use plastics such as disposable utensils and packaging. Though steps have been taken to reduce plastic straws, the results have been minimal and focused on one very small aspect of the industry. Single-use plastics contribute to a large portion of overall plastic waste and would be targeted in the bill.

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Provide More Transparency

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The oil and plastics industries have used smoke and mirrors to continue to insist there is either no problem, or that they have Earth’s best intentions in mind when they simply do not. This was proven when Exxon and Shell were found to have known about the devastating effects of climate change in the 1980s and led a concerted campaign to deceive the public about the danger. It is important to keep this in mind as the oil industry and the plastic industry are deeply intertwined. With more transparency in these industries, they would not be able to as easily lead such a campaign again.

Reduce Pollution and Promote Environmental Justice

The production of plastic tends to disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color as they are often left with no choice but to live near the chemical plants utilized to manufacture virgin plastic. Since the level of air pollution emitted is high, the land is often more affordable and home to affordable rental housing. By forcing these facilities to reduce the amount of pollution they emit and also facilitating the movement of folks out of danger areas, justice could begin to be served for those who have borne the brunt of the negative side of the industry.

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Reduce Toxins

It is becoming more and more apparent just how much micro plastics have made their way into our ecosystem. They have been found in the ice of Antarctica, in the food we eat and intermingled with phytoplankton in the ocean. If these toxins continue to devastate baseline ecosystems, the effects will reverberate upwards in the food chain. When we consume animals or plants with these toxins in them, they infiltrate our bodily systems. It is why micro plastics have even been found in the placentas of pregnant women. These toxins can have devastating effects on our bodies in the form of birth defects and cancer.

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What Can We Do?

There are some things that you can do as a citizen to show your support for the actions in this bill. One of the best ways to make your voice heard is to contact your Representative or Senator to let them know that they should work to pass the bill. Here are links to find the contact information for the senators in your state and your local representative

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You can also work within your own home to help reduce plastic pollution. Even though it can come off as cliche, reducing, reusing and recycling does work. As illustrated above, recycling is not always the most effective means of eliminating plastic waste, so you should work to reduce the amount of single-use plastics in your everyday life and reuse plastic containers when you can. Soda bottles can be used as planting pots, and old ice cream gallons can be used for all sorts of storage tasks. Another aspect of the bill is to promote businesses to allow customers to bring in and utilize reusable containers such as their own mugs when getting coffee. Something as simple as bringing your own shopping bags to the store can allow less plastic bags to be circulated and prevent them from  becoming waste or litter at some point. 

Solving the plastic problem will take a lot of work. The production of plastic is projected to continue to rise as underdeveloped parts of the world continue to modernize. Certain areas such as Africa and Asia, which are not major producers of plastic waste currently, are expected to multiply production in the coming decades. Incentivizing these countries’ governments to pursue sustainable methods will require setting the right example, as the United States is currently the largest producer of plastic waste. The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is a good step in the right direction along with taking responsible steps as an individual.  

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