US EPA outlines plans to tackle plastic threat

The United States is clamping down on the rising threat of plastic pollution as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution.

The move has been described as “a significant step forward in the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to reduce pollution and build a circular economy for all”. The proposed strategy includes what the EPA described as ambitious actions to eliminate the release of plastic and other waste from land-based sources into the environment by 2040.

“Plastic pollution negatively impacts our environment and public health with underserved and overburdened communities hit hardest,” said EPA administrator Michael S. Regan. “As a global leader in the efforts to address these challenges and pave the way for the future, we must combat plastic pollution from every angle and prevent it at every step of the plastic lifecycle. As we take comment on EPA’s draft national strategy, the agency will continue this work to protect people and the planet, ensuring the benefits reach our most vulnerable communities.”

The release of EPA’s draft national strategy came as the agency and the Biden-Harris Administration celebrated Earth Week, and was released alongside a new White House Interagency Policy Committee (IPC) on Plastic Pollution and a Circular Economy. The IPC will coordinate federal efforts on plastic pollution, prioritizing public health, economic development, environmental justice, and equity to ensure that the benefits of acting on plastic pollution – including jobs, minimized exposure to harmful chemicals, and clean communities – are available to all.

In the last 20 years, global annual production of plastics and plastic waste has more than doubled, the EPA explained. As a result, communities face pollution not only from the manufacture and transportation of plastic and associated chemicals, but from the millions of tons of plastic products end up in waste streams and “leak” into parks, neighbourhoods, waterways and oceans. Products that range from shopping bags and takeout food containers to beverage bottles, food wrappers, bottle caps, and much more can be found in the environment.

Working closely with industry leaders and additional stakeholders, EPA said it had identified three key objectives for the strategy:

  • Reduce pollution during plastic production.
  • Improve post-use materials management.
  • Prevent trash and micro/nanoplastics from entering waterways and remove escaped trash from the environment.

The draft “National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution,” together with EPA’s “National Recycling Strategy,” identifies how the Agency can work collaboratively with US organisations to prevent plastic pollution and reduce, reuse, recycle, and capture plastic and other waste from land-based sources.

“These actions support a circular approach to the management of plastics – one that is regenerative by design, enables resources to maintain their highest value for as long as possible, and aims for the elimination of waste,” the EPA added.

Examples of actions in the draft strategy include:

  • Improve the design of plastic products to provide more reuse and refill opportunities.
  • Increase solid waste collection and ensure that solid waste management does not adversely impact communities.
  • Produce fewer single-use, unrecyclable, and frequently littered plastic products, and reduce pollution from plastic production facilities.
  • Increase public awareness of ways to reduce plastic and other trash in waterways.