Misguided bill kills jobs and sets America back
One of our nation’s first orders of business today is to rebuild America’s resilience.
Our resilience has been tested in multiple ways, but we all want to exit this watershed year stronger. To do that, we must restore our ability to absorb multiple shocks, both expected and unforeseen. We’ll need to release the dynamism of our top assets, such as our manufacturing capabilities, to build back better while tackling major challenges like waste and climate change.
But these lessons appear lost on supporters of a backward-looking proposal in Congress: the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. This misguided legislation undermines America’s ability to foster resilience, rebuild the economy and combat waste in the environment.
President Biden has provided an effective roadmap for what resiliency could look like. In his executive orders to strengthen U.S. resilience, he appropriately declared: “The United States needs resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains to ensure our economic prosperity and national security. Pandemics… and other conditions can reduce critical manufacturing capacity and the availability and integrity of critical goods, products, and services.”
That “critical manufacturing capacity” mobilized to serve our country. For example, to supply material for personal protective equipment — including face shields and N95 masks — the people that make plastic shifted production, worked long hours, and sometimes lived inside their facilities.
Despite adversity, our nation is providing citizens millions of vaccines, delivered in a plastic syringe. Many vaccines are transported in foam plastic storage containers to keep them cold.
However, the proposed bill wants to “break free” from this essential material. Among multiple restrictions, it would require the EPA to fully halt permitting for these facilities that supply our nation. For up to five years.
What does that really mean? Close the factories, suspend making important goods, and essentially drive plastic production overseas.
New data makes clear how serious the risks are from this misguided proposal. According to research from the American Chemistry Council, should the proposal become law, it could cost close to 1 million good-paying American jobs and wipe out up to $413 billion in economic activity over the next few years. Many industries would have to source finish plastic goods from abroad, leading to loss of even more economic activity and jobs to other countries. And much of this could become permanent.
While the bill calls out climate change and waste reduction as a top priority, it runs the risk of setting America back in our effort to combat these global threats.
To tackle the climate crisis, multiple sectors of the U.S. economy must drive down greenhouse gas emissions, including building and construction, vehicles, and food production. These sectors rely on plastic components and composites to help them reduce emissions. Greenhouse gas-reducing electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels, energy-saving insulation — these all depend on plastic too, a hyper-versatile material that allows us to do more with less. On average, using plastic materials results in 2.5 times less greenhouse gas emissions than using alternative materials.
That’s not all. While touting pollution reduction in its title, this Act would have the opposite effect. In another blow to innovation and sustainability, the Act would stymie advanced recycling technologies, innovative approaches that expand the types and quantities of plastic that can be recycled again and again, reducing plastic waste. Hamstringing this technology would only mean more plastic waste, and greater reliance on new production.
Irresponsible policy can’t wish away plastic. Essentially stopping plastic manufacturing for up to five years would simply push production overseas and prevent American manufacturers from innovating new products and technologies.
American plastic makers agree that more must be done to reduce plastic waste in the environment. We stand ready to work with Congress, industry, and nonprofits to achieve a future free from plastic waste, deploying bipartisan, pragmatic, and realistic solutions. But eliminating essential goods that keep America strong isn’t going to get us there.
Instead, let’s focus on rebuilding our resilience. As President Biden noted, “… the bottom line is simple: The American people should never face shortages in the goods and services they rely on, whether that’s their car or their prescription medicines or the food at the local grocery store.”
We all share the same goals: combatting climate change and eliminating plastic waste. But accomplishing these aims will require more than slogans and snappy bill titles. Particularly when those titles obscure regressive legislation.
Joshua Baca is vice president of the Plastics Division at the American Chemistry Council.
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