Equilibrium & Sustainability

NGOs petition Biden administration to stop buying single-use plastics

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Almost 200 environmental and community groups demanded that the Biden administration stop purchasing plastic bags and other single-use plastics products, in a formal petition filed on Thursday.

Because the U.S. government is the single largest consumer of products and services in the world — spending $650 billion annually — it has the “opportunity to harness the power of the federal pocketbook to catalyze a more sustainable marketplace for all,” the petition stated, citing the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Here’s a chance for the Biden administration to do more to combat this crisis than all the local plastic bag bans in the country combined,” Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the petition, said in a statement.

The petitioners called upon the federal government’s procurement arm — the General Services Administration — to “leverage its purchasing power to catalyze a more sustainable marketplace,” by prohibiting federal agencies from buying single-use, disposable plastic products.

“The federal government’s huge purchasing power is crucial to protecting our environment and health from plastic pollution,” Jeffers said. “Biden officials have to help stem the flood of single-use plastic that’s contaminating our oceans and poisoning wildlife and our own bodies.”

The General Services Administration issues regulations that govern the acquisition and supply of goods used by federal agencies, with a requirement that purchases be “sustainable products,” according to the petitioners. Nonetheless, they continued, there are no specific requirements regarding plastic items.

In response to a query from The Hill, the General Services Administration said in a statement: “We are reviewing the petition and will respond appropriately.”

Americans consume about 100 billion plastic bags each year — a trend that the World Economic Forum has estimated could lead to more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, according to the petition, whose supporters include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Oceana.

The petition cites plastic production as a driver of the climate crisis, responsible for harming wildlife and damaging local communities with toxic air and water contamination.

The petitioners also countered the plastics industry, decrying claims that it is possible to “recycle our way out of this problem,” noting that Environmental Protection Agency data shows that U.S. plastic recycling rates sit at only 8 percent.

Matthew Kastner, a spokesman for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) — a trade group representing major oil and gas, chemicals and plastics corporations — described the petition as “misguided.”

“We all should be focused on creating a circular economy for plastics in which ‘single use’ becomes a relic of the past, not on replacing plastics with materials that typically have a larger carbon footprint,” Kastner said in a statement. “ACC has a better solution, detailed in our 5 Actions for Sustainable Change.”

The actions cited by Kastner involve requiring all plastic packaging to include 30-percent recycled plastic by 2030, modernizing regulations to scale up advanced recycling technologies, developing national standards for all types of plastics, studying impacts of emissions from all raw materials and establishing a U.S.-designed producer responsibility system.

But plastic, according to the petitioners, continues to threaten human health, by exposing consumers to “chemicals linked to many of the known public health crises of our time, including obesity, ADD/ADHD and many forms of cancers.”

“It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill,” a statement from the groups said. “The bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.”

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