For decades we have witnessed plastic pollution flowing into our ocean. It has wreaked havoc on marine life by polluting the ocean and coastal habitats that are their home. Over half of all plastics produced are designed to be used once and then thrown away. So it is no surprise that single-use plastics continue to dominate the list of most collected items from beaches and waterways during Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup(ICC).
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The solution to this growing problem is clear:
When it comes to plastics, we need to make less and reuse more.
Unfortunately, decades of government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry have hindered efforts to reuse and recycle. They make it cheaper to produce new (or “virgin”) plastics rather than recycling plastic waste already created.
The production of new plastics also contributes to our growing climate crisis. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production are expected to reach 1.3 billion tons. That’s equal to 300 coal-fired power plants. In fact, with nearly 99% of plastics made from fossil fuel-derived chemicals, the fossil fuel industry is counting on making more single-use plastics to make up for losses in demand for fossil fuels as the world shifts to renewable energy resources. We cannot address our climate crisis without tackling plastic pollution and over-production.
To keep our ocean plastic-free, we need to incentivize reuse and recycling rather than waste.
A fee on virgin plastic resin for single-use plastics will help do just that. New legislation, the Rewarding Efforts to Decrease Unrecycled Contaminants in Ecosystems (REDUCE) Act, led by Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Suozzi (D-NY) would establish a $0.20 per pound fee on virgin plastic for single-use plastic items like carry-out bags, bottles and packaging by 2024. This legislation would apply only to those single-use plastics that most commonly escape the waste stream and that pollute beaches and our ocean.
This fee would serve as a long overdue market correction that moves us towards a circular economy—a model for transformation so that waste is eliminated and resources are recirculated.
It would also make plastic producers pay for the waste their products and packaging create, a financial burden that currently falls to taxpayers.
This legislation could potentially be included in the upcoming reconciliation package in Congress to fund greatly needed investments in infrastructure, like waste collection and recycling.
In a sea of solutions, a fee on virgin single-use plastics is a critical tool in transitioning to a circular economy and keeping our beaches, waterways and ocean plastic-free. We cannot afford to wait to take action to protect our ocean from plastics.