Booker, Merkley, Huffman Reintroduce Legislation to Address Plastic Production Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), reintroduced theProtecting Communities from Plastics Act, legislation that addresses the plastic production crisis that is fueling climate change and perpetuating environmental injustice.

With plastic production and consumption on track to double in the next decade, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions threaten to put our climate goals further out of reach, while expanded plastic production will drive more pollution in environmental justice communities around the United States. Petrochemical, plastic production, and waste incineration facilities, which are disproportionately located in or near Black, Brown, and low-income communities, release harmful air and water pollution that cause increased incidences of asthma, cancers, endocrine disruption, development disorders, and heart disease. Transitioning off of fossil fuels only to replace that demand with more fossil-based plastic production is not a sustainable solution, and will continue to perpetuate existing climate and environmental justice impacts.

The reintroduction comes just before the 54th annual Earth Day, the official 2024 theme for which is “Planet vs. Plastics,” as well as the commencement next week of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution in Ottawa. As leaders meet to address the plastic pollution crisis on an international scale, the U.S. must continue to push for stronger legislation at home.

“The plastic pollution crisis is an urgent threat to our public and environmental health. Communities living near plastics facilities often suffer from exposure to harmful pollutants and increased long-term health complications,” said Senator Booker. “As we continue to tackle climate change and transition to a clean energy economy, fossil-based plastic production undermines our efforts to reduce our carbon emissions and address environmental injustice. This legislation will create nationwide targets for single-use plastic source reduction and pause the permitting of new and expanded plastics facilities while the EPA makes much-needed regulatory updates.”

“When it comes to reducing waste, we are taught the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, the reality for plastics is really the three Bs: buried, burned, or borne out to sea—which means dangerous chemicals are seeping into our soil, air, and water. This is a public health emergency for Americans everywhere, and disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-wealth communities,” said Senator Merkley, who serves as the Chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee overseeing environmental justice and chemical safety. “With plastic particles ending up on the snowcaps of the Arctic and inside our own bloodstreams, it’s clear we need strong legislation like the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act to get the plastics crisis under control. I will continue to work alongside my colleagues to get these solutions signed into law.”

“Plastic pollution has become so ubiquitous that it can be found in the deepest parts of our oceans, every corner of the earth, and even in our body tissue. We are at a crisis level, and the problem doesn’t start or end there. Frontline communities are facing the brunt of this massive environmental injustice through the entire plastics lifecycle, from being poisoned by pollution from petrochemical manufacturing process on the front end, to suffering the consequences of toxic waste on the back end,” said Representative Huffman. “The only way to truly address this crisis is to tackle the problem at its source: reducing how much plastic is produced in the first place and moving our economy away from its overreliance on single-use plastic. The writing is on the wall for Big Oil’s waning dirty-energy dominance – and we won’t let them continue their planet-killing pollution with plastics as a safety net.”  

The Protecting Communities from Plastics Act would:

  1. Directly tackle the plastic pollution crisis by cracking down on the plastic production process, building on key provisions from the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act to address the harmful environmental justice impacts of this growing sector, and moving our economy away from an overreliance on single-use plastic. 
  2. Establish stricter rules for petrochemical plants to safeguard the health of American communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis. 
  3. Begin to shift the U.S. economy away from its dependence on certain single-use plastics, creating new nationwide targets for plastic source reduction and reuse in the packaging and food service sectors. These targets are paired with federal incentives to spur expansion of reusable and refillable systems, with an emphasis on ensuring benefits are realized in environmental justice communities.

“Plastics and fossil fuel derived products are entwined in our daily lives, but the dirty truth is that lives continue to be lost from the plastic industry’s deadly pollution and outsized carbon emissions,” said Astrid DuBois, Government Affairs Manager of WE Act for Environmental Justice. “The Protecting Communities from Plastic Act will safeguard Communities of Color and areas of low income, who are most impacted by petrochemical facilities. One way the bill does this is by requiring cumulative impact considerations in the permitting process, which would make strides to ensure communities break free from health harms caused by plastic industries.”   

“We applaud Senator Booker and Representative Huffman for introducing the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act to address the plastic pollution crisis that disproportionately affects the health of fenceline communities near plastic production facilities. The bill will move our economy away from unnecessary single-use plastics and toward nontoxic reuse and refill systems. With production growing at a rapid rate, plastic can be expected to flood our blue planet with dire consequences, inundating our oceans, impacting the climate, and harming our health. Congress has no time to waste to pass this important bill,” said Christy Leavitt, Plastics Campaign Director, Oceana.

“We are in the midst of a plastic pollution crisis and what we see wash up on our shores is just the tip of the iceberg. Plastic pollution impacts stretch far beyond what we can see, from microplastics and toxic chemicals to greenhouse gas emissions with disproportionate impacts to low-income and communities of color. The ProtectingCommunities From Plastics Act is a critical step in cracking down on harmful plastic production processes, moving us away from single-use plastics and addressing environmental justice impacts across the plastics lifecycle. We thank Senator Booker, Representative Huffman, and their colleagues for standing up to the petrochemical industry to protect our communities and our ocean,” said Aarthi Ananthanarayanan, Director, Climate & Plastics Initiative, Ocean Conservancy.

“Plastic production is toxic at every stage beginning with the extraction of fossil fuels, continuing by polluting the air and water of communities near production facilities, poisoning our very bodies and ultimately harming our ocean upon which all life depends. We applaud the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act for seeking to stop this egregious harm and providing a much-needed course correction toward the cleaner, healthier and more sensible future we all deserve,” said Jennifer Savage, Plastic Pollution Initiative Senior Manager, Surfrider Foundation.

“Single use plastics are poisoning communities, destroying our climate, polluting our rivers and streams, and undermining our efforts to transition off fossil fuels. The plastics production supply chain is a public health menace at every step along the way — from the leaky and dangerous fracking wells and pipelines to the mega-refineries that churn out air pollution. We applaud Senator Booker and Representative Huffman for introducing the Protecting Communities from Plastic Act, which will start putting community health and wellbeing ahead of fossil fuel industry profits,” said Jim Walsh, Policy Director, Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action.

“To stop the harm plastic inflicts at every point in its lifecycle, we have to cut production and tackle the petrochemical industry’s staggering air and water pollution head on. This act is right on target to do that,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People living near petrochemical plants are paying with their health for our industry-driven throwaway culture, and that has to end. This ambitious legislation will help us stop plastic’s invasion of every corner of the planet and our bodies, and it charts a more just path forward.”

“Plastic is in the air we breathe and the water we drink. It’s in our oceans and littering our streets and parks. Plastic pollutes at every stage of the supply chain from its creation to its disposal. We must reduce our reliance on unnecessary plastic, and we must protect the people most affected by the toxicity of plastic production and disposal. The Protecting Communities from Plastics Act takes meaningful action on both fronts and represents progress towards a safer and healthier future. We applaud its reintroduction and urge Congress to take swift action,” said Melody Reis, Senior Legislative and Regulatory Policy Manager, Moms Clean Air Force.

The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

To read the full text of the bill, click here