Merkley Hosts Hearing Exploring Alternatives for Single-Use Plastics, Consumer Challenges to Recycling

Chairman Continues Series of Hearings Investigating Plastic Production and Pollution

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley chaired a subcommittee hearing exploring material alternatives for single-use plastic items and packaging. This hearing was the latest in a series of hearings Merkley is holding in the Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight to investigate plastic production and pollution and its effects on human health, the climate, and the environment.

Thursday’s hearing comes on the heels of Merkley and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introducing this week the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act—the most comprehensive plan ever introduced in Congress to address the plastic pollution crisis that is poisoning our air, water, and land, and disproportionately impacting communities of color and low-income Americans.

“There’s a saying that ‘waste is a design flaw.’ We have an enormous volume of single-use plastics, from utensils to bottles, and an even larger amount of plastic packaging. Single-use plastics and plastic packaging are not recyclable, not biodegradable, and pollute our planet. All that waste sounds like a pretty big design flaw to me,” said Sen. Merkley. “Our current reality leaves consumers caught in the middle – wanting to do the right thing, but not having enough information to evaluate different container materials or to know if they’re recycling their products in the right ways.”

During the hearing, Merkley highlighted the problems with so-called advanced or chemical recycling, industry spin for processes such as pyrolysis, gasification, and depolymerisation in which plastic products are broken down by heat and/or chemicals into liquids or gas to make new products. Proponents claim that pyrolysis leads to new plastics and a circular economy; however, the reality is the process almost always takes plastic waste and turns it into fuel, or other low value products, and not similar value plastics. Pyrolysis not only isn’t true recycling, but it generates hazardous waste and releases dangerous byproducts that poison communities near these facilities.

“It’s frontline, Black, and Brown communities who are disproportionately exposed to the dangers from plastic production and burning plastic waste,” Merkley continued. “This is a public health crisis, and we need to understand the nuances of this challenge if we’re going to be able to address it. That means we need to see through and call out slick advertising that greenwashes continued plastic use and perpetuates a problem that we need to solve as soon as possible.”

Video of Thursday’s hearing is available on the Environment and Public Works Committee’s Website and YouTube

Thursday’s hearing on material alternatives for single-use plastics featured testimony from experts and leaders for environmental science and recycling. Witnesses included: Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Co-Founder of The 5 Gyres Institute and Executive Director of the Leap Lab; Erin Simon, Vice President for Plastic Waste + Business at the World Wildlife Fund; and Humberto Kravetz, Founder and CEO of GSF Upcycling.