Merkley, Huffman Introduce Bold Legislation to Take on the Growing Plastic Pollution Crisis

Senators, Representatives Introduce Updated Legislation to Protect Americans’ Health, Strengthen Environmental Justice Protections, and Shift Cleanup Burden to Corporations that Produce Fossil-based Plastics

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley teamed up with California Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-02) to introduce the bicameral 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.

The legislation would reduce plastic production, establish ambitious recycling targets, and protect frontline and fenceline communities from the health and environmental burdens of toxic emissions from the plastics industry through reducing production and by changing the incentives of the industry. The bill would shift the burden of cleanup to the corporations that produce the plastics so they have financial motivation to end the burning and dumping; establish a nationwide deposit return system to address beverage container waste; support reusable and refillable systems; and strengthen environmental justice protections by including the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act.

“Plastic pollution is a public health crisis that can only be solved with bold actions,” said Sen. Merkley. “Additionally, plastics produce greenhouse gas emissions and release toxins throughout their entire life span, and its frontline communities who are disproportionately exposed to the dangers from plastic production. And downstream plastics are creating a massive pollutions problem for our rivers and oceans. The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is the boldest legislation yet to address this crisis with the seriousness it deserves.”

“Plastic pollution isn’t just a problem for our oceans and climate – it’s a massive environmental injustice. Communities are overburdened with plastics’ toxic air and water emissions and the false promises of so-called chemical recycling,” said Rep. Huffman. “Worse, Big Oil is aggressively promoting even more plastic – it’s how they plan to keep us addicted to planet-killing fossil fuels even as we transition to a clean energy future.  We can’t let this happen.  Our bill tackles the plastic pollution crisis head on, addressing the harmful climate and environmental justice impacts of this growing fossil fuel sector and moving our economy away from its overreliance on single use plastic. We must start putting people and communities over these corporations’ greed.” 

Merkley, who serves as the Chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee overseeing environmental justice and chemical safety—which has jurisdiction over the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act—has been holding a series of hearings investigating plastic production and pollution. Merkley’s hearings have examined: environmental and climate damage from plastics, impacts of plastics on environmental justice communities, reuse and refill systems, and beverage container waste – with more hearings planned in the future, including one on Thursday.

Many steps to tackle the plastic pollution crisis are already widely popular with the American people. Public polling shows that two-thirds of Americans believe that businesses that produce or use plastics in their products should pay for collecting, sorting, and recycling plastics; 86% of Americans support requiring new plastic to contain at least some recycled material; and four-in-five Americans support phasing out certain non-recyclable plastics altogether.

In recognition of Americans’ growing concerns about plastic consumption and waste management, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act would provide national leadership with tools and a path forward to reduce the amount of wasteful plastic produced and reform our broken waste and recycling systems. The bill would shift the burden of cleanup and waste management to where it belongs— on the corporations that produce this waste—by:

  • Requiring big corporations to take responsibility for their pollution.
  • Establishing aggressive source reduction targets for single-use plastic products and beverage containers.
  • Creating a nationwide beverage container refund program, which has been successful in 10 states.
  • Reducing and banning certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable. 
  • Establishing grant programs to support reusable and refillable products.
  • Pressing pause on new plastic facilities until critical environment justice and health protections are put in place.

This year’s legislation is strengthened by including: new mandates for performance targets, including reducing single-use plastics and requiring all single-use beverage containers and packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable; stronger language for the elimination of toxic substances in beverage containers and robust requirements for incorporating post-consumer recycled content into beverage containers; stronger language for prohibiting the use of toxic substances; and strengthened environmental justice requirements for facilities, including community consultation and more stringent fenceline monitoring requirements.

“Plastics are made of fossil fuels combined with PFAS, phthalates, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. They are produced in some of the nation’s most overburdened and underserved communities, blanketing neighborhoods in carcinogenic air pollution. Many plastics are used for mere minutes, but their impact can leave a mark for centuries to come. Plastics are piling up in our landfills and oceans, incinerators are turning waste plastics into toxic air pollutants, and consumer products are leaching chemicals into our bodies. Microplastics are found in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. They have been found deep in human lungs and in the bodies of newborn babies. By restricting the most problematic single-use plastic products, investing in reuse and refill systems, and insisting on robust protections for frontline communities, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act seeks to protect people at every stage of the plastics supply chain and to set this country on a healthier and more sustainable path forward. We applaud its reintroduction and thank Senator Merkley and Representative Huffman for their leadership on this issue,” said Dominique Browning, Director and Co-Founder, Moms Clean Air Force.

“Plastic pollution is petrochemical pollution and it’s hurting families right here in the United States,” said Heather McTeer Toney, Executive Director of Beyond Petrochemicals. “Companies continue to pile onto our country’s plastic pollution problem without taking any responsibility or being held to account. This legislation will begin to change that. While plastic packaging, bottles, and bags may be the most visible, the waste and pollution created by the petrochemical plants manufacturing these products is harming the communities around them and fueling the climate crisis. We thank Sen. Merkley and Rep. Huffman for their leadership in advancing the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act.”

“We’re at a crisis point with plastic pollution and we need action. Plastic pollution harms our oceans, climate, communities, and wildlife. The solution is to stop plastic pollution at the source by reducing the production and use of unnecessary single-use plastic and move to refillable and reusable systems. The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act does just that. We applaud Senator Merkley, Congressman Huffman, and their colleagues for introducing this important bill. Cities and states have been leading the way on plastic reduction policies, and it’s time for federal action so we can turn the tide on plastic pollution before it’s too late,” said Christy Leavitt, campaign director at Oceana. 

The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act is endorsed by nearly 100 groups. See what they are saying about the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act by clicking here.

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In this House, this legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Judy Chu (CA-28), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Mike Levin (CA-49), Jennifer McClellan (VA-04), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Grace Meng (NY-06), Joe Morelle (NY-25), Kevin Mullin (CA-15), Jerry Nadler (NY-12), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-01), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Katie Porter (CA-47), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Brad Sherman (CA-32), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), and David Trone (MD-06).

For full text of the legislation, click here. For a section-by-section summary of the legislation, click here. For a summary of the legislation, click here.