Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
July 22 2019

Lawmakers Seek Comments on Bold Outline of Federal Legislation to Tackle Plastic Pollution Crisis

by Jennie Romer, Esq.

Last week, Sen.Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California announced an outline of bold legislation to tackle the plastic waste pollution crisis. The lawmakers are seeking input from stakeholders and plan to introduce comprehensive legislation this fall.

“After decades of treating our oceans and rivers as plastic dumping grounds, we now face a global plastic pollution crisis,” Lowenthal said. “We are running out of time to deal with this crisis of our own creation, and our nation needs to join with the international community and implement solutions immediately.”    

In January, the Surfrider Foundation and University of California Los Angeles Law School Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment presented at two Congressional Briefings on Capitol Hill to discuss plastic pollution solutions. The Surfrider Foundation met with federal lawmakers at that time and was influential in developing this outline.

“In addition to the amazing local and state legislation on plastics, we are excited to see this movement at the federal level. To have legislators provide an outline of legislation and ask for comment is not very common in the plastic pollution arena, and this provides a valuable opportunity to further the conversation about what comprehensive legislation should look like," said Angela Howe, Legal Director at the Surfrider Foundation. 

Components of the legislation outline include: 

  • Obligations for producers (a.k.a Extended Producer Responsibility)
  • National deposit requirement on beverage containers
  • Carryout bag fee
  • Ban on certain plastic products (lightweight plastic carryout bags, cups and lids, cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, snack packaging and drink stirrers)
  • Ban on expanded polystyrene in food-ware, disposable coolers, and shipping packaging
  • Requirements that certain products be made out of 100% recyclable materials and be made from a significant percentage post-consumer recycled content
  • Creates a federal fund to ensure resources are available for pollution reduction, remediation programs, and innovation research
  • Creates a mechanism whereby states lose funding from the federal fund if they adopt preemption laws that prohibit local governments from implementing more aggressive measures to reduce plastic products

Those interested in commenting can submit responses and reactions to the proposal to plastic@tomudall.senate.gov and plastic@mail.house.gov. Final comments are due on August 21, 2019. In early August, Surfrider's plastic pollution team will release detailed comments on this proposal and make those comments available to the public. With all of our voices raised, we hope to effect change at this highest level of government in the United States.

UPDATE: On August 21, 2019, Surfrider Foundation submitted a comment letter signed by 55 environmental and environmental justice organizations in support of the outline.