WASHINGTON - With no end to the world's addiction to plastic expected, Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens wants to revamp the country's recycling programs.
The Metro Detroit Congresswoman's new bill calls for a nationwide plastic recycling program that would include a plan from the federal government on how the country can reduce its plastic waste.
"We can no longer deny that we face a plastic waste crisis," said Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) in a statement.
Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced every year, 6.3 billion of it becomes waste. In the U.S., which produces the second-most plastic in the world, only 9% gets recycled.
American's plastic recycling rates looked a lot better prior to 2018. Much of what the country recycled was purchased by China. A report by Congress states the country exported 106 million metric tons of recyclable plastics to China over two decades. However, China then placed a ban on contaminants from the U.S.
With no place to send their plastics and not enough recycling infrastructure in place, many local communities and cities saw no other alternative than incinerating or throwing away the waste. Unfortunately, one has been linked to poor air quality standards while the other only stores the waste in landfills that are eventually buried.
At the same time, large quantities of plastic have accumulated in the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup project, which is working to remove waste from the world's waters, estimates 5 trillion pieces of plastic are in the oceans.
In Michigan, only 15% of its waste gets recycled which officials say is the lowest in the Great Lakes. That may feel low, considering the state's bottle return rate is more than 90% - however, plastic containers, glass bottles, and aluminum cans make up only 2% of the state's overall waste. Among reasons for such a low rate, environmental quality officials under former Gov. Snyder said a "historic lack of leadership" was a factor.
Stevens extrapolated on that sentiment, arguing the country lacked a clear direction for recycling.
"There are plenty of reasons for why and how we got here; however, a major factor is because we failed as a nation to invest in domestic recycling infrastructure and policies to account for the growing demand for plastic," she said.
Under the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act, the federal government would "develop a strategic plan for plastic waste reduction" and create a standard for "plastics recycling technologies."
The bill is partly the result of a task force that lawmakers including Stevens worked on in an effort to help local and state officials leverage more investment for recycling.
Michigan started its own statewide recycling program last June when its six Recycling Raccoons began an education campaign to teach residents about different kinds of waste that can be reused.
The bipartisan bill, which is co-sponsored by an Ohio Republican, has been sponsored by the American Chemical Council, the American Beverage Association, and the Plastics Industry Association. The bill's language calls for an $85 million investment from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).