Today, an unusually large coalition of environmental groups, numbering more than 550, called on the new Biden-Harris administration to tackle plastic pollution alongside fossil fuels, releasing an eight-point platform that focuses primarily on the ways the next administration might act without a Democratic Party. majority in the Senate.
“Over 99% of plastic is created from chemicals from fossil fuels, including an oversupply of fracking gas, which is spurring a global boom in new plastic production, ”the groups wrote in their report. Presidential Plan of Action on Plastics. “This plastic causes serious environmental problems at every stage of its life cycle.”
The eight-point plan has received endorsement from organizations that have worked on the problems created by plastic production at every stage, from the production of fossil fuels used by the plastics industry to the problems of plastic waste that track consumer use of single-use products. like straws and bags.
The plan calls on the Biden administration to take specific action in 2021, including using the purchasing power of the federal government to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic products funded by taxpayers, by rejecting permits for the sites. manufacturing new or expanded plastics and requiring existing plastics. plants to use the best available technologies to reduce their pollution.
“We’re really just asking that President Biden start enforcing the laws we have, ”said Julie Teel Simmonds, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit that helped organize the plan,“ instead of ‘approve of these destructive plastics. projects.”
The groups called on Biden to lead the we Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update its plastic regulations under the country’s basic environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (which governs hazardous waste). Those groups, which range from grassroots groups at city and county level to leading national and international environmentalists NGOs, also want the we government to stop subsidizing plastic production, asking Biden to take action such as ending loan funding from the Department of Energy for the production of fossil fuels and plastic.
Newly manufactured plastic pellets, known as nurdles, washed up on the shore of the Mississippi River in Chalmette, Louisiana after a lost shipping container overturned them on August 2, 2020. Credit: © 2020 Julie dermansky
The plan also focuses on the issue of discarded and lost fishing gear, which environmental groups say has increasingly clogged the world’s oceans. “This fishing gear is often referred to as a ‘ghost gear’ because long after its loss, it entangles, captures and kills sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and fish,” the groups wrote. “It changes the marine environment, poses risks to navigation, introduces plastic into the marine food web and creates a persistent problem of marine debris and pollution, with high clean-up costs.”
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon praised the initiative at a press conference today, saying plastic recycling is way short of what is needed to address the problems that plastics have created. “The problem right now is that for decades the mantra of environmental history has been reduce, reuse and recycle,” he said. “But when it comes to plastic, that’s not really what happens.”
Since plastic production began 60 years ago, manufacturers have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of it, National Geographic reported in 2018 – and 91% of them have never been recycled. According to a September NPR investigation, the petroleum and plastics industries have misled the public for years about the feasibility of recycling plastics, despite knowing the substantial economic and technical challenges.
Instead, most plastics have met one of three fates: buried in landfills, burned in incinerators, or floating in the world’s streams, rivers, and streams as it made its way. towards the oceans.Diane Wilson returning from collecting plastic pellets known as nurdles at one of the Formosa outlets on January 15, 2020. Wilson was one of the main plaintiffs in a case against Formosa Plastics Corp. United States this resulted in a $ 50 million settlement and a consent decree that requires the company to stop releasing the nurdles it makes into local waterways leading to the Texas Gulf Coast. Wilson was also one of the organizers of the plan announced today. Credit: © 2020 Julie Dermansky
The latter category represents a huge amount of waste – so much so that a 2016 World Economic Forum report projected that by 2050, the world’s oceans will contain more plastic, measured by weight, than fish.
This is part of the reason why some groups participating in today’s call to action for the Biden administration have organized beach cleanups to collect plastic waste dumped on shore around the world – and that they are now working with organizations that focus on how and where plastics are produced.
In 2019, for example, the Surfrider Foundation organized over 47,000 volunteers to participate in 941 cleanups, removing nearly 300,000 pounds of litter from the beaches around the we But they are also now endorsing the presidential plastics action plan to tackle the problem at its source.
“Beach clean-up alone will not solve the environmental catastrophe we have all played a part in for decades, ”Angela Howe, Legal Director of the Surfrider Foundation, said today during the announcement. plan. “Our ocean is dying of a thousand cuts, and we need a powerful and multifaceted approach to tackle it.”
The plan also focuses on the needs of those who live in communities where fossil fuel and plastic manufacturing takes place, including places where Biden campaigned.
Joe Biden, now president-elect, visited the Youth Empowerment Project (YEAH) in New Orleans, Louisiana on July 23, 2019. Credit: © 2019 Julie Dermansky
“Petrochemical companies continue to locate new and expanded plastic facilities near existing fossil fuel infrastructure, which means they are targeting the Gulf Coast, the Appalachians, the Ohio River Valley, and other communities that support already a heavy pollution load from the oil, gas and plastics industry. », Indicates the plan. “Across the United States, these facilities are often located and have a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority neighborhoods. “
During this year’s presidential debates, former Vice President Joe Biden recalled his own experiences growing up in Marcus Hook, Pa., Which was home and remains home to a wide range of fossil fuel refineries and chemical factories.
“When my mom got in the car our first frost, to drive me to school, turned on the wipers and there was a slick of oil in the window, ”Biden said. “That’s why so many people in my condition were dying and getting cancer. The point is, these frontline communities don’t matter what you pay them for. How you protect them is important.
It is also a familiar message to organizers living along the Gulf Coast.
“Houston, Texas is home to the nation’s largest petrochemical complex, and it continues to grow, ”Yvette Arellano, Founder of Closing watch, a Houston-based environmental justice campaign and a recipient of the 2020 Community Sentinel Award. “The real cost of plastic is our health. “
Yvette Arellano with Jane Collins on a ‘Toxic Tour’ in Buffalo Bayou in front of Sims Metal Management’s Proler Southwest recycling facility in 2016. Credit: © 2016 Julie Dermansky
“There is nothing common sense in increasing rates of cancer, infertility or developmental problems in communities of color poor just for the sake of plastic, ”she added.
Sharon Lavigne from Louisiana TO AUGMENT St. James also spoke of his experiences living in a historically black community where plastic and industrial pollution left many of his neighbors with weakened immune systems like the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived.
“Americans are in the streets shouting Black Lives Matter and We Can’t Breathe all year round, ”Lavigne, who also recently launched the Protect our parish project in opposition to the planned $ 9.4 billion Formosa plastic complex in the parish of St. James, Louisiana, said. “Well, our lives matter and we cannot continue to breathe this polluted air. “
Holy Rosary Cemetery next to Dow Chemical in Taft, Louisiana, located across the Mississippi River in the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans which is heavily concentrated with chemical plants and oil refineries. The area has been dubbed both the “petrochemical corridor” and the “cancer aisle”. Credit: © 2020 Julie Dermansky
Lavigne made another request to the Biden administration. “I would like them to come and see for themselves what is going on in St. James Parish,” she said. “I would like them to go around the community and see what we are going through. And if they stay two hours, I promise you, they’ll leave with a stomachache or a headache.
Organizers acknowledged that it would take work to convince the Biden administration to act on their plan. “We are going to keep pushing it,” Teel Simmonds said, adding that shale gas used as a petrochemical feedstock cannot be “bridge fuel” as the Obama administration had suggested.
Other signatories have linked plastic production to climate change as well as to human health, perhaps signaling a generational shift in attitudes towards these interconnected issues.
“I started by studying climate change, ”said Imari Walker, a doctoral student at Duke University,“ and then I realized how deeply plastic pollution is linked.
“We’ve left every phase of the plastic pipeline unregulated for too long, ”Walker said. “My generation is left with a warming world filled with plastic pollution and we are demanding action.”
Main picture: New Orleans is advocating for federal action to address the plastic pollution crisis by projecting an anti-plastic message on a New Orleans post office on December 7. Similar screenings took place in San Francisco, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Columbus, Ohio. Credit: All photos by Julie Dermansky for DeSmog
Sharon Lavigne (center), founder of TO AUGMENT St. James, with daughter Shamyra Lavigne (right) and TO AUGMENT Member Beverly Alexander (left), holding gift bags with masks and hand sanitizer that they distributed to community members in St. James Parish, November 18, 2020 Credit: © 2020 Julie Dermansky