U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) held what she said was the first U.S. House Science Committee hearing about recycling in a decade.
The freshman lawmaker chairs the Subcommittee on Research & Technology. Members heard concerns about the soaring production of plastic goods, as well as rising recycling costs. That’s been a drain on many municipalities, including some in Stevens’ 11th District straddling Wayne and Oakland counties.
“Plastic, most of which takes hundreds of years to break down naturally, has been a particular problem,” she said. “We’re seeing record amounts of plastic water system, including in our Great Lakes, because we don’t have the process to take out the volumes of of waste that we are creating. Plastic is unquestionably convenient and global production of plastic has soared, from 2 million tons per year in 1950 to 400 million times today. Most of our current U.S. recycling infrastructure is decades old and not built to process the amounts of plastic we have today.”
One of the biggest challenges today is that China has banned imports of most plastic recyclable materials. Stevens said that “puts us in crisis mode in the short term” but she added that it should “be seen as an opportunity for the longer term.”
“Our response should be to reduce and reuse more, but it is not realistic to think we can give up disposable plastic all together. We urgently need a national strategy to build out our country’s recycling infrastructure,” she said.
Plymouth City Manager Paul Sincock testified before the panel. Stevens said he was among those who brought the issue to her attention when she met with the Conference of Western Wayne, an organization of 18 communities in western Wayne County that created a Task Force to discuss potential solutions to the recycling crisis.
Sincock said that when the value of recycled goods goes down, the costs for municipalities’ programs go up.
“Local elected officials have the challenge of either increasing the cost of recycling programs and collections, or eliminating parts of it,” he said.
Sincock said that it’s the job of leaders to educate residents about recycling issues.
“Recycling is the right thing to do,” he said. “It is also a business and we must be very aware of the business side of recycling.”
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (R-Ind.) described plastics technology as “transformative” and said it made “wealth more widespread and attainable.” He noted that plastics manufacturing is one of the biggest industries in the nation, adding that Indiana had the “highest concentration” of plastic industry workers in the country as of 2017.
Baird also took a shot at the Green New Deal resolution championed by progressives like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), which is a broad set of environmental and economic goals. Stevens hasn’t taken a position on the measure, but supports efforts to combat climate change.
“We all want clean rivers, lakes, oceans and healthier communities,” Baird said. “But my constituents don’t want regulations that will raise the cost of food production, construction and technology — costly regulations like those proposed in the green New Deal that will hurt middle- and working-class Americans the most.”
U.S. House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said that plastics have “become fundamental to almost every aspect of our lives, from food storage to 3D printing technology, and have enabled us to make great technological advances.”
But she added that it’s come at a cost.
“We produce for more plastic than we can properly recycle domestically and internationally,” she said. “The extent of plastics pollution is becoming ever more apparent and more alarming.”
But Johnson expressed hope, as “there are a number of promising new technologies and innovations.”