New: Stevens’ plastic waste act would ramp up recycling

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

A Michigan congresswoman wants to bolster recycling habits through a new act which, if passed, would establish a sweeping national program for reducing plastic waste.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) on Tuesday introduced legislation that aims to give the federal government’s recycling research and development a glow-up. Her bill, dubbed the Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act, directs federal agencies to develop ideas on how to drastically reduce plastic waste and put in place standards for regulating recycling technologies.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, July 17, 2019

“We can no longer deny that we face a plastic waste crisis,” said Stevens, who chairs the U.S. House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology. 

Congress found the global production of plastic increased from two million tons in 1950 to 400 million tons in 2020. Of 8.3 billion metric tons produced globally, 6.3 billion of those became waste, according to the language of the bill. 

The United States only recycles about 9% of its plastic waste, the bill points out. The nation previously marketed millions of metric tons of its leftover recyclable plastics to China. However, China’s 2018 ban on importing plastic waste from foreign countries brought that to an end.

Stevens’ bill, if passed, tells the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) — better known as the president’s advisory council on science and technology — to establish a plastic waste reduction and recycling program at the federal level. 

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“Most notably, this legislation authorizes research and development across several agencies and a range of topics, including plastics that are recyclable by design, next generation recycling technologies, upcycling into high-value products, and environmental impacts of plastic waste,” said Stevens.

It also tells OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier, President Trump’s science advisor, to form a committee to work with other federal agencies on such a program. The National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) has a major role — it is directed to lay out working standards for recycling and reduction technologies and develop a financial strategy for rolling out the program.

Agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are directed to support the program by researching new methods to recycle, cut down the volume of plastic waste in freshwater and marine ecosystems and conduct investigations into less-researched environmental hazards like microplastics. 

The act includes a five-year funding plan, with an initial investment of $85 million for 2021, the first year the program is in place. Per Stevens, it allocates a 6.5% increase each year for fiscal years 2022 through 2025.

“This bill alone will not solve the plastic waste crisis in this country, but it is an essential and important step,” Stevens said. “Supporting this bill is an investment in our recycling industry and a demonstration of our recommitment to American manufacturing jobs and the ingenuity so very much needed at this time in our nation’s history.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by Stevens’s colleague U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who worked with her on legislation to investigate “deepfakes” technologies. 

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House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and ranking member U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) also support the bill.

Stevens also had Michigan in mind when putting together the act. The lawmaker believes her state workforce’s expertise in manufacturing will help grow the state into a hub for advanced plastics recycling in the future.

In December, Stevens created a congressional task force on plastics solutions to invest in recycling technologies and work with state and local officials on plastic waste reduction. In April 2019, she held the science committee’s first hearing on recycling and high plastic production in a decade. 

The Plastic Waste Reduction and Recycling Act so far has the support of the American Chemical Council, American Beverage Association and Plastics Industry Association, according to Stevens’s office. 

C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.