U.S. EPA Releases Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution

On April 21, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the draft “National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution” that could have serious implications for the regulated community, including the packaging industry, retailers, plastic manufacturers, solid waste management facilities, and recycling facilities, among others. According to the draft strategy, EPA is seeking to eliminate the release of plastic and other waste from land-based sources into the environment by 2040 through the following objectives: reducing pollution during plastic production, improving postuse materials management, preventing trash and micro/nano plastics from entering waterways, and removing escaped trash from the environment. Within these objectives EPA identified various research and regulatory actions under consideration. Among the regulatory actions under consideration, EPA signaled it was exploring new rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act for advanced recycling facilities that use pyrolysis to process recovered feedstocks into recycled plastics. The agency also called for ratification of the Basel Convention, which the United States agreed to in the 1990s but failed to ratify, as another approach to addressing international plastic waste.

The draft strategy accompanies the announcement of a new White House Interagency Policy Committee on Plastic Pollution and Circular Economy, which will coordinate federal efforts relating to plastic pollution and related environmental justice and equity initiatives. The draft strategy is not limited to EPA’s authority, as it includes potential collaboration with nongovernmental organizations, governments, tribes, and other entities. The agency also advises that it is looking to promote a circular approach to managing plastics by promoting regenerative and high-value products, and eliminating waste.

According to EPA, the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, passed by Congress in December 2020, provides the statutory basis for the draft strategy. The agency submits that Title 3 of this statute, “Improving Domestic Infrastructure to Prevent Marine Debris,” particularly, Section 301, “Strategy for Improving Post-Consumer Materials Management and Water Management,” charges it with developing such a strategy. Together with EPA’s “National Recycling Strategy” released last year, EPA reports that it has now fulfilled this statutory mandate.

During a 45-day comment period, EPA will seek input on, among other things, the key metrics and indicators that the agency should use to measure progress in reducing plastic and other waste in waterways and oceans and whether it should expand the scope of the strategy to include sea-based sources.

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