September 20, 2023

Whitehouse, Doggett Reintroduce Bicameral Bill Act to Tackle Plastic Pollution Crisis and Hold Polluters Accountable

REDUCE Act would levy a fee on production of virgin plastics to incentivize reuse and recycling

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Finance and Environment and Public Works Committees, and Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, today reintroduced legislation that would create a new incentive to recycle plastic and help reduce the plastic waste that is disrupting coastal economies, overwhelming ecosystems, and threatening public health.  Whitehouse and Doggett’s Rewarding Efforts to Decrease Unrecycled Contaminants in Ecosystems (REDUCE) Act would impose a 20-cent per pound fee on the sale of virgin plastic resin that is used to make single-use plastics. 

“We are living with a flood of plastic pollution.  Microplastics have reached the most remote parts of Antarctica, and they’ve been found in human blood and infant formula.  This plastic deluge is choking our oceans, hastening climate change, and threatening people’s health,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “A polluter fee would hold the biggest plastics companies accountable for the damage they’ve caused and increase the amount of plastic that actually gets recycled.”

“Plastic pollution threatens public health and inundates our waterways as microplastics invade our bodies.  Over 95% of plastics manufactured in America are never recycled,” said Representative Doggett.  “The REDUCE Act seeks to reduce the growing presence of wasteful single-use plastics by incentivizing a greener approach to manufactured products while strengthening waste reduction and recycling efforts.  We only have one planet—and with the climate crisis worsening—we must all be a part of the solution.”

The REDUCE Act is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and twenty-six members of the House of Representatives.

“Coastal communities in Oregon and nationwide know all too well the harm plastic pollution can cause to local ecosystems and public health,” said Senator Wyden.  “That’s why I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that would tackle the plastic pollution crisis by making it easier to recycle plastic and protect coastal communities and ecosystems.  I’m all in to get this bill over the finish line.”

“Runaway plastic pollution is hurting waterways like our treasured Chesapeake Bay and in turn harming our coastal communities and those whose lives and livelihoods depend on them.  This bill will make sure big corporate polluters help foot the bill for the clean-up costs while reducing plastic waste, increasing recycling, and promoting better human health,” said Senator Van Hollen.

The boom in global plastic production has led to a crisis of plastic pollution that threatens many of our most valuable natural resources and disproportionately harms vulnerable populations.  About 450,000,000 tons of plastic are produced every year, a number that is projected to triple by 2050.  Single-use plastics account for at least 40 percent of the plastic produced each year.  In the United States, less than 3 percent of plastic waste is recycled into a similar quality product.

Estimates suggest there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish by the middle of the century.  Research shows human beings swallow the amount of plastic in the typical credit card every week, and microplastic particles have been found in human blood, lungs, and colons.

Because utilizing recycled plastic for new products is more costly than using virgin plastic, a fee on virgin plastic production would give the market a stronger incentive to use recycled plastics.  Leveling the playing field for recycled plastics would make environmentally friendly product options more accessible and affordable to consumers.  The legislation would also ensure the plastics industry bears some of the burden for the environmental damage it causes.

The REDUCE Act would:

  • Establish an excise tax on virgin plastic resin.

Plastic resin is the base material that makes up plastics. Manufacturers, producers, and importers of virgin plastic resins would p ay $0.10 per pound in 2024, increasing gradually up to $0.20 per pound in 2026. This fee would apply to virgin plastic used to make single-use products, including plastic packaging, beverage containers, bags, and food service products.  Exported virgin plastic resin and post-consumer recycled resin would be exempt.

  • Establish a Plastic Waste Reduction Fund.

The bill would direct revenue from the virgin plastic fee into a Plastic Waste Reduction Fund.  Funds would be available to carry out plastic waste reduction and recycling activities, including making improvements to recycling infrastructure; carrying out marine debris reduction, detection, monitoring, and cleanup activities; and addressing environmental justice and pollution impacts from the production of plastic.

  • Exempt certain products and small businesses.

Virgin plastic used to make medical products, containers or packaging for medicines, personal hygiene products, any packaging used for the shipment of hazardous materials, and any non-single-use products would not be subject to the fee.  Companies that produce or import small amounts of virgin plastic resin or earn less than $25 million in gross receipts would be exempt from the fee.

Several leading environmental groups endorsed the REDUCE Act today, including: Californians Against Waste, Clean Air Council, Environment America, Fenceline Watch, Greenpeace, Inland, Ocean Coalition, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation, Upstream, U.S. PIRG, and World Wildlife Fund.

“Our planet is currently overflowing with plastic pollution, in large part due to our reliance on cheap virgin plastic for the products we make, purchase, and use.  The REDUCE Act would help level the economic playing field for recycled content by placing a fee on virgin plastic resin when it is used for single-use products.  This will create economic incentives to increase plastic reuse and recycling, drive improvements in recycling and waste management infrastructure, and ultimately reduce the plastic waste that is polluting our environment and our communities.  We thank Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Doggett for introducing this legislation, and we call on Congress to advance it and other efforts to reduce plastic pollution, protect human health and the environment, and promote the transition towards a more circular economy,” said Alejandro Pérez, Senior Vice President, Policy and Government Affairs, World Wildlife Fund.

“Single-use plastics are polluting our oceans, harming our climate, and damaging our health and communities.  The only solution is to stop the problem at the source by reducing the amount of unnecessary single-use plastic companies produce and use,” said Christy Leavitt, Campaign Director at Oceana.  “We applaud Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Doggett for their commitment to address the plastic pollution crisis by holding the plastics industry accountable and reducing this persistent pollutant.”

“Cheap, virgin plastics have become commonplace due to the support of decades-long subsidies from the fossil fuel industry – it’s no wonder that recycled plastics haven’t stood a chance against this billion-dollar boost.  The REDUCE Act places a fee on virgin plastics used to make single-use products like plastic bags, bottles, and straws;  the same kinds of products that International Coastal Cleanup data show make up the vast majority of trash polluting our communities and our ocean.  A virgin plastic resin fee would serve as a long overdue market correction to help level the economic playing field for recycled materials, promote a circular economy, and curb plastic pollution.  Ocean Conservancy applauds Senator Whitehouse, Congressman Doggett and their colleagues for introducing this critical legislation,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, Associate Director, U.S. Plastics Policy, Ocean Conservancy.

“From the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, our country will have produced enough plastic waste to fill the largest football stadium in the country — and most of this waste is made up of non-recycled plastics. The process of producing and distributing all of this brand new plastic worsens climate change, negatively impacts public health, and pollutes our communities and environment,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG.  “We support the reintroduction of the REDUCE Act, which would help rein in the amount of waste we produce and encourage plastic manufacturers to use recycled plastic instead of making more.”

“Our addiction to plastic has gotten way out of hand,” said Lisa Frank, executive director of Environment America’s Washington Legislative Office.  “Plastic is atop our highest mountains and in the depths of our oceans. It’s choking animals and filling our landfills, and most of it is never recycled. The REDUCE Act is a helpful step away from wasteful plastic and toward a more sustainable approach. We urge Congress to pass it.”

Text of the bill is available here.  A myths and facts sheet on the bill is available here.

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921