08.06.21

Whitehouse Unveils REDUCE Act to Tackle Plastic Pollution

New bill would set a fee on virgin plastic to incentivize recycling and help hold the plastics industry accountable

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of both the Senate Finance and Environment and Public Works Committees, has introduced legislation to create a powerful new incentive to recycle plastic, and to help end the flood of plastic waste that is overwhelming vital ecosystems and threatening public health. Whitehouse’s Rewarding Efforts to Decrease Unrecycled Contaminants in Ecosystems (REDUCE) Act would impose a 20-cent per pound fee on the sale of new, or “virgin”, plastic used for single-use products. The fee would help recycled plastics compete with virgin plastics on more equal footing and ensure that the plastics industry is accountable for its harms to the climate, oceans, and minority and low-income communities.

“Plastic pollution chokes our oceans, hastens climate change, and threatens people’s well-being. On its own, the plastics industry has done far too little to address the damage its products cause, so this bill gives the market a stronger incentive toward less plastic waste and more recycled plastic,” said Whitehouse.

Since the 1950s, over 8 billion tons of plastics has been produced globally, yet even the wealthiest countries fail to recycle more than a tiny fraction of their plastic waste. In 2016, the United States accounted for 4 percent of the world’s population, but produced 17 percent of global plastic waste. Only 9 percent of plastic waste in the United States is sorted for recycling, and less than 3 percent is actually recycled.

Compounding the problem is low production of recycled plastic. In 2019, recycled plastic accounted for just 2 percent of global plastic production.

The boom in global plastic production has led to a crisis of plastic pollution that threatens many of our most valuable natural resources and harms the poor and minority groups disproportionately. Estimates suggest there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish by the middle of the century, and research shows human beings swallow the amount of plastic in the typical credit card every week. Those in low-income and Black or Brown communities are exposed to plastic pollution at higher rates, and face serious health hazards from the production of virgin plastics. Plastic is also a major and growing climate problem; by mid-century, the plastics sector could account for 20 percent of global oil-based consumption.

A fee on the production of virgin plastic would give the market a stronger incentive to use recycled plastics. It would also ensure the plastics industry bears some of the burden for the environmental damage it causes. The top 100 virgin plastic producers accounted for 90 percent of the global single-use plastic waste. 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 pay $0.10 per pound in 2022, increasing gradually up to $0.20 per pound in 2024. 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.

Provide rebates for certain products. Companies that use virgin plastic to make medical products, containers or packaging for medicines, personal hygiene products, and any packaging used for the shipment of hazardous materials would not have to pay the fee and could qualify for a full rebate for any fees paid on the plastic they use for such products. Virgin plastic used to make non-single-use products would also qualify for this rebate.

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; to carry out marine debris reduction, detection, monitoring, and cleanup activities; and to address environmental justice and pollution impacts from the production of plastic.