It’s time to hold brands, manufacturers, and the plastics industry accountable for their role in the ocean plastic crisis.
How the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act would stop plastic pollution
The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that seeks to hold the plastics industry and other companies responsible for the waste they produce. If passed, this bill would:
- Require producers of packaging, containers, and food-service products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs
- Create a nationwide beverage container refund program
- Ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable
- Ban single-use plastic carryout bags and place a fee on the distribution of remaining carryout bags
- Establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging and food-service products
- Spur massive investments in U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure
- Prohibit plastic waste from being shipped to developing countries that are ill-equipped to manage it
- Protect state and local governments that enact more stringent standards on single-use plastic production and consumption
- Place a temporary pause on new plastic facilities until EPA updates and creates important regulations on those facilities
Right now, the bills (H.R. 5845 and S. 3262) currently have 29 co-sponsors in the House and 6 co-sponsors in the Senate. Your help is needed to generate more support for this very necessary legislation.
How you can join us in supporting the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act
We’re calling on all members of the clean ocean movement to do whatever they can to bring awareness to the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and increase support for this historic legislation.
To support this bill and help end the ocean plastic crisis, you can:
- Use this form to contact your local representative and urge them to support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.
- Share this article on your social media channels to raise awareness of the importance of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and encourage others to contact their local reps as well.
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- Continue to educate yourself about plastic pollution, the industry’s war to save plastics, the impact of ocean plastic on wildlife, and ocean-friendly legislation like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. If you haven’t seen it before, we highly recommend The Story of Stuff, which will help you understand consumerism’s dark side.
- Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up! Continue to refuse single-use plastics, opt for reusable and sustainable alternatives, adopt more sustainable habits, attend local cleanups, and work to educate others. Saving the ocean isn’t an either/or proposition. We need to address this crisis both as informed consumers and as informed citizens.
- Take advantage of our One Pound Promise. Purchasing our products does a lot more than pull a pound of trash from the ocean, rivers, and coastlines. It enables us to expand our cleanup operations, educate the global community, and advocate for ocean-friendly legislation at a larger scale.
Why action on the the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act is so urgent
More than 18 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean every single year. Plastic in the environment kills our wildlife, trashes our natural resources, and contaminates our food supply. And it never goes away. It just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic called microplastic.
Microplastics have been found in every single environment on earth, from the deepest ocean trenches to the peaks of the remote Pyrenees mountains, from ice cores in the Arctic to fertile farmland soil around the world. The distribution of these insidious plastic particles across our planet has some researchers saying that plastic is now part of our planet’s fabric.
Microplastics have also been found in our seafood. They’ve even been found in beer, sea salt, honey, and our waste. A 2018 research study found that people are consuming about a credit card worth of plastic every week.
The scientific community is still researching the human impact of consuming plastic, which isn’t fully understood at this time. But as plastic pollution research continues, the breadth and depth of its impacts continue to shock and horrify us.
Yet the issue of plastic pollution often feels like a remote issue for many Americans. Yes, you may see some litter on your street or in your local park, but that’s nothing compared to the trash cities and rivers of trash you see in other countries. The enormous amount of trash entering the ocean can’t possibly be our fault. After all, we recycle!
America’s dirty little secret
Most of us grew up with the myth of recycling. We were told it doesn’t matter how much plastic we consume as long as we sort it and put it into those special bins when we’re done. Some folks still believe this, but the truth is that less than one-fifth of all plastic is recycled globally. In fact, out of seven types of plastic, only two are widely accepted in curbside recycling programs. And some plastics, like styrofoam, can never be recycled.
Recycling as a solution to plastic pollution is a myth perpetuated by the plastics industry. In general, our society doesn’t really know — and, until quite recently, hasn’t really cared — what happens to our trash. Out of sight has been out of mind. It has been a blind spot that’s made it easy for the plastics industry to spin a narrative that justifies the continued use of plastic for just about anything and everything. Developing countries with little to no waste management infrastructure are scapegoated as the cause of plastic pollution when they are, in reality, its victims.
And while a lack of waste management infrastructure in these countries is certainly a contributing factor to the ocean plastic crisis, Americans have been shielded from the whole truth. Our dirty secret is that, every year, our country exports hundreds of thousands of tons of mostly non-recyclable plastic to some of the world’s poorest countries — the same ones being lambasted as reckless polluters by the plastics industry — because those nations have the “advantage” of cheap labor and limited environmental regulation. Why deal with it here when we can ship it off and let it be someone else’s problem? But we know that plastic pollution anywhere is a problem everywhere and it’s still very much our problem.
But things are changing. More and more of the countries we outsourced our trash to are restricting plastic waste imports and much of the plastic waste we think is being recycled is actually clogging our landfills. A recent report from the Waste Business Journal indicates that, as of 2020, the U.S. may have about 18 years of remaining landfill capacity. Regional capacity estimates vary from about 27.4 years in the West to just 10.5 years in the Northeast. If we refuse to act, nothing will change. Our landfills will reach capacity and what will we do with our trash then?
Why the ocean plastic crisis continues to get worse despite growing awareness
Our society has slowly become aware that plastic pollution is a global crisis. As more data and research become available to us, we’ve been eager to do our part to improve.
But the plastics industry continues to wage its decades-long war to protect plastic and a new narrative has emerged: Consumers drive demand, which means they have the power to drive change. They say if we didn’t want plastic, we wouldn’t buy plastic.
And that’s true.
As consumers, we can stop buying single-use plastic. We can use our dollars to support companies that innovate sustainably. We can participate in and help fund cleanups. We can encourage our friends and family to join us in doing these things.
But it’s not the whole truth.
While these are all good and necessary actions that can mitigate the worst impacts of plastic pollution, they’re simply not enough to end the ocean plastic crisis on their own.
Underneath this new narrative of “consumers have the power,” the underlying message remains the same: The problem of plastic pollution and waste management is the responsibility of the consumer and their local governments.
This idea of consumer responsibility is the persistent, fundamental problem that remains unaddressed. Our purchasing power does have an impact, but it’s not the immediate, sweeping, systemic change we need to stop plastic pollution at its source. We need to vote with both our dollars and our ballots.
The power of consumerism can be strengthened by the power of activism
If we are going to achieve our mission of ending the ocean plastic crisis, we must choose to act not just as consumers or as a business, but as informed citizens as well. We must unite to support groundbreaking legislation that will drive real systemic change. We must urge the government to hold brands, manufacturers, and the plastics industry accountable for their role in this global crisis, just as we have held ourselves accountable.
And our time has come.
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Representative Alan Lowenthal of California have recently introduced a bill to Congress called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. Written with guidance from our friends at Surfrider Foundation, this federal legislation is the most aggressive and sweeping attempt to hold corporations accountable and stop plastic pollution at its source.
We will never stop fighting and neither should you
The strange thing about activism is that society only sees the actions taken to advance important causes as justified in retrospect. Our society only embraces activists as heroes in retrospect, once the fight is over.
We know that the plastics industry will fight us on this every step of the way. But we also know that, in the end, what is right wins when enough people care enough to take action and refuse to give up.
Together, we have the power to end the ocean plastic crisis.
As always, thank you for your support.