The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (BFFPPA) was reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last week. This legislation could be a huge step toward reducing some of the most omnipresent garbage in American life. While I’ve tended to focus on how we as consumers can avoid single-use plastic, there are many purchases in which we have a frustrating lack of choices because all the manufacturers use plastic packaging these days! BFFPPA would require producers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs; incentivize businesses to make reusable products that can actually be recycled; ban or restrict certain single-use plastic products; and establish minimum recycled-content requirements for containers and packaging.
But wait! Isn’t it kind of dangerous to cut back single-use plastic in a pandemic?! After all, some medical equipment is single-use plastic, and right now we need to be super careful about transferring germs from one patient to another or between patients and caregivers. . . . Relax! BFFPPA specifically exempts medical equipment from these regulations. It’s true that many medical facilities are using more single-use plastic items than necessary–because some types of equipment are just as safe when a metal or glass or cloth version is washed and reused, but sometimes garbage hauling is cheaper than sterilization or laundry–but BFFPPA is leaving that issue alone for now. No government eco-zealots are coming for your IV tubing.
Also, people who actually need disposable plastic drinking straws because of disabilities will still be allowed to have straws! BFFPPA will only stop restaurants from sticking a straw in every beverage whether you want it or not. It will not stop them from giving you a straw upon request.
[Note: So far I haven’t found documentation online of BFFPPA’s exemption of medical equipment and allowing straws on request. These provisions were mentioned in a presentation last week by Dr. Anja Malawi Brandon, an aide to Senator Jeff Merkley, and Shane Trimmer, an aide to Congressman Alan Lowenthal–Sen. Merkley and Rep. Lowenthal are sponsors of the bill. I’ll keep looking for written confirmation of these details. If you know where to find it, please tell me in a comment!]
Instead, BFFPPA focuses on three main goals:
- reducing production of plastic products and packaging, eliminating many single-use items and improving systems for refilling and reusing containers;
- increasing the proportion of plastic waste that is recycled, and increasing the proportion of recycled plastic that is used in repeatedly recyclable containers rather than down-cycled into materials like polyester fleece or plastic lumber;
- protecting people from the pollution of our air, water, and soil with byproducts of plastic manufacturing and from the toxic chemicals and microfibers released by plastic products during use and after they’re discarded.
Cutting back on plastic is important for human health as well as for our environment overall. The typical human being these days is ingesting plastic particles equivalent to a credit card per week, as well as absorbing chemicals from plastic against our skin that can cause cancer or damage hormonal function, as well as breathing pollution from plastic manufacture and gases released from plastic products that can cause asthma and headaches.
Plastic production on Earth has been increasing rapidly for about 70 years . . . and human sperm counts have declined 59% in 40 years. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals from plastics are the most likely cause. Plastics literally threaten our survival as a species!
We need to push back the plastic before it suffocates us. Now is the cool of the day, the end of the era in which we’ve been pretending we can live comfortably on a planet while sucking it out from under ourselves and converting it into garbage. The consequences of that approach are becoming more and more obvious.
We as consumers can make only so many responsible choices; there are some things that are just out of our control. Think about cotton swabs, for example: You can buy cardboard sticks with real cotton fibers wrapped around the tips–avoiding the plastic sticks with polyester fibers–but they’re still gonna be in a plastic blister-pack! You have to look really hard to find cotton swabs in any other kind of package. BFFPPA would change that by making manufacturers switch to packaging that’s made from non-plastic materials, refillable, recyclable, and/or compostable–and it would add some meaning to those last two concepts by making manufacturers more responsible for seeing that their products actually get recycled or composted effectively!
Support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act for a cleaner, healthier future!