Democratic Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden recently announced the introduction of a pair of bills that offer multiple pathways to tackling America’s growing plastic pollution crisis, including a national version of Oregon’s groundbreaking “bottle bill.”
The Original Recycling (OR) Bottle Act of 2020 would establish a federal “bottle bill” recycling program modeled after Oregon’s. And the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020—which comes amid growing concerns of involuntary plastic ingestion and the role of plastics in fueling climate chaos—would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products and require corporations to do their fair share to tackle their plastic pollution.
“Nobody wants their children ingesting dangerous chemicals and microscopic plastics,” Merkley said. “Nobody wants to go to the beach and see mountains of single-use plastic waste. And plastic production is a major driver of pollution accelerating the climate crisis. An America with the creativity to invent a million uses for plastic has the creativity to design better alternatives. Our kids' health and futures depend on America solving this problem.”
“Oregon's ‘bottle bill’ has seen huge success, and Oregonians should be proud. Last year alone, the state recycled 90 percent of its bottles and cans,” Wyden said. “By taking the Oregon Way nationwide, this legislation will do more than sweep the garbage under the rug. It will ensure an all-hands-on-deck effort to clean up our roadsides, beaches, and rivers to protect the health of our planet and families.”
Plastic is everywhere and cannot biodegrade—instead, it breaks down into microplastics, which have been found in rainwater, on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, in farmland soil that produces our food, and in our lakes, rivers, and seas. It has become nearly impossible to avoid exposure to plastics, and recent reports estimate that each person ingests a credit card’s worth of plastic per week.
Ethane—a natural gas liquid—and other products refined from crude oil are used to produce the basic building blocks for making plastics, making these products a major contributor to the climate crisis. And less than 10 percent of plastic waste is actually recycled.
Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020
Shifting the responsibility for recycling and cleanup to the companies that produce wasteful products gives corporate America the incentives to innovate practical waste reduction and waste management strategies that can reverse this trend and put the United States on a path to break free from plastic pollution.
The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act will provide badly-needed national leadership – reducing the amount of wasteful plastic and reforming our broken waste and recycling collection system. It will shift the burden of cleanup to where it belongs – to the corporations that produce this waste:
Require big corporations take responsibility for their pollution, requiring producers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs.
Spur innovation, incentivizing big corporations to make reusable products and items that can actually be recycled.
Reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable.
Establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling.
Spur massive investments in U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure, while pressing pause on new plastic facilities until critical environmental and health protections are put in place.
“Nearly 9 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, threatening wildlife, humans and the ecosystems we all depend on,” said Dr. Don Moore, Oregon Zoo director. “Reducing plastic pollution will take the combined efforts of consumers, businesses and governments. The Oregon Zoo supports Senators Merkley and Udall in taking this action to protect the health of America’s food, water and environment.”
Senators Merkley and Wyden were joined by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) in introducing the legislation.
Original Recycling (OR) Bottle Act of 2020
The OR Bottle Act of 2020 builds on a successful model implemented throughout Oregon since 1971 that requires that all bottles and cans be eligible to be returned after use for a minimum refund value.
Just like in Oregon, this “bottle bill” legislation would spur recycling efforts through private sector implementation—with no handling fees, constraints on how the refunds system is operated, or how unredeemed deposits are handled.
This bill offers a template for beverage distributors to participate in organized regional systems for collecting, transporting, and processing containers, including an alternative to in-store container redemption with the creation of redemption centers.
At its most basic level, the system operates in the following way:
Retailers like grocery stores pay distributors of beverages a dime for each beverage container delivered.
Customers pay retailers a dime at time of purchase.
Customers return containers to a retailer and receive a dime.
Distributors retrieve containers from retailers and pay a dime.
Distributors that fail to achieve a 75 percent recovery rate will forfeit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the amount of any unredeemed beverage container deposits received by the distributor. Those funds will then be used by the EPA for marketing and outreach related to the bottle bill program.
The federal government would not participate in the redemption or refund process but would maintain an oversight role to ensure consumer confidence.