Plastic politics are in the news. Three converging debates will shape the future of plastic manufacturing and recycling: At the global level, the United Nations is negotiating the terms of a worldwide plastics treaty, while in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has introduced a draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution and the Federal Trade Commission is working on updating its Green Guides, the rules that govern the advertising of environmental and recycling claims. Dr. Anja Malawi Brandon, associate director of U.S. plastics policy for the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, returns to the show to discuss the state of plastic packaging regulations and extended producer responsibility laws.
Anja is an environmental engineer who helped draft landmark state and national legislation regulating plastic pollution in recent years. She last appeared on the show to discuss unnecessary plastics in March 2022. She recently authored Ocean Conservancy’s recommendations to the FTC about labeling plastics to indicate their recyclability. Anja summarized the challenging recycling information we all struggle with when she wrote, “Consumers should not need a Ph.D. in plastics to understand what to do with their plastic packaging.”
Recyclability and compostability need to be clarified terms, and local services, not national rules, should determine the natural options available to each of us. The Ocean Conservancy has called for stricter regulation of plastic recyclability, recycled content, compostability, and other environmental claims by the Federal Trade Commission when it updates the Green Guides. Like the European Union and Britain, which have introduced far more stringent rules about sustainability claims, the FTC’s rules are expected to introduce penalties, such as bans on advertising and fines when companies make vague claims.
At the same time, the plastic industry is ramping up claims that it can recycle more plastic using advanced techniques — the chemical and molecular recycling approaches described during our recent interviews with Nexus Circular and Carbios; the industry wants to “retain the societal benefits of plastics.” Economic and policy tensions are rising as global, national, and state leaders launch programs and policies designed to curb the use of plastic, track and regulate the shipping and recycling of plastic waste, and establish clear, helpful labeling guidance.
You can learn more about the Ocean Conservancy at oceanconservancy.org.