September 19, 2023

Van Hollen Joins Whitehouse, Doggett in Reintroducing Bicameral Bill Act to Tackle Plastic Pollution Crisis and Hold Polluters Accountable

REDUCE Act would levy a fee on production of virgin plastics to incentivize reuse and recycling

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) in reintroducing legislation that would create a new incentive to recycle plastic and help reduce the plastic waste that is disrupting coastal economies, overwhelming ecosystems, and threatening public health. The Rewarding Efforts to Decrease Unrecycled Contaminants in Ecosystems (REDUCE) Act would impose a 20-cent per pound fee on the sale of virgin plastic resin that is used to make single-use plastics. 

“Runaway plastic pollution is hurting waterways like our treasured Chesapeake Bay and in turn harming our coastal communities and those whose lives and livelihoods depend on them. This bill will make sure big corporate polluters help foot the bill for the clean-up costs while reducing plastic waste, increasing recycling, and promoting better human health,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“We are living with a flood of plastic pollution.  Microplastics have reached the most remote parts of Antarctica, and they’ve been found in human blood and infant formula.  This plastic deluge is choking our oceans, hastening climate change, and threatening people’s health,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “A polluter fee would hold the biggest plastics companies accountable for the damage they’ve caused and increase the amount of plastic that actually gets recycled.”

“Plastic pollution threatens public health and inundates our waterways as microplastics invade our bodies.  Over 95% of plastics manufactured in America are never recycled,” said Representative Doggett.  “The REDUCE Act seeks to reduce the growing presence of wasteful single-use plastics by incentivizing a greener approach to manufactured products while strengthening waste reduction and recycling efforts.  We only have one planet—and with the climate crisis worsening—we must all be a part of the solution.”

The REDUCE Act is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and twenty-six members of the House of Representatives.

“Coastal communities in Oregon and nationwide know all too well the harm plastic pollution can cause to local ecosystems and public health,” said Senator Wyden.  “That’s why I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that would tackle the plastic pollution crisis by making it easier to recycle plastic and protect coastal communities and ecosystems.  I’m all in to get this bill over the finish line.”

The boom in global plastic production has led to a crisis of plastic pollution that threatens many of our most valuable natural resources and disproportionately harms vulnerable populations.  About 450,000,000 tons of plastic are produced every year, a number that is projected to triple by 2050.  Single-use plastics account for at least 40 percent of the plastic produced each year.  In the United States, less than 3 percent of plastic waste is recycled into a similar quality product.

Estimates suggest there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish by the middle of the century.  Research shows human beings swallow the amount of plastic in the typical credit card every week, and microplastic particles have been found in human blood, lungs, and colons.

Because utilizing recycled plastic for new products is more costly than using virgin plastic, a fee on virgin plastic production would give the market a stronger incentive to use recycled plastics.  Leveling the playing field for recycled plastics would make environmentally friendly product options more accessible and affordable to consumers.  The legislation would also ensure the plastics industry bears some of the burden for the environmental damage it causes.

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 p ay $0.10 per pound in 2024, increasing gradually up to $0.20 per pound in 2026. 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.

  • 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; carrying out marine debris reduction, detection, monitoring, and cleanup activities; and addressing environmental justice and pollution impacts from the production of plastic.

  • Exempt certain products and small businesses.

Virgin plastic used to make medical products, containers or packaging for medicines, personal hygiene products, any packaging used for the shipment of hazardous materials, and any non-single-use products would not be subject to the fee.  Companies that produce or import small amounts of virgin plastic resin or earn less than $25 million in gross receipts would be exempt from the fee.

Several leading environmental groups endorsed the REDUCE Act today, including: Californians Against Waste, Clean Air Council, Environment America, Fenceline Watch, Greenpeace, Inland, Ocean Coalition, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Surfrider Foundation, Upstream, U.S. PIRG, and World Wildlife Fund.

Text of the bill is available here.  A myths and facts sheet on the bill is available here.