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Global Agreement Could Help End Plastic Waste – But Must Reflect Benefits of Plastic and Impacts of Alternatives

Matthew Kastner

WASHINGTON (July 2, 2021) – Science magazine today published an article called “A Binding Global Agreement to Address the Life Cycle of Plastics,” which argues for capping plastic production globally. The American Chemistry Council issued the following statement, which may be attributed to Joshua Baca, ACC’s vice president of plastics:

“America’s plastic makers agree that a global agreement could be effective in helping to accelerate an end to plastic waste, but we strongly believe that an agreement should focus on reusing our plastic resources in new manufacturing and result in a net benefit for the environment.

“Plastic is critical for meeting society’s sustainability goals, and with the right commitments and policy approaches, plastic waste is a problem we can solve. Public policy should focus on keeping plastic waste out of the environment and accelerating the shift toward a more circular economy where our valuable plastics are reused, again and again – to build the more efficient and sustainable world we all want.”

“Smart public policy should be based on the best available science. Capping plastic production would lead to forced alternatives, and policymakers need to consider not only the lost benefits plastics provide, but also the environmental impacts of those alternatives. Multiple studies have compared the environmental impacts of plastics to alternative materials over their lifecycles, and typically, plastics come out ahead.

“A landmark study by Trucost found that switching from plastics to common alternatives would increase environmental costs nearly fourfold. A 2018 study by Franklin Associates found that replacing plastic in packaging with other materials would double greenhouse gas emissions. And a 2020 study by the Imperial College of London found that if plastic bottles used globally were replaced with glass, the additional carbon emissions would be equivalent to powering about 22 large coal-fired power plants – and that’s just bottles.

“Plastic is absolutely essential to building a lower carbon future and meeting key sustainability goals, such as reducing food waste, conserving natural resources, delivering clean tap water, advancing affordable medical care, and building out energy-efficient technologies, like modern insulation for homes and buildings, solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles and charging stations.

“In the United States alone, capping plastic production would put at risk millions of jobs, cut billions in economic output, and increase a number of environmental impacts. Instead of capping plastic production, we should focus on reusing our valuable plastic resources in new manufacturing by increasing traditional recycling, expanding access to advanced recycling, setting a national standard to use more recycled material in packaging, and designing new packaging to be easily reused in new products.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $486 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation's economy. It is among the largest exporters in the nation, accounting for ten percent of all U.S. goods exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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