Supporters of reducing plastic packaging say a hearing on the bill signals progress
Advocates for a measure to reduce plastic packaging by 50% in New York over the next decade say they are encouraged by a joint legislative hearing held on the bill this week.
The legislation would phase in reductions in plastic packaging over several years and ban a practice known as “chemical recycling.” That’s where heat or chemical reactions break down some plastic materials so they can eventually be used in new products.
The bill would also ban some toxins now found in packaging, including heavy metals and PFAS chemicals.
Assembly Environmental Chair Deborah Glick said there’s an urgent need to get a handle on what she called an excessive use of plastics.
“Younger people, our kids, are telling us that we have to do a better job because the world that we are giving them is not something that's sustainable,” Glick said. “And they intend to see that we take action — and take action promptly.”
Judith Enck, a former regional administrator of the EPA who now heads Bennington College’s Beyond Plastics, testified in support of the bill at the hearing.
“I ... emphasized that reduction of plastics is far more important than recycling of plastics, because plastic recycling has been an abysmal failure,” Enck said. “We need to be honest that plastic recycling doesn't work. So we have to reduce it.”
Enck said for every three pounds of fish in the world’s oceans today, there is one pound of plastic debris. She said if nothing changes, it’s estimated there will be one pound of plastic for every pound of fish by 2050.
Craig Cookson, with plastics sustainability at the American Chemistry Council, is among those speaking against the measure. He said instead of mandating a reduction in plastic packaging, he favors improving the recycling markets and better educating the public about recycling.
Cookson said consumers want more recycled products.
“Industry wants, because their customers are demanding, that they have more recycled content in their packaging and products,” Cookson said. “And so industry is working to get more of that.”
Cookson said there's no need for a ban on chemical recycling, which his organization calls advanced recycling. He said the process has been misunderstood and that there is no burning involved.
“That’s a complete mischaracterization of the technology,” Cookson said. “These technologies work in an oxygen-deprived, very low oxygen environment, so there is no combustion.”
Cookson said the process uses heat and other catalysts to break down plastics to their basic chemical components.
“That feedstock of that raw material becomes an alternative feedstock to oil and natural gas in the production of new plastics or chemicals again,” he said.
Enck and other environmental advocates said it’s the chemicals and plastics industries that are mischaracterizing the process.
“They say there's no oxygen in the chamber, and therefore you don't get a flame,” Enck said. “Chemical recycling is an attempt — I underline attempt — to keep plastic at a very high temperature. And typically, it gets turned into fossil fuel, or synthetic gas. The last thing the world needs is more fossil fuel.”
Enck said the fact that the chairs of the State Legislature’s environmental conservation committees held a daylong hearing is a good sign that there will be a law passed in 2024 that reduces plastic packaging. She said groups like hers will have to make sure that the final legislation does what it says and does not include any loopholes.
Cookson isn’t giving up, either.
“There's a lot of innings to play in this game,” Cookson said.
Senate Environmental Chair Peter Harckham said lawmakers will continue to hear from the stakeholders and try to address their concerns as they work toward a final bill.