Global expansion of plastic production, especially with single-use plastics, has created a crisis for human health and the environment. President Biden has failed to confront the problem. He has focused on false environmental solutions that waste billions of taxpayer dollars, as plastic pollution rapidly gets worse.
Plastic waste is so ubiquitous that it has entered the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and even our blood. Some of the toxic chemicals used in everyday items such as plastic packaging can cause cancer and birth defects.
Our oceans, lakes and rivers are now burdened with more than 200 million tons of plastic pollution. According to current estimates, some 11 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans every year.
As a result, the oceans are now filled with 170 trillion pieces of plastic. That’s 21,000 tiny microplastic pieces for every person on Earth. Worse, that amount is doubling approximately every six years.
We can turn it around though. There are sensible ways to manage plastic production, replace single-use plastic items with more sustainable alternatives, and overhaul our waste and recycling infrastructure. Single-use plastics are typically used for only a few minutes but leave us with waste that lasts hundreds of years.
President Biden has made vague pledges to reduce plastic waste by 2040, but he has failed to take on the big manufacturers that rack up huge profits recklessly churning out larger amounts of plastic every year. There is so much more that we can and should be doing to address this global challenge.
I have a ten-point plan to fix the problem.
First, I will support an ambitious international plastics treaty. Governments have begun negotiating a new Global Plastic Treaty, but the Biden administration has sought to reduce its ambition and scope. In my administration, the U.S. will lead the way in forging an effective treaty, instead of watering it down at the behest of lobbyists for the oil and petrochemical industries.
Second, I will act to restrict hazardous plastics and chemicals. Many dangerous and unnecessary types and uses of plastic can simply be eliminated. The recent train derailment in Ohio involved vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen used to make PVC plastic. It is time to place restrictions on the most dangerous types of plastics and chemical components.
Third, I will promote a national bottle bill. Bottle bills, sometimes called container deposit return laws, are a proven tool to reduce litter. Modernizing and expanding deposit systems with a nationwide approach would prevent billions of bottles from ending up in landfills, waterways and neighborhoods.
Fourth, I will nationally coordinate an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system for packaging. EPR reduces the burden on cities and taxpayers by requiring businesses to pay for the waste impacts of their products. EPR incentivizes low-waste business models. My administration will coordinate and harmonize state EPR policies at the federal level.
Fifth, I will move to modernize recycling facilities. Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), where residential recycling goes to be sorted, desperately need modernization. The federal government should prioritize investment to upgrade MRFs with best-in-class technologies, such as high-speed conveyors and optical sorters.
Next, I will strengthen closed-loop recycling systems. Entrepreneurs are helping to innovate new systems relying on business-to-business closed-loop recycling systems and new reuse models for appropriate types of packaging. With new government-supported incentives, clear standards, and support for modern infrastructure, we can help replace most single-use packaging.
Seventh, I will ban fracking, which provides the feedstock for most of the plastics produced in the U.S.. Fracking has proven to be devastating for rural communities, poisoning water tables. Industry has had 20 years to demonstrate that they can frack safely and responsibly, but has failed to do so.
Eighth, I will limit construction and expansion of plastic production facilities. Communities across America, often in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, have been fighting to protect themselves from plastic facilities. At a time when it is obvious that we need to reduce plastic, especially single-use items, the oil and petrochemical companies are trying to expand production. It is estimated that plastic production will triple by 2060.
Ninth, I will end subsidies for plastics producers. The fossil fuel industry gets more than $5 trillion in subsidies every year globally. We must end these subsidies and let private companies pay their own costs of doing business.
Finally, we need a major national study to evaluate all sources of plastic waste. As important as eliminating single-use plastic packaging is, there is much more to this problem. Synthetic textiles and tires are the largest sources of plastic microfibers. Fishing gear still makes up a very large portion of marine debris. There are many additional areas to be identified where we can and will take action.
As president, I will address the plastic crisis with the sense of urgency it deserves. We cannot afford four more years of Biden’s false solutions, vague promises and kowtowing to big polluters, even as plastic pollution explodes across the globe. With your support, our nation can lead the world in fixing this rapidly growing problem.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024.
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