WWF recently had a packed day on Capitol Hill showcasing how consumers, policymakers and businesses can work together to achieve our goal of no new plastics in nature.
On Oct. 26, the day began with a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight, where I testified about alternatives to single-use plastics.
Hours later in the same hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, WWF convened a congressional briefing with the OneSource Coalition and the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty about advancing solutions to plastic pollution. Key members of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee participated, including Chairman Tom Carper, Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, along with representatives from The Coca-Cola Company, Walmart and Mars, Inc.
Identifying Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics
As WWF’s Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste and Business, I explained at the Senate hearing why it is no longer economically, socially or environmentally sustainable to produce single-use plastics. Much of the estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic waste that enters our oceans every year – the equivalent of one dump truck per minute – is from these products.
Some new plastics will still be needed to meet critical health and safety needs. But we don’t need to make them from fossil fuels. Instead, we can turn to alternatives like paper, metal, recycled materials, or biobased plastic derived from plants and sustainable sources.
“It is critical that we take necessary steps to source and use alternatives that have stronger environmental and social benefits when compared to conventional plastic,” I testified. When evaluating any alternatives, we need to ensure that the right policies and infrastructure are in place to ensure circularity.
How Policymakers and Business Leaders Can Help
We’re already seeing strong action in Colorado and California to enact extended producer responsibility legislation that ensures plastic packaging sold in these states is recyclable or compostable.
At the federal level, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included funding to boost recycling programs and public education campaigns. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have also introduced bills to reduce plastic production and consumption, such as the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act.
“Bipartisan solutions are lasting solutions,” Carper said.
Capito said that “we have to realize the reality of where we are, and try to give a solution that is scalable but also is achievable.”
Businesses have an important role in reducing plastic pollution, too. Some major companies are already taking steps on their own while urging federal action to establish more consistency in how people reuse and recycle plastic.
Peter Rowan, vice president of U.S. public affairs at Mars, Inc., noted that the candy and food manufacturer has linked compensation for its top 300 executives to sustainability targets. And Shaun Garrison, senior manager of federal and diplomatic government relations at The Coca-Cola Company, said that the beverage brand supports policies that encourage recycling of its bottles so that they can be used for future packaging.
Alex Schenck, director of global environmental policy at Walmart, said that it’s important for stakeholders not to inadvertently make the perfect the enemy of the good.
“Every year that we don't get something done, millions of metric tons of recyclable materials are piling up in landfills,” Schenck said.
Lasting solutions to reduce plastic waste will take all of us working together. That’s why WWF is committed to convening more of these conversations about how to sustain our environment and economy for generations to come.