How to Hold Plastic Polluters Accountable

In order to stop the glut of plastic waste that chokes our oceans and even ends up in our food supply, we have to attack it at the source: the companies that are pumping out cheap plastics at a break-neck pace.

Efforts are already underway to shift the focus to the production side of our plastic pollution crisis. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, introduced in Congress in February 2020, is part of an campaign to change our approach to plastic pollution and recycling by establishing “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) principles or, more simply, “Polluters Pay” principles.

EPR shifts the financial burden of recycling programs and managing plastic waste to the companies that profit on producing endless amounts of single-use plastics. It holds these companies accountable for the waste they produce and pressures them to make better, more durable products that are recycled in a cost effective manner.

The move toward EPR represents a sea change for how we approach plastic pollution, where for decades the burden has been on individual consumers and cities to handle the glut of plastic waste. The “consumer approach” relies on the false narrative that we can merely recycle our way out of the problem. It assumes, moreover, that plastic waste is entirely a consequence of individual consumers’ decisions to purchase these products.

We know the problem begins much earlier in the supply chain. By flooding the market with cheap plastics, the plastics industry ensures that consumers have little choice but to buy plastic products, thus discouraging the adoption of reusables. The low price tag for new plastics also drives down the market for recycled plastics, which are currently more expensive.

Instead of shaming individuals for their choices, we need to make sure plastic producers are held accountable for the pollution they generate.

In order to get the word out on what EPR is and why we need it, The Story of Stuff Project produced a fantastic 3-minute video explaining how EPR works and how it can radically transform our plastic pollution crisis. We wanted to share their video with you in the hopes that you’ll spread this far and wide.

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