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Northeast States Work To Coordinate Zero-Waste Efforts

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Legislators from the Northeast are working across state lines to reduce plastic pollution and transition to zero-waste. Most have focused on banning different forms of plastics.
The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators was formed in 1996 as a nonpartisan network of more than 1,000 legislators who collaborate on environmental issues.  Seven Northeastern states are focusing on a unified effort to reduce or ban single use plastics.

On a recent conference call, Caucus Executive Director Jeff Mauk says legislators are carrying momentum of passing successful bills into the 2020 session.  “Northeastern states have led the charge on many of these landmark changes and are looking to go even further in 2020. Their bold actions over the past year have inspired federal action. This year Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Representative Al Lowenthal of California will introduce the first comprehensive bill in Congress to address the plastic pollution crisis.”

State representatives joined the call to report on legislation that has been considered, passed, or is being drafted.  
Among the issues the states plan to address is the cost of solid waste and recycling.
New York Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of Albany has introduced numerous bills and focused her report on efforts to require all single use plastic water bottles be made of recycled materials by 2025.  “Since China's policy to begin refusing most of our recycled content we are desperately in need of growing recycling markets. So this bill would have a dual purpose. One to encourage the use of recycled content within these water bottles. But it will also then directly help grow the recycling markets that we really need to develop.”

Democratic Vermont state Senator Chris Bray is chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.  He reported that the state passed a single use plastic bag ban that included restrictions on straws, stirrers and some polystyrene. Bray says they are looking to expand plastic waste bans this year.  “And we're trying to figure out how can we do this plastic packaging because there is so much of it. I think the numbers were 50% of all plastic has been produced in the last 15 years and nearly half of that is just packaging. We also introduced a bill to pick up another category of unnecessary wasteful products: hotel toiletries. And then maybe like all of you we’re wrestling with how we're going to handle our waste glass stream.”

Maine Democratic Representative Paige Zeigler says the state passed a ban on polystyrene food containers and single use plastic bags in 2019 but failed to pass a ban on plastic balloons and utensils. Zeigler says this year Maine lawmakers will look at the amount of plastic in beverage bottles including cap recycling. But he says ultimately dealing with waste has to be addressed regionally and nationally.  “As legislators we can work around the periphery of plastic use. We can ban individual items hoping to eliminate their use and promote alternatives. But as long as virgin plastic is so cheap recycling plastic isn't as effective as removing plastic from the stream as it could be.”

According to the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, China’s 2017 ban on importing plastic waste likely spurred nations and localities to draft plastic pollution policies. In 2019 over 220 bills were considered in 37 states.  In the 2020 session the seven Northeast states have 76 bills under consideration.


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