President Biden Pledges Action on Plastic, No Malarkey (Well, Not Much)
Hi, I’m Joe Biden, and I’m ready to be the first plastic-free president.
OK, maybe I’m not really President Biden, but last week I got into his head, so I feel like I’m ready to have a conversation about taking executive action on plastic pollution and rising U.S plastic production.
OK, so maybe I didn’t get into his head exactly — more like into his face: a Biden face mask I wore outside the Environmental Protection Agency office in San Francisco to receive more than 100,000 petitions that folks sent asking me — er, I mean him — to adopt the Presidential Plastics Action Plan.
But still, I got to look out of that face (and through some sweet aviator sunglasses) into the faces of environmental leaders telling me plastic pollution is filling our oceans, landscapes and landfills. Even worse, petrochemical companies are steeply increasing plastic production using our oversupply of fracked gas. And they said I could help stop it!
“Today, marking 100 days into the new administration, we’re here to bring the voices of 100,000 people who demand that you, President Biden, act on plastics,” Center for Biological Diversity organizer Stephanie Prufer told me at the event. “People are demanding action because plastics are deepening the climate crisis. They’re demanding it because their health depends on it. And they’re demanding it because their lives are at stake. We have no time to lose and we need you, President Biden, to take action.”
I was totally convinced it’s time for executive action, so this week I decided to sit down with Stephanie and have a conversation about what it would mean for me to become the first plastic-free president.
Biden: Thanks for agreeing to chat with me. Tell me a little about these petitions you just delivered.
Prufer: More than 600 organizations around the country and 100,000 people who signed these petitions are asking President Biden to adopt the Presidential Plastics Action Plan our coalition put out in December. It calls for eight executive actions to address this crisis, including a ban on new petrochemical plants, measures to curb single-use plastics, ending federal fossil fuel subsidies, and protecting vulnerable communities from pollution.
Biden: Wow, that all sounds important. Where do I sign?
Prufer: Where do you sign what, Steve?
Biden: You can call me Joe.
Prufer: Oh, I see what you’re doing. Anyway, these are all actions President Biden — um, you — can take on your own without any help from Congress. And they’re crucial right now. Even though less than 10% of plastic waste gets recycled and ocean plastic pollution is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050, the federal government is still allowing the biggest new plastic-making plants in the world to be built here in the U.S., including the massive Formosa Plastics plants proposed for Cancer Alley in Louisiana, where low-income Black residents are already sick from exposure to industrial pollution.
Biden: Oh, man. That’s terrible.
Prufer: Yes, it is, and a president who has pledged strong actions on climate change and environmental justice can’t allow that to happen. We understand you have a lot on your plate right now, with helping us get through the COVID-19 pandemic and all. And we think your executive actions on climate change, environmental justice and suspending federal fossil fuel leasing were all steps in the right direction. But it’s a big mistake to ignore plastic pollution, which encompasses all of those issues.
Biden: Huh. What do you mean?
Prufer: Plastic fuels climate change and fossil fuel industry profits. Making plastic produces greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from extracting the fracked gas it’s made from to the carbon emissions created when plastic is incinerated or allowed to breakdown in landfills or the environment over decades. The finances of fracking only have a chance of penciling out if companies can turn the oversupply of cheap, fracked gas into plastic and other polluting products we need to wean ourselves off of. And the poor communities near fracking sites, petrochemical plants and incinerators are being polluted and sickened by our plastic dependence.
Biden: Oh geez, that’s no malarkey. It sounds like we need to stop making so much plastic. But what about the plastic we need for things like medical devices and personal protective equipment?
Prufer: Most new plastic is going into throwaway plastic packaging, which is designed to be used once and discarded. The global plastic recycling system is broken, and the beverage industry won’t even use recycled plastic for its soda and water bottles. So we’re really just making plastic designed to become toxic pollution. Existing petrochemical plants will create more than enough plastic for medical devices and things we actually need. There’s no need for any new or expanded petrochemical plants.
Biden: Okey-dokey. Say, let’s do this! I, President Joe Biden, do hereby officially endorse the Presidential Plastics Action Plan and pledge to become the first #PlasticFreePresident. Is there something I need to sign or should I just announce this in a tweet like the last guy?
Prufer: OK, Steve, that’s about enough.
Biden: C’mon, Steph, I was really feeling the Joe. I think we’re getting into his head.
Prufer: Well, if readers want to help with that, they can let their federal representatives know they support our plan as well as the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which also attacks the plastic pollution and production problem. They can spread the word on social media using the hashtag #PlasticFreePresident and watch out for our upcoming actions pushing for a ban on new or expanded petrochemical facilities and infrastructure.
Biden: Yeah. And tell ’em Uncle Joe sent you.