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Lawmakers remain hopeful after bill to cut pollution is unexpectedly defeated: 'We have come this far; we are not giving up'

"Plastic pollution is not going anywhere and neither are we."

"Plastic pollution is not going anywhere and neither are we."

Photo Credit: iStock

A bill that would have required big companies to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they put out was defeated in the New York State Assembly after being passed by the Senate.

What happened?

On June 7, New York State Senator Pete Harkham announced that the Senate passed the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act. The bill was aimed at producers and companies with an annual net revenue of more than $5 million who were responsible for more than two tons of packaging waste per year. 

It sought to require them to reduce packaging by 10% in weight within three years and 30% within 12 years. It also required certain levels of post-consumer recycled content to be used in packaging.

"It will take us away from single-use plastics that are obliterating our environment, our oceans or just being burned," Harckham, the bill's primary sponsor in the Senate, said per Inside Climate News.

However, the legislation reached a dead end when the State House defeated it. According to the publication, foes of the bill painted a picture of empty grocery store shelves and a ruined barbecue season to help kill it.

Why is plastic pollution concerning? 

Globally, we produce about 440 million tons of plastic waste every year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. About 36% of plastics are used in packaging, and about 85% of the stuff ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.

As plastics break down into smaller pieces, they become "microplastics." These microplastics have made their way into our food, water, and soil, and even into our bodies — scientists have discovered microplastics in human semen and placentas

This is concerning, as plastics contain chemicals that disrupt the body's hormone systems and can lead to cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children. Scientists have also linked microplastics with pregnancy complications.

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Plastic pollution is also an environmental concern. For instance, microplastics are polluting archaeological sites and have been discovered in the digestive tracts of fish. Meanwhile, larger plastics in the ocean kill marine animals that either consume or become entangled in them.

Plus, about 98% of single-use plastics are derived from dirty fuels, contributing significantly to the overheating of our planet. 

What's being done about plastic pollution?

This isn't the end for the New York bill. Judith Enck, founder and president of Beyond Plastics, said that they'll just try again when the Assembly comes back in session.

"We have come this far; we are not giving up," she told ICN. "Plastic pollution is not going anywhere and neither are we."

Although the bill's strike down was a blow for environmentalists, a number of companies are making important changes when it comes to plastic.

For example, Kraft announced it is getting rid of its iconic Shake 'N Bake shaker bag, which the company says will remove 900,000 pounds of plastic waste annually. The company is now encouraging the use of reusable containers to shake it out. Plus, a few Burger King restaurants are testing out biobased reusable cups that can be reused 200 times and are composted after that. Other innovative solutions include edible utensils and wax worms that can eat plastic waste. 

You can help by changing the way you buy and use plastic. Some ideas include switching to powdered soap and detergent, ditching single-use water bottles and plastic grocery bags, and bringing your own to-go containers to restaurants.

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