Environmental Groups Ask EPA to Require Renewable Energy in Plastic Manufacturing

Plastics are sorted and crushed into bales in San Francisco.  (Lindsey Moore/KQED)

Attorneys representing a coalition of 364 advocacy organizations filed a legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday calling for new regulations on the U.S. plastic industry. The group says plastic manufacturing is polluting the air and worsening climate change.

The petition calls for requirements on manufacturers to power their facilities with renewable energy and to improve air quality monitors, record keeping, and public access to information.

“Plastic production is polluting,” said petition author Lauren Packard. “It's poisoning our communities. It's littering our oceans, and it's dangerous.”

Packard, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, rallied in support of the petition with other advocates Wednesday in front of the EPA’s regional office in San Francisco.

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The petition was co-signed by a coalition of major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, as well as public health, social justice, labor, faith and indigenous rights organizations.

Margot Perez-Sullivan, a spokeswoman with the EPA’s Pacific Southwest regional office, said the agency received the petition and will meet with the group’s leadership.

“We value input from all stakeholders,” Perz-Sullivan said in an emailed statement.  “The petition calls for national rulemaking actions and has therefore been shared with the agency’s national leadership. EPA will review the petition and continue to work with stakeholders to address environmental and public health concerns.”

Plastic and Climate Change

The coalition of groups that petitioned the EPA says natural gas production is booming and that the glut has contributed to an explosion in plastic production over the last two decades. In the U.S., natural gas is the leading source of raw material for plastic production, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration site.

The American Chemical Council argues that abundant natural gas creates a competitive advantage for U.S. chemical manufacturing and leads to job growth.

But advocates say they are concerned about both the release of benzene, formaldehyde, and other toxic air pollutants from the plastic-making facilities that use natural gas, as well as greenhouse gases released during the plastics manufacturing process.

Packard says EPA should strictly regulate the industry to protect public health and to fight climate change. “This dirty industry spews greenhouse gases at every step, from leaky gas wells to the plastic pollution degrading in our oceans and landfills,” she said. “That has to stop.”

“We're calling on EPA to update its outdated regulations that apply to plastics production facilities,” Packard said. “Plastics are a huge problem.”