Attorney General Michelle Henry Joins Coalition Urging Bold Action on Plastic Pollution Crisis

Pennsylvania Attorney General

PENNSYLVANIA — Attorney General Michelle Henry this week announced that she joined a coalition of 14 Attorneys General in urging the Biden administration to adopt a more comprehensive strategy to combat the plastic pollution crisis.

The 14 Attorneys General sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling on the agency to implement a broader and more robust plan to improve plastic waste management and reduce our reliance on plastic materials, thus decreasing, significantly, the production of plastics.

Plastic does not fully degrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics, which have been found in drinking water, food, air, and even human blood and lung tissue.

Microplastics have been found in all of Pennsylvania’s tested stream waters — even those waterways considered to be the Commonwealth’s most pristine and pure.

“My office’s ongoing actions in environmental causes are consistent with our fight to ensure Pennsylvanians’ basic rights to drink clean water and breathe clean air,” Attorney General Henry said. “Time and time again, we have taken positions to regulate industry pollution that jeopardizes the health of future generations. I have no doubt that these recommendations, if followed, will reduce harmful plastics in our waterways, clothing, and landfills. I am proud to stand with these states in demanding that the EPA implement standards to cut down on plastics contaminating our natural resources.”

Recently, the Office of Attorney General sent a letter to the EPA calling for community education on microfibers (plastics manufactured into clothing); and joined in comments urging stricter regulation of the petrochemical industry, specifically ethylene oxide, which is carcinogenic to humans.

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As the global production of plastics has skyrocketed, so has the resulting waste, which pollutes the land and water. But the dangerous impacts of plastics begin well before they are turned into waste. Plastic manufacturing plants are often located in or near low-income communities and communities of color, leading those populations to suffer disproportionately high plastic pollution in their air, land, and water. Such communities thus bear the brunt of the plastic pollution crisis.

The nation’s strategy in dealing with plastics has historically focused on improving recycling and cleaning up plastic pollution when it is already too late. In the letter, the coalition urges the EPA to broaden its approach and implement aggressive interventions at every stage of the plastic waste life cycle, including measures to dramatically reduce the production of new, unused plastic.

The letter also recommends that the EPA not consider any process other than mechanical recycling to qualify as “recycling” unless the process meets rigorous standards that promote circularity and protect the environment and human health.

Specific recommendations by the coalition include:

  • Reducing plastic production as part of global, U.S., and state greenhouse gas emissions targets.
  • Protecting communities from new petrochemical plants or capacity expansion at existing plants.
  • Prioritizing funding of innovative strategies that reduce overall plastic use and plastic packaging needs and promote reuse of materials.
  • Adopting and administering a national plastic products labeling standard to combat deceptive environmental marketing.
  • Adopting stringent criteria for processes other than mechanical recycling to qualify as “recycling” that protect the environment and human health.
  • Broadening the scope of the plastic waste reduction strategy to include assessments of the fast fashion industry, which produces and sells cheap polyester clothing meant to be minimally worn and disposed of quickly, resulting in a massive volume of textiles ending up in landfills frequently.
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In issuing the letter, Attorney General Henry joins the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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