Former Vice President Joe Biden said the United States should phase out plastic shopping bags to curb ocean pollution, the presidential candidate told supporters last week at a campaign event in Manchester, Iowa.
A woman who described herself as a Kenyan-American urged Biden to incorporate a plastic bag ban into his climate change plan. Kenya banned the production and sale of plastic shopping bags in 2017.
"When I go back to Kenya, we don’t even use plastic bags," said the woman at the event. "It’s not allowed because we are trying to clean the ocean."
Biden responded: "I agree with you 100%. We should not be allowing plastic. And what we should do is phasing it out."
Hundreds of U.S. cities have enacted single-use plastic bag bans or taxes. States like California, Hawaii and New York have also implemented crackdowns.
Biden went on to criticize President Trump for not recognizing the severity of plastic pollution. "The problem is we have a president that says there is no problem. … ‘We don’t have a problem with plastic in the oceans,’" Biden said, imitating the president.
Trump has claimed plastic debris washing up on American beaches comes from other countries. Experts say it’s a two-way street, with American trash likely winding up on foreign beaches.
Until China banned the practice in 2018, the United States used to export much of its plastic waste to that country. Less than 10% of U.S. plastics get recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, oceans or elsewhere, according to EPA.
Tony Radoszewski, president of the Plastics Industry Association, condemned Biden’s recent comments in a news release. He’s also dealing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill pushing legislation against plastic waste (E&E Daily, Nov. 19, 2019).
"The process of ‘phasing them out’ when it comes to plastics would be a disaster for our economy and our environment. We’re disappointed that Biden would endorse the idea of a misguided reduction in the use of plastic materials," he said, suggesting that paper bags aren’t a better option.
Instead of banning plastic, Radoszewski said, Congress should pass legislation authorizing funding for recycling infrastructure and education programs.
It’s unclear whether Biden was referring strictly to plastic bags in his comments or whether he was calling for a prohibition on all plastics.
But petrochemical companies are betting on the material’s future. Ethane cracker plants, which use ethane from natural gas to produce the building blocks of plastic, are popping up across Appalachia, signaling plastic’s continued production into the next decade (Greenwire, Jan. 3).