NGOs urge U.S. government to stop buying single-use plastic

More than 180 community and conservation organizations filed a legal petition February 3 demanding that the U.S. government stop buying plastic bags and other single-use plastic products. Supporting organizations include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Oceana, Surfrider and Greenpeace.

Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags a year, and it’s estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. The federal government is the single-largest consumer of goods and services in the world, and President Biden’s executive orders have highlighted the need for federal purchases to prioritize reusable products.

“Here’s a chance for the Biden administration to do more to combat this crisis than all the local plastic bag bans in the country combined,” said Emily Jeffers, the Center attorney who authored the petition. 

“The federal government’s huge purchasing power is crucial to protecting our environment and health from plastic pollution. Biden officials have to help stem the flood of single-use plastic that’s contaminating our oceans and poisoning wildlife and our own bodies.”

The petition calls on the General Services Administration, the federal government’s procurement arm, to address the plastic pollution crisis by revising its regulations to prohibit the acquisition of disposable, single-use plastic products, with exemptions for disability accommodations, medical use and personal protective equipment.

The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40% over the next decade and plans to build polluting plants in communities like Louisiana’s St. James Parish. Plastic production fuels the climate crisis and damages local communities with toxic air and water pollution. Once discarded, plastic clogs rivers and oceans, harms wildlife, infiltrates drinking water and persists in the environment for centuries.

Plastic is also a threat to human health. As people consume more and more food and drinks from single-use plastic wrappers and containers, they’re exposed to chemicals linked to many known public health crises, including obesity, ADD/ADHD and many forms of cancer.

The General Services Administration issues regulations governing the acquisition and supply of goods for federal agencies. The agency is required to purchase “sustainable products,” but does not have requirements specific to plastic items.

It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. The bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.

Photo credit: Raftography Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.  Plastic and sea turtle on Hawaii beach.

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