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Plastic Pollution May Be Bigger Legislative Priority Than You Knew

May 21, 2024 (4 min read)

For more than half a century Americans have been talking about recycling. Yet in 2024 pollution remains a top priority for state lawmakers across the country as they grapple with plastic pollution and “forever chemical” contamination—dual dilemmas that plague our bodies as well as the planet.

Earlier this year Safer States, a national alliance of environmental health organizations, analyzed 2024 legislation addressing toxic chemicals and plastics. The group’s findings are a bit surprising for a nation that has been preaching about the virtues of “reduce, reuse, recycle” since the ‘60s.

Safer States reported that in 2024 it anticipates “at least 36 states will consider at least 450 bills” addressing toxic chemical policies involving plastics and Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances or PFAS, a group of chemicals used to make coatings and products that resist heat, stains, oil, grease and water.

According to the report, at least 35 states will contemplate policy actions specifically addressing PFAS, which break down in the environment so slowly they’re commonly known as forever chemicals.

Many of those proposals will focus on phasing out the use of PFAS in various products, including textiles, cookware, cosmetics, menstrual products and artificial turf. And at least 10 states will consider policies extending the statute of limitations for PFAS lawsuits.

The report also notes that in the past seven years, the number of states introducing PFAS legislation has increased from 6 to 33.

At least 21 states will consider policies aimed at reducing the use of plastics and/or phasing out objectionable chemicals and plastics from packaging, including that associated with food products.

At least 19 states will also consider legislation to require the testing, monitoring and disclosure of PFAS or microplastics in water, and at least 10 states will consider setting standards for PFAS in drinking water, groundwater or surface water.

The Safer States report suggests that plastics and PFAS are not only top of mind for state lawmakers, but that conditions have reached almost crisis-level proportions.

Plastics Pollution $250B Problem

Indeed, a new report in Nature Medicine bluntly states: “The world is awash with plastic—6 billion tons’ worth. In 2019, 353 million tons of plastic waste were produced, with a tripling of that number to more than one billion tons predicted by 2060. More than 10,000 chemicals are present in plastics, including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Plastics find their way into the human body in the form of tiny particles called microplastics (less than 5 mm in diameter) and nanoplastics (less than 1 μm in diameter).”

Fortune magazine calls this “a $250 billion problem” that could increase Americans’ risk of heart attacks and strokes, to say nothing of the negative effects it has on the natural world.

At a recent joint session of New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly environmental committees, experts nationwide testified about the litany of harms microplastics pose to the world, urging legislators in the Garden State to take action now.

In-Process State PFAS and Plastics Legislation

More than 80 measures dealing substantively with PFAS have been introduced in 23 states since the beginning of the year, according to the ®LexisNexis State Net® legislative tracking system. Seven of those states have enacted such measures.

The measures include:

  • California AB 2408, which would ban the use of PFAS in firefighter personal protective equipment, and AB 2515, which would ban the use of PFAS in menstrual products.
  • Colorado SB 81, which was enacted on May 1 and bans the use of PFAS in severe wet weather outdoor apparel.
  • Maryland HB 1147, which was enacted on May 9 and bans the use of PFAS in playground surfacing materials.
  • Maine SB 71, which would require health insurers to cover the cost of blood testing for PFAS when recommended by a health care provider.
  • Michigan HB 5614, which would require testing for PFAS in sewage sludge used for land applications; HB 5657, which would ban the use of PFAS in household products; and SB 735, which would require the labeling of PFAS substances in consumer products.
  • New Hampshire HB 1089, which would remove the statute of limitations for PFAS-related civil actions. 

Nearly Half of States Targeting Plastics and PFAS in 2023-2024

Lawmakers in at least 23 states have considered legislation dealing with microplastics/nanoplastics or PFAS, the toxic chemicals associated with them. Eight of those states have enacted such measures. 

According to State Net® data, over 30 measures referring to microplastics or nanoplastics have been introduced in eight states this year, three of which have enacted such measures.

They include:

  • Hawaii’s HB 1897, which would ban hotels from offering shampoo and other personal care products in small plastic containers; and HB 2536, which would prohibit single-use food and beverage containers.
  • Minnesota’s HB 3739, which would provide for the study of microplastics in meat and poultry.
  • New Jersey’s AB 1481, which would require the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to test microplastics in drinking water; and AB 1482, which would require the DEP to create a rebate program for the purchase of microfiber washing machine filters or replacement filters.
  • Rhode Island’s related measures HB 7515 and SB 2300, which would ban the sale of products containing “synthetic polymer micro particles” beginning in 2028.

So nearly half of the states have taken up plastics or PFAS legislation so far this session, nearing the 36 states Safer States projected would do so. What’s more, over a third of the states that have considered such measures have enacted them.

—By SNCJ Correspondent BRIAN JOSEPH

Visit our webpage to connect with a LexisNexis® State Net® representative and learn how the State Net legislative and regulatory tracking service can help you identify, track, analyze and report on relevant legislative and regulatory developments. 



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