Huffman, Merkley, Whitehouse, Welch: Bold Global Agreement Required to Take on Plastic Pollution Crisis

May 01, 2024

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-02) and U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Peter Welch (D-VT) released the following joint statement today after the conclusion of the fourth Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) in Ottawa, Canada:

“The global plastic pollution crisis demands bold, urgent action. Plastic waste is polluting our ecosystems—from lands to oceans to waterways. Micro- and nano-plastics are polluting our food, water, blood, and even the breast milk we feed our babies. The scale of this crisis means the world needs a concrete strategy with set goals to slash plastic pollution. Nations need defined benchmarks to meet if we are to have any hope at solving this crisis—an agreement based on voluntary action won’t help us here.

“We attended INC-4 in Ottawa to press U.S. negotiators to act boldly. The United States needs to shift its focus from opposing concrete goals and accountability to supporting an ambitious agreement. Before the fifth round of negotiations in Busan, Republic of Korea later this year, we must have a path to an agreement that addresses plastic’s full life cycle, including production, financing, chemicals of concern, and design, to name a few aspects.

“Unfortunately, countries left Ottawa with no more work planned to address production until November. This must change if we are to reach the ambitious agreement the world needs. As we look toward the last scheduled negotiating session later this year, we intend to continue messaging to the rest of the world that an ambitious agreement can help propel U.S. action on plastics."

Merkley led a congressional delegation to INC-4 in Ottawa to call for the development of an ambitious international agreement to address plastic pollution. The delegation included U.S. Senators Whitehouse and Welch and Representative Huffman, as well as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

In his role as the Chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee overseeing environmental justice and chemical safety, Merkley has held a first-of-its-kind series of hearings investigating plastic production and pollution. Merkley’s hearings have examined: environmental and climate damage from plasticsimpacts of plastics on environmental justice communitiesreuse and refill systemsbeverage container waste, and consumer challenges to recycling. Senators Welch and Merkley recently introduced the Banning Toxics in Plastic Bottles Act, which would prohibit the sale of plastic beverage containers that contain toxic substances and dyes and would create an EPA grant fund to provide local waste management and water infrastructure facilities with resources to address plastic pollution. Merkley, along with Representative Huffman, leads the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, the most comprehensive plan ever introduced in Congress to address the plastic pollution crisis that is poisoning our air, water, and land, and disproportionately impacting communities of color and low-income Americans. Representative Huffman also authored the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act, legislation that addresses the plastic production crisis that is fueling climate chaos and worsening environmental injustice.

As a co-founder of the Senate Oceans Caucus, Whitehouse has played a key role in crafting bipartisan policies to confront the challenges of ocean plastic pollution. Whitehouse and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) wrote the bipartisan Save Our Seas and Save Our Seas 2.0 Acts, the most comprehensive marine debris measures ever passed into law. Whitehouse’s REDUCE Act would impose a 20-cent per pound fee on the sale of virgin plastic resin that is used to make single-use plastics.