Comment: ReWRAP Act can help limit waves of plastic pollution

The legislation would put the onus on companies to aid the reduction and recycling of plastic packaging.

By Adam Maxwell / For The Herald

This past summer, on a paddling trip in the San Juan Islands, I experienced just how much our society’s addiction to plastics harms our natural environment. Navigating through the tranquil waters, I was struck by the natural beauty around me. But my excitement soon turned to dismay as I encountered a distressing sight: floating amidst the waves around me were the remnants of plastic waste, marring the pristine seascape I had come to adore.

In our modern society, the convenience of plastic, especially single-use items, has led to a staggering waste crisis that not only detracts from the scenic beauty of our waterways and other natural areas but also harms birds and wildlife that depend on these waters for survival. Studies have also shown that microplastics, caused by plastics broken down by ocean waves and radiation from the sun, significantly damage cells in the human body, leading to serious health effects, including cancers, lung disease and birth defects.

Recognizing the severity of the problem, Audubon Washington supports the passage of the Washington Recycling And Packaging Act, also known as the Re-WRAP Act, a transformational piece of legislation (House Bill 2049) that will mitigate the impact of plastic pollution in our state.

In Washington, like many other places around the globe, our “throwaway” culture has resulted in a significant plastic pollution problem. A 2017 study estimated that Washington residents and businesses discard a staggering 410,300 tons of plastic packaging waste annually. This amounts to approximately 112 pounds of plastic packaging waste per person each year. In response to this crisis, Audubon Washington is joining the Environmental Priorities Coalition in advocating for the passage of the Re-WRAP Act, a comprehensive piece of legislation designed to tackle our state’s plastic waste problem head-on. This bill recognizes the inefficiency of our current waste management systems, where more than 50 percent of consumer packaging and paper products in Washington end up in landfills or incinerators.

At the core of the Re-WRAP Act is a producer-responsibility system, placing the financial onus on companies making packaging decisions rather than burdening Washington residents with the costs of end-of-life management. This model has been implemented successfully in other states including California, Oregon, Colorado and Maine.

The bill introduces a tiered-fee structure, incentivizing companies to adopt environmentally friendly packaging by tying fees to the ease of reuse, recycling or composting. These fees will fund the collection and processing of recyclable materials, extending curbside recycling services to an additional 360,000 households in Washington.

The Re-WRAP Act is not merely a legislative endeavor; it’s a blueprint for transformative change. By incentivizing producers to embrace reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging, the act seeks to reduce pollution contributing to climate change. This involves setting targets to decrease the amount of plastic in packaging materials, promoting recycling rates, and encouraging reuse and refill initiatives.

It also addresses the need for clearer recycling guidelines statewide, reducing confusion and contamination. Implementing bottle-deposit programs and post-recycled content standards for materials further complements the Re-WRAP Act, creating a more robust and sustainable recycling system for Washington.

The Re-WRAP Act offers commonsense solutions in the fight against plastic pollution. We invite all bird- and nature-lovers to join us in advocating for the passage of this important piece of legislation. Start by asking your legislators to pass the Re-WRAP Act and join our efforts to pave the way for a cleaner, greener and healthier future.

Adam Maxwell is senior policy manager for Audubon Washington.

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