Disposable Plastics

As interest in regulating the production and use of plastics continues to grow, users of chemicals related to plastics should take note of the newly proposed “Protecting Communities from Plastics Act,” introduced in Congress on December 1, 2022 (the Act).  The Act is intended to identify potential health effects of certain plastics, limit their production, and set nationwide reduction targets.  It would also require EPA to review and potentially to regulate under TSCA the component chemicals in many plastics. 

The Act proposes aggressive action to reduce the environmental and health effects of plastics, including deadlines for nationwide phaseouts of single-use plastics, strict reuse targets, more stringent emissions standards and effluent limits for covered facilities, a temporary permitting moratorium and mandatory consideration of environmental justice concerns in permitting. With respect to TSCA, the Act would require EPA to make final prioritization determinations for styrene, including polystyrene, and vinyl chloride, including polyvinyl chloride. This means that EPA would be required to determine whether the substances are high-priority or low-priority.  Prioritization determinations are conducted through notice-and-comment rulemaking.  If the substances are designated as high-priority, the agency must conduct risk evaluations and regulate any unreasonable risks posed by use of the substances.

Styrene and vinyl chloride are used in a wide variety of applications, including packaging, coatings, resins, and as precursors to other chemical substances. Regulating industrial uses of styrene and vinyl chloride could therefore have significant impacts across many industries and supply chains. EPA has not evaluated styrene or vinyl chloride under TSCA to date, though environmental groups have previously requested it to do so.  Ethylene dichloride, an important vinyl chloride feedstock, is among the next group of chemicals to be evaluated under TSCA, and is likely to be considered  to present an unreasonable risk to workers at typical workplace concentrations.

The Act would also require EPA to conduct an assessment of the public health impacts on fenceline communities from facilities that manufacture, process, recycle, or otherwise use plastics or plastics-related chemicals, as part of the Act’s focus on environmental justice concerns. The results of this assessment would inform regulation of additional chemical substances under TSCA. As part of the reporting and recordkeeping provisions that the Act would add to TSCA, covered facilities would be required to submit broad information on plastics production and detailed information on end-of-life outcomes for plastics and components.  

While the Act is likely to face challenges to passage, similar to the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 (previously discussed here), it may inform efforts to regulate plastic manufacturing in the future and, in particular, how EPA may be required to address chemical components of plastic under TSCA.  We will continue to monitor this important issue.