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Effort Aims to Move WA Away from Plastics Pollution

  • Written by Eric Tegethoff

Washington News Service Plastic waste is a growing problem across the globe, and it is not just an issue for landfills. Policymakers in Washington state are aiming to find solutions to this pollution. Recent research has found by 2050, plastic waste will be four times larger than it is now.

A study found less than a tenth of plastic waste has been recycled. (Richard Carey/Adobe Stock)

In the 2022 session, lawmakers in Olympia introduced - but did not pass - the RENEW Act, which would have created more responsibility for plastic packaging producers once a product reached the end of its life.

Nora Nickum, senior ocean policy manager with the Seattle Aquarium, said there will be another effort to pass this policy next session.

"They can do a lot to design things that use less material and that use materials that are much more easily recycled or composted. They can also work to design packaging that is reusable so that it doesn't end up in the waste stream at all," Nickum said.

Nickum noted every step of the plastics-production process produces carbon pollution. Four states have passed laws mandating higher responsibilities for plastics manufacturers, including California and Oregon. A coalition of groups known as Plastic Free Washington will be pushing for this policy in the 2023 session.

Plastics producers and recyclers said the policy will not be useful if it creates too many onerous regulations on their industries.

Plastic waste is a problem globally, and in Washington's own backyard. It poses a threat before it breaks down, potentially being ingested by animals, and also takes a long time to degrade. The Seattle Aquarium's Clean Seas Research team studies microplastics in Elliott Bay and how well the aquarium's filters work to sift out these tiny particles.

Amy Olsen, interim Clean Seas Research scientist with the Seattle Aquarium team said research has found microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment.

"From the air to the oceans to lakes and streams to the soil, and there's a lot of research going on now to see whether or not a lot of the chemicals that we use in plastics leach out of these micro-particles into animals that ingest them," she said.

Nickum said the legislation would provide incentives for producers to make more sustainable products and stressed it is an outcome-based policy.

"Producers are best able to innovate and figure out the most efficient and cost-effective way to meet those targets," Nickum said. "So that design is really important to allow the industry to play the role that they're well suited to play."