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  • We're choking on plastics

    June 04, 2024

    We're choking on plastics

    Here's a chance to do something about it

    The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act will curb the plastics that are polluting not only our planet, but also our bodies.

    ~ This article was written by Judith Enck, former EPA regional administrator and president of Beyond Plastics. Originally published here.

    Microplastics have been found in human placentas. They are in our blood and our lungs. There is plastic in breast milk. Plastic particles have been found in testicles.

    If these facts aren’t troubling enough to get lawmakers’ attention, we don’t know what is.

    But with this bad news comes good news: The state Legislature is considering a bill that would protect New Yorkers from plastic’s health risks, as well as prevent the environmental and climate harms that come with the packaging surrounding our food and everyday products. Lawmakers must pass the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act before the legislative session ends.

    The bill would reduce packaging in New York by 50% over the next 12 years, greatly reducing New Yorkers’ exposure to microplastics and toxic chemical additives. It would also eliminate 19 of the most toxic chemicals and substances used in packaging and require companies — instead of taxpayers — to pay for the cleanup of New York’s packaging waste. It is essential that this bill is not weakened in the final hours of the state legislative session. We need a bill that reduces packaging by 50% and has no glaring loopholes.

    Unsurprisingly, the petrochemical and plastics industries aren’t too happy about this bill. These companies profit off of putting plastic in almost every product we buy. The plastics industry is doing its best to thwart any regulation that reduces the production of plastics. This needs to change, and New York can lead the way. In a country ridden with ineffective, industry-led policies that fail to stop plastic pollution at the source, the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act is the refreshing, and absolutely necessary, change we need. This bill would set a blueprint for other states to follow, creating a domino effect across the country.

    We can’t recycle our way out of this mess. The plastics industry knows it, the petrochemical industry knows it, and scientists have been yelling it at the top of their lungs for years. Currently, less than 6% of plastic in the U.S. is recycled.

    Meanwhile, plastic has infiltrated every place on Earth: Arctic sea ice, the Mariana Trench, air in the remotest of mountains, rain in our national parks, most of our food, and our bodies. Scientists estimate people consume, on average, hundreds of thousands of microplastic per year from just a portion of their foods and beverages.

    You might ask: What’s the big deal? First, the plastic particles themselves present risks when they enter the human body — they can irritate, inflame and even puncture cells. A study published early this year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that tiny plastic particles in human arteries dramatically increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes and premature death.

    However, what’s perhaps most concerning is the 16,000-some chemicals found in plastic. Of those 16,000 chemicals, 4,200 are considered to be “highly hazardous” to human health and the environment, and many thousands more haven’t even been tested for safety. The ones known to be hazardous to people’s health are associated with cancer, hormone disruption, brain development issues, fertility problems and more.

    New Yorkers are supportive of the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act. A Siena poll this month found that 82% of New York voters say single-use plastic packaging is a problem, and a bipartisan 67% of voters support the New York packaging bill.

    The Legislature has just days left to do the right thing and be on the right side of history. They must bring this bill to the floor for a vote and pass it to finally curb the crisis threatening our future. We have no more time to waste on waste. New York legislators, are you listening?


     Launched in January 2019, Beyond Plastics is a nationwide project based at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, that pairs the wisdom and experience of environmental policy experts with the energy and creativity of grassroots advocates to build a vibrant and effective movement to end plastic pollution. Learn more at

    What’s Good will be raising awareness for and donating a portion of all orders this June and July to support Plastic Free July. And, we’ll be sharing information about Plastic to help you navigate this complex and deeply rooted issue. 

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