Today is the second day of the International Summit on Plastic Pollution (https://liu.edu/plastic-pollution-summit). Yesterday, I shared a bit of what conference attendees are learning about how France is comprehensively tackling the scourge of plastic pollution by banning many uses of plastic, among other things. Today, a few words about what is and is not happening in the United States.
A handful of states and municipalities have taken a piece out of the European playbook, banning certain uses of plastics. California was the first state to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in large retail stores and it has extended that ban to restrict the commercial use of utensils, straws and plastic stirrers. New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington have followed suit with their own restrictions. More than two hundred municipalities have adopted similar restrictions.
Why such radical national regulations in France when in the United States, the federal government remains largely on the sidelines of the fight to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans?
We, the French and American lawyers who have studied the differences between French and American responses to plastic pollution, have concluded that the reasons are both structural and ideological.
For example, the French Republic has always had a centralized government. The creation of the European Union only increased the scope of legal requirements emanating from the central government. I learned that the concept of state and municipal laws does not even exist in France.
On the other hand, in the United States, the federal government has a more limited authority delegated to it in the United States Constitution. All other competences are reserved to the States.
This does not mean that the federal government of the United States cannot do much more than what France and several states and municipalities are doing. However, that means it doesn’t come so easily to our federal government, especially those in Congress who have a narrower view of that government’s role.
This means that in the United States, continued education and mobilization, led by non-governmental organizations, will be essential to get from here to there in the fight against plastic pollution.
I hope the recent UN commitment to action, and summits like this week, will help. Our oceans are at their limits.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.