Back in 1967 when the film “The Graduate” came out, “plastics” may have seemed like the future.

Not today.

“I hate that line in the movie,” quipped former EPA Administrator and current President of Beyond Plastics Judith Enck. “Imagine if the old guy said to Dustin Hoffman, ‘the future is reusable?'"

In her post-EPA life, Enck has made limiting the production and use of a plastic her life’s work. When not in advocacy mode, Enck is teaching the next generation of organizers as a senior fellow and visiting faculty member in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College.

Her mission before the end of Albany’s legislative session is passage of an extended producer recycling bill, the “Packaging Reduction & Recycling Infrastructure Act," sponsored by the chairs of the Environmental Conservation Committees in both houses — state Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Sen. Pete Harckham.  (A5322/S4246). 

The bill requires companies to reduce packaging by 50% over 12 years. 

“My experience in government has taught me, you don’t do a big aspirational long-term goal like a big number by 2040,” Enck said.  

Instead, the ask of corporations like Amazon is incremental: the bill requires a 10% reduction in packaging in year three, a 20% reduction in year five. Ultimately, by year 12, there will be a requirement to reduce packaging by 50%. 

“If there are problems, you can course correct,” Enck explained. 

Companies that have less than $1 million in sales would be exempt from the law. 

On Friday, the leaders of environmental organizations Beyond Plastics, Only One, and the Surfrider Foundation delivered over 13,000 petition signatures to legislative leaders Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Carl Heastie urging them to pass the “Packaging Reduction & Recycling Infrastructure Act."

The advocates are also pushing lawmakers to oppose chemical recycling. 

“The plastics industry…is mostly trying to turn plastic waste into fossil fuel through the use of technologies called pyrolysis and gasification,” Enck said. “We don’t think those technologies are smart; they also don’t exist without massive taxpayer subsid(ies).”

Here’s more about these technologies from the U.K. magazine Resource.

The New York Farm Bureau, the Business Council of New York State, Upstate United, the Retail Council of New York State and other business groups are opposed to the bill for multiple reasons detailed here.  

Maine, Oregon, California, and Colorado have already passed versions of an extended producer responsibility law. 

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is also strongly against the version of EPR that Enck discussed on Capital Tonight. In an emailed statement to Capital Tonight, Andrew Fasoli, a spokesman for the ACC said:

"We support a well-crafted EPR in New York because it can unlock necessary financing to improve recycling collection, sortation and processing for all materials. It can also help ensure a consistent supply of feedstock for all recycling technologies. Unfortunately, Judith Enck's version of EPR is counterproductive and would increase the use of materials which increase carbon emissions in critical applications. Her approach should be flatly rejected if we are committed to improving the systems needed to accelerate the circularity of plastics."