Past, present, and possible future policies on plastic use in the United States, particularly microplastics and nanoplastics: A review

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Sorensen, Rachel M.
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© 2022 The Authors
Kanwar, Rameshwar
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Jovanovic, Boris
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology seeks to teach the studies of ecology (organisms and their environment), evolutionary theory (the origin and interrelationships of organisms), and organismal biology (the structure, function, and biodiversity of organisms). In doing this, it offers several majors which are codirected with other departments, including biology, genetics, and environmental sciences.

The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology was founded in 2003 as a merger of the Department of Botany, the Department of Microbiology, and the Department of Zoology and Genetics.

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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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As the levels of plastic use in global society have increased, it has become crucial to regulate plastics of all sizes including both microplastics (MPs) and nanoplastics (NPs). Here, the published literature on the current laws passed by the US Congress and regulations developed by various federal agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that could be used to regulate MPs and NPs have been reviewed and analyzed. Statutes such as the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Clean Air Act can all be used to address plastic pollution. These statutes have not been invoked for MP and NP waste in water or air. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act provides guidance on how the FDA should evaluate plastics use in food, food packaging, cosmetics, drug packaging, and medical devices. The FDA has recommended that acceptable levels of ingestible contaminant from recycled plastic are less than 1.5 µg/person/day, which is 476 000 times less than the possible ingested daily dose. Plastic regulation is present at the state level. States have banned plastic bags, and several cities have banned plastic straws. California is the only state beginning to focus on monitoring MPs in drinking water. The future of MP regulation in the USA should use TSCA to test the safety of plastics. The other statutes need to include MPs in their definitions. For the FDA, MPs should be redefined as contaminants—allowing tolerances to be set for MPs in food and beverages. Through minor changes in how MPs are classified, it is possible to begin to use the current statutes to understand and begin to minimize the possible effects of MPs on human health and the environment.
This article is published as Sorensen, Rachel M., Rameshwar S. Kanwar, and Boris Jovanović. "Past, Present, and Possible Future Policies on Plastic Use in the USA, Particularly Microplastics and Nanoplastics: A Review." Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (2022). doi:10.1002/ieam.4678. Posted with permission.

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