Judith Enck has been working behind the scenes on plastic for decades. In 2009, US president Barack Obama appointed Enck the administrator of EPA’s Region 2, which covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and eight Indian Nations. She served in that position until president Donald Trump took office in 2017. Before that, Enck was the deputy secretary of the environment for New York’s governor, and before that, an advisor to the New York State attorney general. While she was on maternity leave from her job in the late 1980s, she managed to design her own small New York town’s recycling program. At each stage in her career, she watched as plastic waste grew from a trickle to a flood, and as governments failed to enact meaningful laws to address the problem.
Now, she’s working to change that situation—this time, from outside of the government. In January, Enck launched a project at Bennington College in Vermont, where she is now a senior fellow, with the goal of pushing for legislative changes that could end the global plastic pollution crisis. The project, called Beyond Plastics, works with local governments seeking to ban the biggest sources of single-use plastic pollution, or design better policies to manage it. Enck spends a lot of her time trying to explain to government staffers that recycling, despite what we’ve all been raised to believe, is not the solution to the plastic problem.