In an article published on July 20, 2019 by news organization The Intercept, author Sharon Lerner critically discusses a range of aspects related to plastics including increasing production, consumer perception, recently developed regulations, and perspectives shared by plastic industry representatives and initiatives. The article describes the growth of plastics since early uses in the 1960s through the rapid expansion in applications seen today. Lerner specifically calls into question the effectiveness of plastic recycling, especially in the United States, and the long history of exporting much of its plastic waste to China (FPF reported). “In 2015, the U.S. recycled about 9 percent of its plastic waste, and since then the number has dropped even lower. The vast majority of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced — 79 percent — has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world.” She writes that “the practice [of sending U.S. plastic waste to China for recycling] has served to both mask the mounting crisis and absolve U.S. consumers of guilt. But in fact, much of the ‘recycled’ plastic scrap that the U.S. sent to China appears to have been burned or buried instead of being refashioned into new products.”
The article goes on to discuss the many recent “taxes, bans, and fees on plastic products [that] have been catching on around the world.” In response, Patty Long, interim president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, is reported as saying during an industry conference that “it had been a tough year, in which some 376 anti-plastics bills were introduced, and the perception of the plastics industry has continued to ‘spiral down exponentially.’” Lerner then summarizes efforts the industry is taking in response to this change in perception.
In response to recent initiatives from brands to address their use of plastic, Lerner appears skeptical. “Starbucks, for instance, has lavished praise on itself for its ‘recyclable lid’ rolling out in six cities this summer [(FPF reported)], which the company predicted will eliminate a billion straws. But because the lids are made from polypropylene (also known as No. 5 plastic), and there is very little market for recycled polypropylene, that number has no basis in reality.” Similar efforts from restaurants such as Taco Bell and recycling initiatives such as How2Recycle are criticized. Referring to plastics in the conclusion of the article, Lerner writes that “the only real question about the proliferation of a product we know to be heating the planet, amassing all around and within us, and poisoning water and air around the world, is what new techniques its producers will adopt to make it seem fine.”
On July 18, 2019, the U.S. industry association the American Chemistry Council (ACC) published a press release highlighting the industry’s interest in working to create legislation that “will help end plastic waste in the environment.” Part of the statement reads: “America’s plastics makers are partnering with government, scientists and non-profit organizations to develop solutions to help end plastic waste, such as by designing new products for greater recyclability, and by increasing technologies and systems to collect and repurpose more of our plastic resources. We’ve established a goal of making all plastic packaging in the United States recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and for all plastic packaging to be reused, recycled or recovered by 2040.”
Sharon Lerner (July 20, 2019). “Waste only: How the plastics industry is fighting to keep polluting the world.” The Intercept