California will investigate whether fossil fuel companies have broken the law by perpetuating myths about recycling plastic, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced yesterday.
The investigation marks a new attempt to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for minimizing the damage its products inflict on the planet. California will investigate whether companies have misled consumers into thinking that recycling keeps plastic out of landfills and ecosystems, and whether they have broken any laws in the process.
The reality is that the vast majority of plastic… more than 90 percent of all the plastic ever made is never recycled.
“Enough is enough,” Bonta said in a Press release. “For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to mislead the public, perpetuating the myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis.”
Plastic is really hard to recycle (more than some other materials) and degrades each time it is repeated. That’s one of the reasons your plastic bottle is unlikely to turn into another bottle. If reused, it’s more likely to end up as fibers in carpets, which don’t require such high-quality plastic. And it often costs more to recycle plastic than it does to throw it away, burn it, or simply make more of it. new plastic.
Plastic manufacturers anticipated these problems with their products decades ago, according to 2020 research by NPR Y PBS first line, but promoted recycling as a viable solution to plastic waste anyway. “There are serious doubts that [recycling plastic] it can never be made viable on an economic basis,” an industry insider is quoted by the media as saying in a 1974 speech.
The popularity of plastic has skyrocketed in recent decades. The world produces about 200 times more plastic today than it did in the 1950s. The California investigation will investigate “the role of companies in perpetuating recycling myths and the extent to which this deception continues” and determine if their actions violated the law.
The state issued its first citation to ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest plastic producers. In an email to the edge, ExxonMobil operations media manager Julie King called Bonta’s remarks “meritless accusations” that “distract from the important collaborative work that is underway to improve waste management and improve circularity.”
Despite decades of failure with plastic recycling, many companies still try to sell consumers products that they say are more sustainable because they use recycled or “recyclable” plastic.
Take the “Plastic Mouse from the Ocean” that Microsoft published last year, in collaboration with the subsidiary Saudi Aramco (an oil company) Saudi Basic Industries Corporation. About 20 percent of the mouse shell is recycled plastic. But any benefit from using so much recycled material could be canceled out if the company sells 20 percent more products. Additionally, an active market for recycled plastic could keep the market for new plastics strong, as lower-quality recycled plastics are typically reinforced with virgin plastic. Recycling just can’t make our plastic addiction sustainable.
If companies like ExxonMobil knew this (like exxon knew from the beginning that fossil fuels would cause a climate crisis) and decided to use that misinformation anyway to entice customers, California could finally hold them accountable. Similary litigation they are still making their way through the court.