The [American Chemistry Council] spends millions to defend the chemicals produced by their members to make plastics. They have hired the same advisors who defended the tobacco industry to formulate a strategy to promote and defend the petrochemical industry. If measured by the difficulty in passing legislation to curtail SUPs [single-use plastics], and the positive press generated on the issue of plastic recycling, the strategy seems to be working. At the center of ACC's strategy is its promotion of recycling as the solution to plastic pollution. This band-aid approach allows the industry to look environmental while continuing with business as usual, making SUPs out of virgin -- not recycled -- petrochemicals. The ACC knows well that only 5-7 percent of plastics are recycled, and that this figure will probably not grow substantially. However, SUPs, the majority of plastics, are not designed to be recycled. Instead, SUPs are designed and promoted to be used on the go, and to be dumped whenever and wherever their contents are consumed. Even if SUPs are discarded into a recycling container, they are often contaminated by food waste and rendered unsuitable for recycling, or made of a type of plastic that have no recycling infrastructure. Spending relatively little on promoting recycling plastics offers a big public relations payoff with no real threat to an industry that earns billions pushing SUPs as the foundation of our throw-away consumer culture. The ACC also knows that even if more plastics are recycled, there is not a big market for recycled plastic. It is usually cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin petrochemical material. Furthermore, the downgraded recycled by-product is routinely sent overseas to China, where it may also end up in a dump or incinerated, after the most recyclable fraction is "cherry picked" out. In short, recycling will never put the ACC members out of business.Boyle calls ACC's effort a "cynical strategy." Her description sounds awfully cynical to me. There is a big, healthy market for recycled plastics (North American recyclers often complain that they can't get enough raw material). Recycled plastics are rarely more expensive than virgin resin. I agree that recycling won't put ACC members out of business -- but is that really the goal? There's a place for virgin resin, and a place for recycled resin. Often the materials compete. Sometimes I'm frustrated when I see virgin resin win markets that seem natural for recycled plastics. But that's a matter of consumer preference, not chemical industry conspiracies. Boyle didn't say this, but I will -- some industry-sponsored efforts to boost recycling have been too weak. But the plastics industry doesn't deserve all of the blame for standing in the way of good ideas like bottle deposits. Grocers, soft-drink companies and water bottlers have been the roadblocks. That's another column ... but perhaps it's time for ACC and others in the industry to realize that plastics will continue to shoulder the blame for litter and marine debris problems because the plastics industry hasn't done enough to push its customers to take more responsibility for single-use disposables. The column concludes by urging readers to refuse to use single-use plastics. Boyle writes: "Instead, bring your own shopping and produce bags to the market. Use reusable bottles. Bring your own containers for take-out or ask for non-plastic disposable packaging." Nothing wrong with that. In fact, some consumers seem to be catching on to the "use less stuff" lifestyle -- just check the latest trends in bottled water sales for proof.
Is recycling a 'cynical strategy'?
Lisa Kaas Boyle, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and a board chair at Heal the Bay, contributed a column that blasts the plastics industry today on HuffingtonPost.com. The post, titled "Recycling Plastic: What a Waste," ties together a couple of issues -- concerns about chemicals including bisphenol A and phthalates, and litter-related issues including marine debris. I thought it was worth sharing the column so Plastics Blog readers can see what she thinks of industry efforts to fight plastic bans and taxes by pushing for more recycling:
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