Lisa Kaas Boyle, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and a board chair at Heal the Bay — a Southern California environmental lobbying group — contributed a column last week blasting the plastics industry on HuffingtonPost.com.
The post, “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 News readers can see what a leading critic thinks of industry efforts to fight plastic bans and taxes by pushing for more recycling.
Boyle wrote: “At the center of [the American Chemistry Council'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 [single-use products] 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.
“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.
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.
Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News and the author of The Plastics Blog.