The American Chemistry Council is denouncing plans by California's attorney general to investigate the plastics industry for misleading the public about recycling, and pushing back on the state's portrayal of the industry.
Attorney General Rob Bonta surprised the industry April 28 with an announcement that his office would be subpoenaing ExxonMobil Chemical Co. and other companies over recycling practices, but ACC is calling the move a distraction that could delay progress.
"We strongly disagree with the portrayal of our industry by Attorney General Bonta," said Joshua Baca, ACC's vice president of plastics, in a statement. "Rather than losing time and resources responding to misleading portrayals of our industry and misguided initiatives that delay real progress, we want to remain focused on ongoing efforts to improve plastics recycling and provide meaningful results."
Bonta pointed to documents from industry archives and media reports that he said show the industry knew that plastics recycling was unlikely to be a comprehensive solution to plastics waste. And he said he believed subpoenas will produce more information.
"Enough is enough," Bonta said. "For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis."
Supporters of the effort compared it to investigations by state attorneys general to probe oil companies over what they knew about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and to examine tobacco companies over what they knew about smoking and public health
ACC issued its April 29 statement to expand on more general comments it made in response to Bonta's announcement on April 28. ExxonMobil issued a similar statement.
The Washington-based plastics industry group pointed to policy positions it's taken in the last year, such as endorsing laws that would mandate 30 percent recycled content in plastic products by 2030 and create extended producer responsibility systems in the U.S. that in general require companies to fund more recycling infrastructure.
"ACC is proactively engaged in various states advocating in support of new policies that would require producers to help fund recycling efforts, require use of recycled plastic in new packaging and advance new technologies to help keep plastics out of the environment," the group said. "As we've repeatedly emphasized, plastics belong in our economy, not our environment."
It also pointed to its support of a legally binding global agreement on plastics pollution, and it said that plastics are "critical" to California meeting sustainability goals by making cars more fuel efficient, enabling technology like solar panels and by better insulating homes.
Bonta's investigation also attracted attention in Washington, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., suggesting an investigation with legal powers from a state could produce new information.
"Oh my, what a difference being under oath makes!" Whitehouse wrote on Twitter. "Thank goodness for courts and discovery!!"
He said plastics recycled content levels are too low.
"Here's the backstory: single-use plastics average a whopping 2 percent recycled content," he wrote. "Over 90 percent of plastic never gets recycled. This scam must end and the fossil fuel/plastics industry must get serious at last about 'faux recycling.'"