“Big Plastic” has been selling recycling for years despite “infeasibility.” Now, reducing and reusing are more important than ever

Big Oil knew about climate change 50 years ago. They lied to keep drilling and contributing to climate change, causing this ecosystem collapse we are now experiencing. This is one of the biggest deception campaigns in history.

Apparently, and not surprisingly, Big Plastics did the same, just with recycling.

A new investigation by NPR and PBS has uncovered the truth about the plastics industry.

Starting in the late 1980s, the plastics industry spent tens of millions of dollars promoting recycling through ads, recycling projects and public relations, telling people plastic could be and should be recycled.

But their own internal records dating back to the 1970s show that industry officials long knew that recycling plastic on a large scale was unlikely to ever be economically viable.


Sound familiar?

The story is completely parallel to what happened when journalists uncovered the #ExxonKnew story (you can learn more here, or sign up for weekly emails from EXXONKNEWS (which my team helps produce!)).

And as a reminder, plastic is oil, and a surge of new production is on the way.

So to recap, they knew, they lied, and they kept doing it anyway — for profit.

Some things from this story really stand out to me:

“There was never an enthusiastic belief that recycling was ultimately going to work in a significant way.”

As with oil and gas, instead of take this opportunity to make a better world, they continued to produce plastic to cover their bottom line — probably in the name of “convenience.”

In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled.

…. I really have nothing to say about this, other than I KNEW IT. See my first blog post where I go into detail about this.

The more plastic is recycled, the less money the industry will make selling new plastic. And those profits have become increasingly important. 

Only because their bottom line is now threatened by things like divestment, protests, and the like! In order to cover these losses, they need to make them up by making more plastic.

The industry now produces many more different — and more complex — kinds of plastics that are more costly to sort and in many cases can’t be recycled at all.

I have said this time and time again. I have even blogged about it! We are not recycling as much as we thought we were, and even when we do recycle, nothing gets properly disposed of.

So, what now?

If you need to catch up on this, watch the documentary Plastic Wars on PBS. Read this article. Get mad.

And then get to reducing and reusing. Stop using plastic as much as you can. I have a million (ok, less than that!) articles on swaps you can make in your closet, your take-out orders, your online orders, your at-home meals, your coffee run (post-COVID—19), your bathroom, your online food purchases, and EVERY ROOM IN THE HOUSE.

We need to break free from plastic. Individual actions won’t save the planet. But they are extremely important for us to work on to get plastic out of our homes as much as possible.

Cover photo by maria mendiola on Unsplash.

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