The Problem with Plastics
Every day, disposable plastics (bottles, bags, packaging, utensils, etc.) are thrown away in huge quantities after one use, but they will last virtually forever. Globally we make 300 million tons of plastic waste each year. Disposable plastics are the largest component of ocean pollution. While Fresh Kills Landfill in New York was once known as the planet’s largest man-made structure, with a volume greater than the Great Wall of China and a height exceeding the Statue of Liberty, our oceans are now known to contain the world’s largest dumps. These unintended landfills in our seas may cover millions of square miles and are composed of plastic waste fragments, circling the natural vortexes of the oceans like plastic confetti being flushed in giant toilets.
Plastics are made from petroleum; there is less and less available, and we are going to tragic lengths to get at it as evidenced in oil spills around the globe with loss of life and habitat. Should we be risking life and limb for single use-bags and plastic bottles that can easily be replaced with sustainable alternatives? Should we be risking our food chain as plastic fragments become more plentiful than plankton in our oceans? Should we be exposing our fetuses, babies and children to the endocrine disrupting chemicals that leach out of plastic food containers into our food and drink? These questions and their answers are exactly what the plastics lobby wants you to avoid.
Plastic Industry Tactics: Aggression and Distraction
The Plastics Industry has been forced into a new position in order to preserve its global market. It is no longer enough to pitch affordability and convenience of their products when consumers are concerned about being poisoned by the chemicals in plastics and are tired of seeing more plastic bags than flowers on the roadside.
Every legislative restriction on plastics defeated by the industry and every consumer mollified into believing that using disposable plastics is a sustainable practice means the continuation of enormous global profits for industry. The petrochemical BPA, a hardening agent used in plastics that was developed first as a synthetic estrogen, alone generates 6 billion dollars in sales for the American petrochemical industry. As preeminent endocrine researcher Dr. Frederick Vom Saal observed: “If information [about toxics in plastic] had been known at the time that this chemical was first put into commerce, it would not have been put into commerce…. but because it already is in commerce, and chemical industries have a huge stake in maintaining their market share using this chemical, how do they now respond to evidence that it really is not a chemical that you would want your baby to be exposed to? [The industry] is still in the attack phase.”
In a modern Goliath versus David story, a large American plastic bag manufacturer, Hilex Poly, recently filed a lawsuit against Chico Bags, a small American reusable bag manufacturer, for interfering with their plastic bag trade. An industry-backed group called “Save the Plastic Bag” has sued several jurisdictions in America to prevent bans or fees on plastic bags. And a plastic bag ban in the State of Oregon was recently defeated because legislators were convinced by the industry that Oregon needed to put more resources into recycling plastic bags.
Environmental Groups like the global non-profit Plastic Pollution Coalition are working to expose the myths perpetuated by the plastics industry to defend their products and refute responsibility. Here are the top myths being pushed by the plastics lobby:
Myth # 1: Recycling Plastic Reduces the Use of Virgin Plastic
Metals, glass and paper are truly recyclable; they can be remade in the same form with no new materials needed. Not so with plastic. The process of melting plastics for recycling them weakens their polymer bonds. Virgin plastic must be added to the degraded plastic to make new products. So recycling plastics just increases the demand for more virgin petrochemical product. No wonder the plastics industry pushes recycling! Plastic pollution activist, journalist and communications director for 5Gyres.org, Stiv Wilson recently conversed with Mark Daniels of Hilex Poly, the Goliath plastic bag company that is suing reusable bag maker Andy Keller of Chico Bags. Wilson confronted Daniels with the following facts and got a surprising answer:
You can’t make a bag out of a bag. At present, available technology only allows for 30% post consumer high density polyethylene (HDPE) to be added to the next generation of bag because the recycling process weakens polymer chains needed for a new bag’s structural integrity. This translates to 70% virgin material being added to the next generation of bags. Which means every time you recycle one bag, you net 3.3 new bags. And every time you recycle 3.3 bags, you will then net 10. And so on and so on to infinity. Finally, I asked him, “Mark, is it a fair statement that the product of recycling plastic is more plastic in the world, not less?” His answer, “Yes.”
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