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Recycling was a lie — a big lie — to sell more plastic, industry experts say

daftandbarmy

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Virtue signallers' heads exploding in 3.... 2.... 1....




In the '80s, the industry was at the centre of an environmental backlash. Fearing an outright ban on plastics, manufacturers looked for ways to get ahead of the problem. They looked at recycling as a way to improve the image of their product and started labeling plastics with the now ubiquitous chasing-arrows symbol with a number inside.

According to Ronald Liesemer, an industry veteran who was tasked with overseeing the new initiative, "Making recycling work was a way to keep their products in the marketplace."

Most consumers might have assumed the symbol meant the product was recyclable. But according to experts in the film, there was no economically viable way to recycle most plastics, and they have ultimately ended up in a landfill. This included plastic films, bags and the wrapping around packaged goods, as well as containers like margarine tubs.

"Our own customers … they would flat out say, 'It says it's recyclable right on it,'" says Coy Smith, former board member of the National Recycling Coalition. "And I'd be like, 'I can tell you, I can't give this away. There's no one that would even take it if I paid them to take it.'" He believes manufacturers used the symbol as a green marketing tool.

"If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they're not going to be as concerned about the environment," says Larry Thomas, another top industry official interviewed in Plastic Wars.

According to Lewis Freeman, a former vice-president with the Society of the Plastics Industry, many in the industry had doubts about recycling from the start. "There was never an enthusiastic belief that recycling was ultimately going to work in a significant way," he says.

Yet the plastic industry spent millions on ads selling plastics and recycling to consumers.

To solve the plastic waste problem, many recyclers started selling their product to China in the 1990s. According to recycling broker Sunil Bagaria, China took waste that North American recyclers couldn't use. "As long as it remotely resembled plastic, they wanted it," he says.

But they used the good stuff and disposed of the rest. And because of a growing plastic waste problem in that country, China finally stopped taking most imported plastic waste in 2018.

"We never asked the question, 'Are they doing it the right way? Are we damaging the environment more in the name of recycling?'" says Bagaria.

Now, Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia have picked up the plastic waste market. And although some North American plastics recyclers are following up to ensure their products are in fact being recycled, plastic waste is now a growing problem there, too.

According to Plastic Wars the problem is only going to get worse. By 2050, it's estimated the global production of plastic will triple. As the oil and gas industry — which provides the source materials for plastics — faces a future of declining demand for fuel, it has turned to other markets.

The stakes are high, says Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA. "This is their lifeline," she says. "They are going to double down on single-use plastic like we have never seen. So we're heading towards a real battle.... This is the big war."


 

Brad Sallows

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Gee, you'd think someone would've detected and mentioned several times in past years that plastic was just going into landfalls. CBC - all the news that's new.
 

Kirkhill

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We stop manufacturing in the West.
We stop burning coal, oil and gas
We stop producing energy
We stop producing CO2
We stop working

We buy stuff from China.

China buys coal, oil and gas.
China burns coal, oil and gas.
China produces energy
China produces CO2
China works

The stuff we buy from China is made from plastic and is wrapped in plastic
We send the plastic back to China
China dumps the plastic in landfills
Landfills overflow
Plastic floats down river to the oceans
Plastics get caught in ocean eddies.

Meanwhile.

In Sweden.



 

Brad Sallows

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Burning plastics is a waste of resources. At least in landfills, plastics have been somewhat set aside for future use.
 

Kirkhill

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Burning plastics means that the oil is used twice. Once for containment. Once for energy. It increases the value of the oil and decreases the cost of energy.

Preuse. Not Reuse.

And if the energy is released by an incinerator in a Combined Heat and Power plant, with district hot water heating, as it is in Sweden you now have a highly efficient fossil fuel energy chain.
 

Colin Parkinson

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Likely the plastic industry did exactly what was asked of it: "Come up with a system to identify types of plastics so recyclers and users can identify them". The problem is in the identifiers, the numbers are often impossible to read so people see the shape and assume it's recyclable. It should have been a shape and number system. So a easily and common recycleable plastic gets the triangled arrows, others that can be recycled with effort get a diamond. Ones that cannot get a box or an X.
 

Blackadder1916

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The piece seems to be primarily about North America . . . fat, lazy, lowest common denominator North America. Yes, we throw away without consideration tons of plastics along with lots of other materials into our garbage. It's only when the piles get too deep or too expensive do we hem and haw about "doing something". I was surprised (and a little annoyed at first) when I was posted to Germany over three decades ago by the hoops I had to jump through to sort, clean (yes, clean) and reduce my garbage. Screw the enormous different colour bins (which can just as easily be ignored as used properly) that most Canadian cities have adopted within the last few years. The Germans (in their Teutonic methodical manner) had already established their recycling and waste disposal protocols years before. And if you didn't properly sort or included the smallest item that wasn't allowed, a fine was readily forthcoming or, if a frequent violator, the suspension of your garbage collection service. Even when we Canadians made an effort to follow their rules, Canadian PMQ garbage was subject to an additional fee because it was sent to a pre-sort before mixing with good German garbage. And don't get me started about hospital waste. Probably one of the biggest incentives for reducing plastics (and paper) in packaging was the requirement in some German jurisdictions (noticed it more when I was posted to Baden) that if a store sold a packaged item they were responsible for the collection and disposal of the packaging - you returned the empty and cleaned packaging to that outlet; they normally had labeled bins outside the store.
 

daftandbarmy

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Meanwhile, yet more 'inconvenient truths' for the Chattering Classes:

Scooping Plastic Out of the Ocean Is a Losing Game​

Open ocean cleanups won’t solve the marine plastics crisis. To really make a difference, here’s what we should do instead.​


A garbage truck turns off the road, engine rumbling, brakes wheezing, and the smell of rot trailing in its wake. The truck stops short and starts to reverse—beep, beep, beeping down a boat launch. With salt water lapping at its rear tires it stops, opens its tailgate, and dumps its load of cups, straws, bottles, shopping bags, fishing buoys, and nets.

A minute later, this plastic waste is floating away on a journey to pollute the ocean and poison the food chain. As the garbage truck drives away it passes another truck preparing to back down the ramp. And another pulling into the marina—one of an endless stream of garbage trucks, each lining up to dump its own load of plastics.

It doesn’t happen like this, of course, but eight million tonnes of plastic does end up in the ocean every year—the equivalent of a garbage truck’s–worth every minute. And the rate is increasing. If nothing changes, the amount of plastic sloshing around the ocean could double in 10 years. By 2050, that mass of plastic could exceed the weight of all the fish in the sea.

The costs to society and the environment are huge. A study by the consultancy firm Deloitte shows that, every year, up to 1,000,000 seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die after ingesting or being entangled by plastic. Microscopic bits of plastic are working their way up the food chain, including in the seafood we eat. Plastic floating around the ocean carries invasive species that compete with or prey on native species. And when it washes onto beaches, plastic pollution affects tourism and devalues real estate. In its examination for 2018, Deloitte pegged the price of ocean plastic pollution at US $6-billion to $19-billion. That’s cheap compared with another study, which calculated the cost at up to $2.5-trillion per year, or $33,000 per tonne. None of that accounts for plastic’s costs to human health. Yet along its production cycle from oil and gas refining to use and disposal, plastic produces chemical emissions that have been linked to hormone disruption and cancer.

It’s enough to motivate teenage entrepreneurs, philanthropists, corporations, nonprofit organizations, governments, university students, and afflicted communities around the world to take action. Their ideas are seemingly as diverse as the species living in the sea: a Korean program pays fishermen to collect plastic at sea. In Baltimore, Maryland, the cartoonish Mr. Trash Wheel skims up to 17 tonnes of garbage out of the city’s harbor in a day. Inspired by the plankton-filtering ways of the whale shark, Singapore-based Drone Solutions created the WasteShark, an autonomous drone that sucks up floating bits of plastic in harbors. Chinese and Australian researchers are exploring the potential to use nanotechnology to pull microplastics out of the water in wastewater treatment facilities. Other efforts range from collecting old nets at harbors, to making plastic itself a currency to incentivize its collection, to using multimillion-dollar booms to skim plastic from the ocean’s surface, to volunteers diving to the seafloor to clean it up. There’s little doubt these efforts are well intentioned. But they are not all equal.

There is a harsh reality that all of us concerned with the mounting ocean plastic problem must confront: the vast majority of the plastic in the ocean is too small or too out of reach to ever be cleaned up. It is suspended in the water column, settled on the ocean floor, or degraded into microscopic particles that are difficult to detect, let alone collect.

That realization is vital. With the plastic pollution problem growing increasingly dire, and with so many potential solutions on offer—all competing for limited funding, resources, and public support—it is more urgent than ever to focus on the approaches that are most likely to succeed.



 
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