A couple of good articles have crossed my Twitter feed in the past week. (Follow @TrashFreeMD for regular updates!)
First, our friends in Oregon are working to pass a statewide bag ban. This effort follows on a successful campaign to ban plastic bags in Portland. Sightline Daily posted a story last week, Three (Unexpected) Reasons to Support Oregon’s Plastic Bag Ban. Among several good points, the article describes the problem bags are for recyclers. That’s right–while industry opponents claim we can solve the state’s litter problem by just increasing recycling, the people who actually do the recycling say the bags cost them money:
Closer to home, plastic bags have been a real problem for recyclers. The bags clog up recycling machinery so badly that one Oregon-based recycler recently estimated that 20 to 30 percent of their total labor costs were related to plastic bags — pulling them from the rest of the recycling stream, untangling them from their equipment, and stopping all work when bags clog up the machines — and about 7 percent of otherwise recyclable paper has to be landfilled because of plastic contamination. So plastic bags in the recycling stream likely undermine the effectiveness of recycling efforts overall.
The second article comes from the Earth Island Journal and its blog, the EnvironmentaList. Writer Amy Westervelt examines the parallels between the campaigns waged by Big Tobacco in the 80s and 90s, and the campaigns mounted now by “Big Plastic,” namely the American Chemistry Council and other lobbyists representing plastics manufacturers. Big Plastic is filing lawsuits to fight successful legislation efforts, pushing for de minimus clauses in regulatory legislation like limits on BPA content in baby bottles, and pushing for citizen’s “rights” to a product that ultimately harms them and the world around them.
But Big Plastic’s other tactic is more insidious: using environmental messaging to continue a wasteful and toxic practice of continued consumption of single-use plastics.
There are several examples of this, but the most insidious are the industry’s use of recycling as a justification for the continued use of disposable plastics, and its sponsorship of various research expeditions and conferences around ocean plastic pollution (which it euphemistically calls “marine debris”).
The American Chemistry Council was one of the lead sponsors of last week’s 5th International Marine Debris Conference, a gathering of 400 professionals and activists seeking ways to prevent ever more trash from collecting in our oceans’ gyres and on our coastlines. While they purported to support efforts to reduce this pollution, they also took to Twitter to attack data from Washington, DC’s bag fee experience.
Of course they don’t want to reduce our use of plastics any more than Philip Morris wanted us to buy fewer cigarettes. But by appearing to be socially responsible, whether through sponsoring these events or providing ashtrays to community groups, they both can blunt some of the criticism they’ve earned for propagating dangerous products.