The Plastic Industry Scam: Recycling

Image source: City of Greenville, North Carolina, via Flickr.

Plastic waste is now all around us in the form of small particles in our air, water, and food, with many unknown effects to our bodies and our ecosystems. Additionally, the production of plastics is responsible for about 3.3% of global emissions each year. Oil and gas are needed to create petrochemicals, so the fossil fuel industry has a vested interest in growing the production of plastic. The UN projects that without urgent action, the global production of plastic will triple by 2060.

This February, the Center for Climate Integrity published a document exposing the lies surrounding plastic recycling that oil and gas companies used to justify producing more plastic. The report details that, since the 1950s, the plastics industry has been trying to convince the public that plastic is disposable in order to continue manufacturing the material at increasing rates. In fact, the majority of plastics cannot be recycled – as of 2021, only 5-6% of all plastic is recycled in the U.S.

As far back as 1992, the scientists for plastic, oil, and gas companies were well aware of the problem. In their own words: “the basic issue is economics.” That is, the cost to recycle plastic is actually more than the cost to produce new plastic. Despite knowing the disastrous environmental damage done by plastic waste, companies used recycling only as a public relations campaign while knowing that the majority of plastic would be burned, put in landfills, or littered.

Oil and gas companies like Exxon and Shell say that they are continuing to fund “advanced recycling,” a term to describe breaking down plastics using chemicals. However, a study found that the majority of those plants are non-functional and too small of scale to address even a small fraction of the plastic being produced.

The fossil fuel industry has a reason to lie at the expense of the environment and our health: their profit! They would rather fund a campaign they know is full of lies than slow down their new production of plastic makes them rich while polluting our world.