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How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World

 
pollinator
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How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World by Sharon Lerner
"The students at Westmeade Elementary School worked hard on their dragon. And it paid off. The plastic bag receptacle that the kids painted green and outfitted with triangular white teeth and a “feed me” sign won the students from the Nashville suburb first place in a recycling box decorating contest. The idea, as Westmeade’s proud principal told a local TV news show, was to help the environment. But the real story behind the dragon — as with much of the escalating war over plastic waste — is more complicated.

The contest was sponsored by A Bag’s Life, a recycling promotion and education effort of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a lobbying group that fights restrictions on plastic. That organization is part of the Plastics Industry Association, a trade group that includes Shell Polymers, LyondellBasell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron Phillips, DowDuPont, and Novolex — all of which profit hugely from the continued production of plastics. And even as A Bag’s Life was encouraging kids to spread the uplifting message of cleaning up plastic waste, its parent organization, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, was backing a state bill that would strip Tennesseans of their ability to address the plastics crisis. The legislation would make it illegal for local governments to ban or restrict bags and other single-use plastic products — one of the few things shown to actually reduce plastic waste.

A week after Westmeade’s dragon won the contest, the APBA got its own reward: The plastic preemption bill passed the Tennessee state legislature. Weeks later, the governor signed it into law, throwing a wrench into an effort underway in Memphis to charge a fee for plastic bags. Meanwhile, A Bag’s Life gave the Westmeade kids who worked on the bag monster a $100 gift card to use “as they please.” And with that, a minuscule fraction of its vast wealth, the plastics industry applied a green veneer to its increasingly bitter and desperate fight to keep profiting from a product that is polluting the world.

A Bag’s Life is just one small part of a massive, industry-led effort now underway to suppress meaningful efforts to reduce plastic waste while keeping the idea of recycling alive. The reality of plastics recycling? It’s pretty much already dead. In 2015, the U.S. recycled about 9 percent of its plastic waste, and since then the number has dropped even lower. The vast majority of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced — 79 percent — has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world. And as for those plastic shopping bags the kids were hoping to contain: Less than 1 percent of the tens of billions of plastic bags used in the U.S. each year are recycled.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to properly dispose of the array of toys, single-use clamshells, bottles, bags, takeout containers, iced coffee cups, straws, sachets, yogurt tubs, pouches, candy bar wrappers, utensils, chip bags, toiletry tubes, electronics, and lids for everything that passes through our lives daily. We have to. But we are well past the point where the heartfelt efforts of schoolchildren or anyone else on the consumer end can solve the plastics problem. It no longer matters how many hoots we give. There is already way too much plastic that won’t decompose and ultimately has nowhere to go, whether it’s mashed into a dragon container or not."

LINK TO THE REST OF THE ARTICLE:
How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World by Sharon Lerner.
RECYCLING-sorting_recycling_material-_Waste_Management_Material_Recovery_Facility-_Elkridge-_Md.-_June_28-_2018_by_Saul_Loeb-_TheIntercept.com.jpg
[Thumbnail for RECYCLING-sorting_recycling_material-_Waste_Management_Material_Recovery_Facility-_Elkridge-_Md.-_June_28-_2018_by_Saul_Loeb-_TheIntercept.com.jpg]
Workers sort recycling material at the Waste Management Material Recovery Facility in Elkridge, Md., on June 28, 2018. Photo by Saul Loeb.
 
pollinator
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada -- Zone 5a
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Wow! That was an in-depth, well-articulated article on this issue. I learned so much that I didn't know. Highly recommended that anyone who cares about this issue take a look at this article.
 
gardener
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Waste is an amazing subject. There are so many vested interests from production to household disposal and collection. The plastics industry forces through legislation such as not being allowed to use wooden chopping boards so plastic coloured boards are used (come in sets of 5). Down the track, people are getting cancers from the micro plastic shards embedded in their bowel and the alleged bacterial infection from food handling has not improved. Prepackaged meat has to have tray inserts to catch myoglobin.

Pick ups: let’s sort garage into recycling. The money spinner here is getting more trucks on the road. Makes the punters feel good but lots of it is dumped allegedly due to contamination.

With smart electronics and optical scanning all rubbish can be reused, recycled or repurposed.

Some years ago an ex politician asked to but all NSW waste. His plan was to convert 100% of all household waste to usable products with nothing to dump. The Government of the day flatly refused.  Too many political noses in the trough💰💰😡
 
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I used to show this to my kids I taught, right after I scared the crap out of them for buying chips (aluminum foil coated with polypropylene!!!) for lunch at the school cafeteria...gotta love Jeremy Irons's voice.

 
Posts: 128
Location: Baja California, Mexico (zone 11, I think)
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On my recent trip to Baja California, I drove by mounds and mounds of old plastic from agriculture use. Since I was driving close to them, I couldn’t really capture the full view. It was just so moving... much like seeing pictures of the plastic pollutions all over the world and in bodies of water (though this was on such a smaller scale.)

The problem is so big and expansive I sometimes feel like what can I, as an individual really do? I really like Rob Green’s demonstration of wearing his trash for a month https://www.robgreenfield.org/Trashme/

But can we as individual consumers really make a big enough difference against large corporations? I guess we feel we can since we are here on permies.

Sometimes I get pumped about going completely zero waste and going out of my way to be plastic free and other times... I feel like what’s the use... my small choices can’t possibly be making big enough differences...

What do you guys do to fight the plastic pollution? How do you stick with it?

I really hope to bring some aspects of permaculture to Baja in the near future, even if it’s just to individual backyards. My friend who is in her 70’s or 80’s told me that when she grew up in Mexico, plastics & disposables were not really a thing. Shop keepers expected for people to bring their own containers and pre made food items were wrapped in plant materials like banana leaves.

I’ve never seen so much daily single use plastic and styrofoam waste, as I’ve seen right now during Covid in order to comply with sanitation guidelines.

Bea Johnson writes about finding hair ties everywhere https://zerowastehome.com/2013/11/12/ponytail-holder-update/ This last year is the year of finding lots of single use face-masks everywhere.
561EC2D1-AC4D-4EDE-B5CC-FE635481D495.jpeg
Plastic mounds
Plastic mounds
 
pollinator
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I agree wholeheartedly with movements concerned with making the plastic and packaging manufacturers, as well as the product manufacturers, directly responsible for their plastic pollution. It's another example of industry "creating externalities" like pollution and added social costs to make their "profit."

I watched an enthralling documentary a couple years back at a festival here in Toronto called WaterDocs, water ecology-themed documentaries from around the globe that year. My favourite was one out of Peterborough, Ontario, talking about their turtle ambulance and clinic. But the one that's relevant here had to do with plastic pollution of the Ganges River of India. The main observation was that it seemed that so much plastic made its way into the waterways that fed into the Ganges because plastic packaging was generations new in some locales, where the previous standard had been only biological wrappers, sometimes only the rind or skin on the fruit, or suitably large leaves. When these are thrown away, they result in soil. Obviously, the new wrappings don't fit with the traditional method to dealing with garbage.

I am comforted by companies that are using pressboard and mycology to make new, completely biodegradable shipping materials. We try to keep in mind that Recycle is the last of the three Rs for good reason, and that it's better to choose brands that don't give you a bunch of plastic to dispose of when you've used their product. Mostly, my much better half and I make food from scratch, which can be bought entirely without plastic if we're careful. We try to keep as much of our money as possible away from buying plastic, directly or indirectly, much as we do with palm oil products, or produce from countries with systemic food standard issues.

There's so much plastic, and so many snouts in the trough, as has been mentioned, that change is difficult, so no single-pronged approach will do much more than dent the issue. But if we all take one, or as many as we can fit into improving our individual lives, and do so collectively, we can change the economics of the situation. We already have, to some extent, in some regions.

We need to do much more, I feel. I don't think that I am exaggerating when I suggest that it would be a good idea to build artificial islands made up of floating plastic pollution where their components freely float right now in garbage gyres in every ocean on the planet. These islands could be used to support efforts to strain more garbage out of the gyres, probably for appropriately high-temperature incineration such that dioxins aren't formed, to generate power for the formation of an artificial  biorock reefberg, alongside solar, wind, and wave generation. Alternately, bioreactors featuring organisms that metabolise plastics into their biological base components could create soil.

The scary thing I foresee is that the only way to deal with microplastics escaped into the environment will be to find more microorganisms that have evolved to metabolise plastics and to engineer organisms with those traits that allow them to thrive on plastics in the larger biosphere.

-CK
 
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Alana Rose wrote:
Sometimes I get pumped about going completely zero waste and going out of my way to be plastic free and other times... I feel like what’s the use... my small choices can’t possibly be making big enough differences...



I find that *visible* individual actions can have a compounding effect. Two examples from my own life:

1. My supermarket started wrapping some vegetables in plastic wrap that had previously been unwrapped. Things like rutabaga and cabbage that absolutely doesn't need wrapping. Every single time I caught a poor employee in the fruits and vegetables section, I politely asked why they had started that new policy, and explained (also politely) that it was really sad because that meant I would no longer buy that product at that place.  And they would mumble something about keeping fresher longer and "that's what consumers want". So I'd pass up the rutabaga/cabbage and move on with the rest of my groceries. I'm not sure if I was the only one complaining, but last year they invested in containers and serving utensils for a lot of their veggies, and now not only the cabbage and rutabaga are sold unwrapped, but so are lots of other veggies like beans and zucchini. So now not only the "zero-waste freaks" like me get their veggies unwrapped, but so do all the other customers.

2. Pre-pandemic (now it's trickier...), I would bring my own container to the deli/butcher. I was always very welcome (it saves them costs and they are as sorry as I am to be creating waste), and I often got a very positive response from other customers. I always make sure to add a "non-virtuous" reason why this is a superior method, like "It saves me so much time - I don't need to transfer it in another container after it's opened. " or "I hate dealing with plastic wrap full of marinade. It's so much neater to bring my Tupperware right to the BBQ!". Virtue only goes so far, but I truly believe that some of the "convenience" we were sold was actually a marketing ploy to sell us some inferior stuff (The best example of that is disposable razors and cartridge blades. Try an old-fashioned double-blade safety razor, and you'll realize that you've been paying 25x the price for a truly inferior shave your entire life)
 
Kena Landry
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That said, we have to be careful not to let zero-waste get in the way of more substantial lifestyle changes.

Plastic waste is a very visible problem, but climate change is a far more critical threat to our survival as a species. If you drive 10 miles to go to the zero-waste store in another town, you're not doing the environment a service (you can make A LOT of plastic packaging from 10 miles worth of fuel).

It's not always easy to make those kind of calculations on our own, but generally, I try to act on the big three: transportation, food and reducing consumer goods (my electricity is 100% hydro, which is not zero-carbon but far less than coal or natural gas. But if it's not your case, that would be your big 4th).

The rest of my efforts are more like keeping kosher: these are things I do as reminders, throughout my day, of how I'm part of something bigger than myself. They are also a way of teaching values to my kids (for whom zero-waste efforts are more tangible, and on which they have some control).

But on the day where my life is a total chaos, I'm going to get back to the essential Three, perhaps putting a wrapped granola bar in my girls' lunch as I rush through the morning routine, but insisting on walking to school.
 
I got this tall by not having enough crisco in my diet as a kid. This ad looks like it had plenty of shortening:
The Infusinator - New Kickstarter Campaign!
https://permies.com/t/170288/Infusinator-Kickstarter-Campaign
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