Letter To The Editor: The Perils Of Plastic


For seven weeks this spring, I attended an online course on plastic pollution taught by Judith Enck, former EPA administrator during the Obama years.

Here are some key points:

  • Since 1950 nine billion tons of plastic have been produced, half of that in the last 19 years.
  • Less than 5 percent has been recycled.
  • The United States is the largest generator of plastic solid waste, by mass and per capita.
  • 99 percent of plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
  • Recycling was introduced in the 1970s by the plastics industry to shift responsibility for the alarming growth of solid waste onto the consumer.
  • 42 percent of plastic is used for packaging. The working life of a single-use bag is 15 minutes.
  • Plastic additives are used to add color and flexibility. These toxins leach into our food and make recycling virtually impossible.
  • Only one and two plastics are readily recycled – and those are downcycled into lesser quality products, not made into new 1 and 2 plastic items.
  • With the rise in alternative energy sources and decline in demand for fossil fuels, the industry is shifting to plastic production to remain lucrative.
  • The petrochemical industry strives to expand plastic production globally. They push back on plastic bans, often showing up in small communities or foreign countries to oppose restrictions on plastic.
  • The industry now promotes chemical recycling, a method to create new fossil fuel by heating plastic waste at very high temperatures. The process has a massive carbon footprint and is not actually considered recycling.
  • Most fossil fuel extraction, transportation, and processing happen in less affluent communities where above average rates of cancer and other illnesses occur.
  • Many countries around the world, eight states and dozens of cities within the US have enacted plastic ordinances of varying stringency.
  • The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was first introduced in 2020 by Senator Tom Udall and Representative Alan Lowenthal. The bill would shift responsibility for plastic waste onto manufacturers by creating a nationwide container refund program, mandating a temporary pause on construction of new plastic production plants, and eliminating certain single-use plastic products.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills are being introduced around the country to require that manufacturers cover the cost of recycling, among other measures.
  • Five ways to minimize plastic pollution in your life: drink tap water, buy food in glass or foil  containers, eat fresh foods, don’t assume your impact is limited to what you do in your personal life – work with your community. And vote.

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