🎧 How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled (Planet Money)

Listened Text-Only NPR.org : How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled from NPR

Last year, Planet Money ran a show about why it doesn’t make sense economically and, heartbreakingly, even environmentally to recycle plastic. But if recycling most plastic is not working now — and if it didn’t work 30 years ago when the numbers and arrows first popped up — did it ever work? And why did it take us so long to learn the truth? In this episode, NPR reporter Laura Sullivan, with the support of PBS’s Frontline, sets out to find out who is responsible.

And what she finds is a paper trail — crinkled-up documents (that apparently did not get recycled) long forgotten in old boxes. And the trail leads, well, to a guy on a beach in Florida.

Laura Sullivan explores how recyclable plastic actually is and why we are having this conversation. The reality is much of what we think is ‘recyclable’ is in fact not. As Sullivan uncovers, the oil industry led a campaign to have the recyclable symbol added to all products. The intent was to confuse costumers into thinking that everything was in fact recyclable, therefore they did not need to worry about the environmental impact of it all.

In the early 1990s, at a small recycling facility near San Diego, a man named Coy Smith was one of the first to see the industry’s new initiative.

Back then, Smith ran a recycling business. His customers were watching the ads and wanted to recycle plastic. So Smith allowed people to put two plastic items in their bins: soda bottles and milk jugs. He lost money on them, he says, but the aluminum, paper and steel from his regular business helped offset the costs.

But then, one day, almost overnight, his customers started putting all kinds of plastic in their bins.

“The symbols start showing up on the containers,” he explains.

Industry documents from this time show that just a couple of years earlier, starting in 1989, oil and plastics executives began a quiet campaign to lobby almost 40 states to mandate that the symbol appear on all plastic — even if there was no way to economically recycle it.

It is for this reason, when the sorting of plastic is a complicated as ever, that we need to be skeptical when companies like Chevron Phillips say that they will “recycle 100% of the plastic it makes by 2040.”

Oliver Franklin-Wallis suggests that what is important is how we actually use plastics in the first place, while the RN Future Tense podcast explores the incentives that could be put in place.

via Doug Belshaw

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