Plastic is a petrochemical fabrication promoted by oil companies. To take the perceptual edge off the mountains of forever garbage that plastic becomes, the oil industry promoted the idea of recycling plastic. That was a scam and plastic producers knew it.
For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash, believing that plastic could be recycled. But plastic is seldom economically recyclable. In the past 4 decades, less than 10% of plastic has been recycled.
From the late 1980s, the plastics industry spent tens of millions of dollars promoting recycling – duping gullible consumers. The plastic people knew it was a ruse. A 1973 report circulated within the industry said sorting was “infeasible,” that there was “no recovery from obsolete products.” Recycling plastics was “costly” and “difficult.” A year later another industry study reaffirmed “serious doubt” that plastic recycling “can ever be made viable on an economic basis.”
Facing growing antipathy toward plastic in the 80’s, including initiatives to curb or ban plastic, the industry launched its public relations fraud. Lew Freeman, former plastics industry lobbyist, confessed that the industry knew that recycling was never going to work. “The plastics industry did what it took to take the heat off,” said plastics industry lobbyist Larry Thomas. “If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they’re not going to be as concerned about the environment.”
Recycling was never going to be done because it cuts into industry profits.
Plastic production is expected to triple by 2050. To fight the current movement against plastic, the industry is once again promoting plastic recycling – following the demagogic rule that a lie told often enough becomes a truth in people’s minds.
Plastics now are even more costly to sort and recycle than they were 20 years ago. But the industry has billions of dollars of future profits at stake. So, don’t expect the current environmentalist drive to reduce plastic consumption to amount to much more than recycled plastic.
Laura Sullivan, “Plastic wars: industry spent millions selling recycling — to sell more plastic,” NPR (31 March 2020).
Ishi Nobu, “Plastic pollution,” (27 December 2019).