Profit Over People

You may remember my post, Profiting from a Crisis last week and my frustration that the plastics industry is attempting to profit from the pandemic crisis by insisting that single-use plastics are safer than re-usables.  Then I stumbled across this story  yesterday. It is part of a joint investigation with the PBS series Frontline that includes the documentary Plastic Wars, that premiered March 31 on PBS stations and online.  If this one doesn’t raise your hackles, I don’t know what will.  I’ll let the story speak for itself …

Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

Editor’s note: NPR will be publishing stories from this investigative series in the weeks ahead, even as we focus our current coverage on the coronavirus pandemic. But here’s a look at some of our key findings. You can watch the full documentary film from this investigation on the PBS series Frontline.

For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled.

In a joint investigation, NPR and the PBS series Frontline found that oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.

Here are our key takeaways from our investigation:

Plastics industry had “serious doubt” recycling would ever be viable

Starting in the late 1980s, the plastics industry spent tens of millions of dollars promoting recycling through ads, recycling projects and public relations, telling people plastic could be and should be recycled.

But their own internal records dating back to the 1970s show that industry officials long knew that recycling plastic on a large scale was unlikely to ever be economically viable.

A report sent to top industry executives in April 1973 called recycling plastic “costly” and “difficult.” It called sorting it “infeasible,” saying “there is no recovery from obsolete products.” Another document a year later was candid: There is “serious doubt” widespread plastic recycling “can ever be made viable on an economic basis.”

The industry promoted recycling to keep plastic bans at bay

Despite this, three former top officials, who have never spoken publicly before, said the industry promoted recycling as a way to beat back a growing tide of antipathy toward plastic in the 1980s and ’90s. The industry was facing initiatives to ban or curb the use of plastic. Recycling, the former officials told NPR and Frontline, became a way to preempt the bans and sell more plastic.

“There was never an enthusiastic belief that recycling was ultimately going to work in a significant way,” says Lew Freeman, former vice president of government affairs for the industry’s lobbying group, then called the Society of the Plastics Industry, or SPI.

Another top official, Larry Thomas, who led SPI for more than a decade until 2000, says the strategy to push recycling was simple:

“The feeling was the plastics industry was under fire, we got to do what it takes to take the heat off, because we want to continue to make plastic products,” Thomas says. “If the public thinks the recycling is working, then they’re not going to be as concerned about the environment.”

More recycling means fewer profits for oil and gas companies

In interviews, current plastics industry officials acknowledged that recycling the vast majority of plastic hasn’t worked in the past. But they said the industry is funding new technology that they believe will get recycling plastic up to scale. The goal, they say, is to recycle 100% of the plastic they make.

“Recycling has to get more efficient, more economic. We’ve got to do a better job collecting the waste, sorting it,” says Jim Becker, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.’s vice president of sustainability. “Five, 10 years ago, the industry response was a little more combative. Today, it truly is not just PR. We don’t like to see [waste in the environment] either. We really don’t. We want to solve this.”

But the more plastic is recycled, the less money the industry will make selling new plastic. And those profits have become increasingly important. Companies have told shareholders that profits from using oil and gas for transport are expected to decline in coming years with better fuel efficiency and the increasing use of electric cars. Industry analysts expect oil and gas demands from the chemicals industry will surpass the demand from the transport side in the coming decade. Plastic production overall is now expected to triple by 2050, and once again, the industry is spending money on ads and public relations to promote plastic and recycling.

Plastic is now more prevalent than it’s ever been and harder to recycle. Gas prices remain at historic lows, making new plastic cheaper than recycled plastic. And the industry now produces many more different — and more complex — kinds of plastics that are more costly to sort and in many cases can’t be recycled at all. Efforts to reduce plastic consumption are mounting nationwide, but any plan to slow the growth of plastic will face an industry with billions of dollars of future profits at stake.

Yet another example of big business’ and the GOP’s motto:  Profit Over People.  I don’t know about you guys, but I am more determined than ever to stop using single-use plastics.  It’s way past time for industries to find a viable alternative … but they won’t do so until we force them to.

35 thoughts on “Profit Over People

  1. Am I being foolish in suggesting that plastic should simply be removed, using glass, or paper where and when possible, we have no need for plastic containers, plastic wrapping and plastic furniture, if it is not produced then people cannot buy it. We, in Ireland are way behind in this information game and most people believe they are doing good by recycling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not foolish at all, and I have suggested the same many a time. I have also suggested that a better solution, just as useful, could be developed if scientists and industrialists joined forces and really tried. Most people here also believe they are doing good by recycling … well, those who bother to recycle do. Unfortunately, the majority in this country are too bloomin’ lazy to be bothered, and now we know that plastic is rarely re-cycled anyway. Sigh. We are destroying ourselves, but greed stands in the way of common sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Over at ‘The Pearly Gates’ office:
    Angel on Duty: Sorry to bother your Saint Peter, this one is way over my pay-grade.
    Saint Peter: Ok. I’m on it.
    (Goes outside there is the Satan with a bunch of very shabby, worn down devils.)
    Saint Peter: Yeah, this gonna be good. What’s the pitch then Nick?
    Satan: Hey! Gimme a break here. That Corona Virus. Suddenly I’m up to my butt in Right-Wing Radio Show Hosts, CEOs, Lobbyists, and evangelicals. The first lot say Hell is a state run enterprise and being a socialist I gotta go, they start a campaign against me already! Then the second lot pay the third lot to convince most of my work force to quit using our energy efficient fuels and use a pile of stuff they can get ’cause it’s cheaper! The next thing I know I’ve got Demons for Liberty protesting outside my office, clouds of thick black smoke from the cheap coal choking up the works, some klutz shoveling plastics onto the fire, ‘cas , get this, they claim it’s actually recycling! Most of the Damned running about the place wearing baseball caps with the logo ‘Vote Trump. Make Hell Great Again’, while demanding the right bear pitchforks! And the evangelicals whining about there being a mistake, they shouldn’t be here, it’s all a conspiracy. AND finally the CEOs have voted me off the board!…Of which there wasn’t to begin with. I tell ya Pete me an’ my few loyal folk gotta have asylum!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The plastics industry could easily make recycling profitable by stopping making new plastics. But that would be anti-capitalist. It amazes me that most cities and towns refuse to pick up garbage unless it is wrapped in single-use plastic bags.
    When we recycle most things, we pack them in plastic bags, which after we empty we bring back home and use them to collect our next group of recycleables. You can imagine the looks we get from other people, including the people working at the recycling centres. Some of our bags are 5 years or more old. Why is it so outrageous to reuse single use plastics?
    About your Meier store from your last plastic post, our National Health Officer is advising all Canadians to use reusable bags for shopping. And if they are washable, put them in your next load of laundry. Boycott all stores that demand the use of single-use plastic bags.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jill, this is a key reason we have a fettered capitalistic model with socialistic underpinnings. Sadly, we have gotten out of balance, especially with the current administration hobbling of the EPA, so the fettering has been watered down. When the for profit motive is harmful, it needs to be restricted. We saw with this with lawsuits against opioid painkiller makers, which were twenty years over due.These folks sold their products to people and rewarded the more egregious doctor prescribers. We are seeing this now with the lawsuits against Exxon Mobil for misleading shareholders about the financial consequences of climate change.

    An old story will break your heart, but it must be retold. America used to have many cities with electric trolley systems. The reason we do not is collusion between the auto makers, tire makers and petroleum companies. They colluded to get cities to take those mass transit structures down. Sadly, the judges ruled they colluded about forty years after they did it.

    It takes people to act and say this is not right. We can vote with our feet and drink less bottled water and use more filtered water. We can make sure we recycle. But, what is beyond sad is we are killing ourselves with fish now having plastic product in their bodies.

    Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hello Keith. I think the colluding is continuing with different groups, even our local governments are being bought. Most municipalities today have water that tests as harmful to drink. The safety levels keep getting lowered and budgets for water systems slashed. Flint did not need to have the crisis as it had good water. The government was talked in to changing the system to a problematic supply by those who claimed it would save money. They down played the risk and oversold the savings. The question still being investigated is why. The most likely answer is look at the bottled water, the filtered water deliveries , the money flowing hand over fist to those private water delivery systems.

      In New Hampshire is a wonderful bit of history called the Castle in the Clouds. Beautiful mansion which at one time had the land up to the top of seven mountain peaks. I have been there many times. The entire place was bought by a water company that set up a bottling plant. In 2001 the last time I was there they were willing to sell the mansion and all the land, the stables, everything for the very low price of 5 million dollars. Very cheap. Just one thing. They kept the water rights. All of the water resources of the entire property would belong to the water company.

      I think it was in the Bush administration ( I could be wrong ) that there was a push to privatize water sources all across the nation. I know here in Florida Jeb Bush was governor and he was trying to sell the water rights of the state to private companies. It is a thing Republicans keep pushing, the selling of public rights / resources to private companies for profit. For example a few years ago our county needed to explain the local interstate highways from two lanes a direction to four and five. The commision kept pushing a plan that would have added one more public lane in each direction but added two for profit toll roads on each direction with the rights sold to a private company. So the lower incomes would get no relief, truck traffic would still use the free road, but wealthy people could drive on a nicely maintained sparsely used private roads. Even after several votes where it was voted down they kept pushing versions of the plan to sell the road to a private company. Needless to say it convinced me the US has a real class people between the haves and the have nots. Hugs

      Liked by 2 people

      • Scottie, collusion is alive and well and has been around for ages. Just think what was needed after Enron, Healthsouth, Tyco, etc. Interlocking boards is one example and is frustrating as governance is not occurring. These board members are playing the same game and have a financial relationship with the corporation they are supposed to govern. But, collusion occurs at even the most pedestrian levels. If there is more than one gas station on a corner, check out the prices of each. They gravitate to the same.

        If you have not seen the movie “Vice” where Christian Bale plays VP Dick Cheney, you will witness a person who takes collusion to an art form after many years in government. Cheney helped write the 2005 Energy Act excluding fracking companies (like his) from having to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. Why?

        Keith

        Liked by 3 people

        • Hello Keith. I have avoided the move due to my very strong dislike of Dick Cheney. There are useful idiots such as George Bush, and then there are the truly evil people who will use them like Cheney. However if you think I will gain insight from the movie I will try to schedule time to find time to watch it.

          What I found really telling is this when I read it during the fights over fracking harming the drinking water of so many lower income people.

          Fancy a side of irony with your corporate hypocrisy? Last night on MSNBC, Nation Editor-at-Large Chris Hayes profiled ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a vocal proponent of hydraulic fracking, who is suing to prevent the construction of a water tower near his eighty-three-acre, $5 million horse ranch in Bartonville, Texas. The purpose of the tower? Storing water for fracking. Tillerson and his super-wealthy neighbors are concerned, the lawsuit states, that the fracking tower might “devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.” As Hayes put it, “Rex Tillerson is leading the fracking revolution, just not in his backyard.”
          —Sam Adler-Bell

          Hugs

          Liked by 3 people

    • You’re so right, my friend. We have gotten further and further out of balance ever since unlimited money was allowed to be donated to political campaigns by corporations. The fossil fuel industry, petrochemicals, logging, and NRA have taken advantage of the situation, and our politicos no longer remember that they work for We the People. You’re right, the demise of trolleys in order for the fossil fuel industry to profit at the expense of us is heart-breaking. What we are doing to this planet and the wildlife on it is heart-breaking. What we are doing to our future generations is heart-breaking. I half wonder if we haven’t signed our own death warrant with our greed and arrogance.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. You’ll have to boycott stores that won’t let you take your own bags in. The loss of profits will soon mean they pay attention to you and not to the industry forcing them to take their current tack.
    Cwtch.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hello David. We in my area have a few stores that simply don’t offer any bags. You either bring your own or pick a box from a pile to put your stuff in. Ron and I occasionally let a store give us plastic bags because we have two cats and the best way to dispose of their waste in their litter box is a store plastic bag. But other than that we don’t use them. However studies have shown that even with everything individuals do, it is big corporations only that can making a tipping point difference. So the real goal is to make companies, the bigger the better, change their policies on plastics. Be well, stay safe please. Hugs

      Liked by 3 people

    • I’m already doing that, or if I have to go to one, I will tell them not to bag my purchases, but I will do as rawgod suggested and simply put everything back into the cart, wheel it out to my van, and then put it in my own bags. Such a lot of bother, but there is a principle here … and the future of the planet. We humans may not survive to the end of the century, but I’d like to see the fish and wildlife survive.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Pingback: Profit Over People — Filosofa’s Word – Wilfredo Santa Gomez MD

  7. Seems their recycling claims are as artificial as their products, and now they’re trying to recycle their recycling claims. Rather than focus on recycling, maybe it would be better to develop a biodegradable form of plastic.

    Liked by 4 people

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