The Week in Plastic: August 31

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

This week, a coalition of non-profits and government entities joined plastic-polluting corporations (including Coca-Cola, WalMart, and others) to announce the "US Plastics Pact". The pact sets ambitious but non-binding goals that would significantly reduce plastic pollution by 2025. The pact includes an ambitious plan to make all plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. That's an admirable goal, but the devil is in the details -- it remains to be seen, for example, exactly how "compostable" or "reusable" will be defined. And mega-corporations like those involved in this pact have a sordid history of cynically signing onto voluntary measures as a means of forestalling enforceable government regulations that would cut more deeply into their pockets.

Meanwhile, we are having a case of Deja-vu: Last week, a massive, uncontrolled plastic fire at Texas plant Ploy-America sent plumes of toxic smoke into the air for days. This week, there was an uncontrolled blaze at their subsidiary in South Carolina, Carolina Poly. Both fires raged uncontrolled for over 24hrs, and residents were warned of toxicity. In South Carolina, 5 firefighters were injured. Plastic incineration is well known to release toxins like dioxins and mercury into the air. What is going on with Poly-America?

Black smoked poured from a South Carolina plastics plant.

Global Dispatches:

  • Back in 2018, China got sick of being a dumping ground for the West, and stopped importing trash from the US and a slate of other western countries. Since then, plastic waste has become a thriving criminal enterprise in Asia, according to a new report from Interpol. South and Southeast Asia are still receiving a large amount of waste from the West, but via illegal recycling operations in which the true origin of the trash is cloaked. With the plastic recycling market valued at $35 billion in business annually, organized crime has gotten in on the action.

  • A new report form the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University finds that public opinion in Canada has turned against single-use plastic bans. Canadians are buying more plastic than ever, as a result of COVID-19 fear, and worry about the environmental effects of plastic has declined. This is a part of a global trend toward increased reliance on single-use plastic arising from the misguided assumption that reusable products are dangerous. To the contrary, public health experts agree that reusable containers should not be a worry during the pandemic, if proper safety protocols like disinfection and hand-washing are followed.

  • In Senegal, a group of fishermen are working to protect endangered sea turtles. The fishermen have organized a sort of "turtle neighborhood watch", in which they monitor protected areas to guard against turtle poaching, and rescue turtles who become entangled in plastic fishing nets. Why? The fishermen correctly recognize that helping sea turtles helps everyone. Local fisherman Gamar Kane reflected that “It’s not to our advantage to eat them, because they help save marine species. Wherever you find turtles you will find shrimp and octopus in abundance”. Great work! The decline of sea turtles can largely be attributed to human activities including poaching and fishing net entanglement.

  • Post-Brexit, the UK has developed carbon emissions policies designed to bring the region to net-zero emissions by 2050. But what is missing from this admirable plan? Waste incinerators will be excluded from the accounting of emissions -- That's perplexing considering the high levels of CO2 emissions generated by burning waste. Sustainability consultant Georgia Eliott-Smith won't stand for it, calling for a judicial review of the policy. And UK residents, you shouldn't stand for it either! Write to your local politicians and demand that waste incinerators be taken into account in your carbon emissions planning.


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