Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

trash scavengers in IndiaIn spite of the plastics industry’s best efforts to step up and help developing countries deal with their trash problems—which include plastic waste—nothing is good enough for environmental activists. For example, the response of Greenpeace to the newly formed Alliance to End Plastic Waste makes it clear that nothing will satisfy the NGO short of ridding the world of all plastic materials, no matter the toll on society.

An article on the formation of the alliance that ran in the San Antonio Express News (Jan. 14, 2019) noted that these groups “were quick to criticize” the alliance and its proposed solutions to the plastic waste problem as a “band-aid” approach. “This is a desperate attempt from corporate polluters to maintain the status quo on plastics. . . . Make no mistake about it: Plastics are a lifeline for the dying fossil fuel industry, and today’s announcement goes to show how far companies will go to preserve it,” said Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Project Leader for Greenpeace.

In a similar comment, Jacqueline Savitz, who is with Oceana, a D.C.-based ocean conservation nonprofit, argued that “reducing single-use plastic is the only way to combat pollution. The industry coalition’s promise to solve the plastic pollution crisis with waste management and cleanup is a nice dream, but it’s not sufficient to solve the plastic problem,” she said in a statement in the Express News article. “Companies like Procter and Gamble, Nestlé, PepisCo and Coca-Cola must take responsibility to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they’re pumping into the commerce by adopting alternative packaging for their products.”

It’s obvious that these groups, including As You Sow and others, will not stop badgering the industry until all plastic materials are wiped from the face of the earth. They are not happy with more than $1 billion in funds going to help major polluting countries such as China and India deal with their waste, which includes far more than just plastic.

Calling large plastics industry companies “polluters” is missing the point. The companies that make the resins or the companies that produce the single-use bottles, food containers and so forth are not the polluters—much of the pollution is created by people in developing countries who have no alternative other than to throw their trash—all of it, not just plastics—into landfills and waterways. In addition to plastics, there are mountains of paper, aluminum and other metals, glass and textiles that are washed into the oceans.

Consumer goods producers (CPGs) and plastics processors that specialize in packaging production have made great strides in reducing the amount of plastics used in packaging through thin-wall design, and ensuring recyclability by using plastics that are easily recycled. Those advances have gone unrecognized by these environmental groups whose goal is to rid the world of plastic in spite of the proven scientific fact that plastic continues to be the most environmentally friendly and safe alternative for packaging in most applications.

If there were alternatives that provide the same protection for food, beverages and other consumer products, I’m sure they would be used. It’s a fact, however, that plastic materials help preserve food so that it is not wasted and thrown into landfills.

I would think that these environmental groups would be concerned about the amount of water and energy that is consumed by making paper/paperboard packaging. Additionally, the fact is that many paper packages need plastic or wax coatings to do what plastic food packaging does inherently—keep the contents fresh and safe for consumption.

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