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Accusing the nation’s largest oil and gas companies of having “a half-century-long campaign of deception,” California’s attorney general opened an investigation on Thursday into the companies’ possible role in promoting the idea that plastics could be recycled, with the aim of manipulating the public into buying more of them.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said the fossil fuel industry has benefited financially from misleading industry claims that he says date back decades. Bonta has so far subpoenaed ExxonMobil for information and documents.
“For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to mislead the public, perpetuating the myth that recycling can solve the plastic crisis,” Bonta said. “The truth is that the vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled.”
The ad cited NPR and PBS’ Frontline series 2020 investigation into the oil and gas industry which uncovered documents showing senior officials knew plastic recycling was unlikely to work, but spent tens of millions of dollars to tell the public otherwise. Beginning in the 1980s, the industry launched dozens of advertisements, nonprofits and campaigns touting the benefits of plastic recycling – and placing the blame on consumers – even as their own materials warned that recycling was “impossible” and that there were “serious doubts”. that plastic recycling “can never be made viable on an economic basis,” the survey found.
Graham Forbes, head of the global plastics campaign at Greenpeace USA, said the California investigation was good news.
“For too long, ExxonMobil and other polluting companies have been allowed to mislead the public and harm people and the planet,” Forbes said. “It’s encouraging to see the state of California standing up to the fossil fuel industry. Hopefully it’s a sign that policymakers are ready to start holding companies accountable.”
ExxonMobil officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The industry group, the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement that the industry is committed to keeping plastic out of the environment, building recycling infrastructure and ensuring that all plastic packaging Americans contain at least 30% recycled plastic by 2030, among other actions.
“America’s plastic makers have committed to a more sustainable future and have proposed bold, comprehensive actions at the state, federal and international levels,” the statement said.
NPR’s joint investigation with Frontline includes documentary Plastic Warswhich premiered March 31, 2020 on PBS. Stream the movie.
Industry officials have told NPR in the past that the industry has never misled the public and believed it could make plastic recycling work, though they were unable to specify how. . In 40 years, no more than 10% of all plastic has ever been recycled.
At a press conference, Bonta said his office’s preliminary findings had given them enough information to proceed with an investigation.
“We are not prejudging this, but there is information, in large quantities, that is compelling and in the public sphere that has led us to believe in good faith that we should subpoena ExxonMobil for more information,” said Good. “There is a broad belief that plastics are recyclable. This has been the result of the misinformation campaign, of deception, that consumers have been manipulated into believing that plastic is recyclable. This was a strategy as far as we can judge.”
Officials say the investigation also hopes to determine whether a deception is still ongoing. Oil industry critics have raised concerns about the industry’s current $1.5 billion effort, which was launched in 2019 under the banner “The Alliance to End Plastic Waste”. and is made up of the largest oil and plastic producers in the country. Through glossy advertisements and small demonstration projects, the group promotes plastic recycling and cleanup efforts rather than using less plastic.
Bonta said his office is eager to move forward quickly with the investigation and get their hands on the wanted documents.