California subpoenas Exxon for details on its role in plastic pollution

A logo of Exxon Mobil Corp is seen at the Rio Oil and Gas Exhibition and Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 24, 2018.

Sergio Moraès | Reuters

The California attorney general on Thursday announced an investigation into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries for allegedly overstating the role of recycling in tackling global plastic pollution and exacerbating the crisis.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office subpoenaed Exxon Mobil for information regarding the company’s alleged role in deceiving the public and worsening plastic pollution. The bureau did not say which other companies it was investigating. Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As state legislatures and local governments in the 1980s began to consider bills restricting or banning plastic products, fossil fuel and petrochemical companies launched an “aggressive” and “misleading” campaign to persuade the public that they could alleviate the waste problem by recycling, which the industry knew was not true, Bonta alleged in a press release.

“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.”

“This investigation, the first of its kind, will examine the role of the fossil fuel industry in creating and aggravating the plastic pollution crisis – and what laws, if any, have been broken over the course of the year. process,” Bonta said.

The world produces around 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, according to United Nations estimates. Plastics take hundreds of years to break down, and the majority of plastics end up in landfills or the ocean. The United States only recycles about 9% of its plastic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the International Energy Agency, plastics are also expected to drive nearly half of oil demand growth by mid-century. Fossil fuel and petrochemical companies have recently invested more than $200 billion to expand plastic production around the world.

Environmental activist groups on Thursday applauded the state’s probe into the fossil fuel industry.

“For too long, ExxonMobil and other polluting companies have been allowed to mislead the public and harm people and the planet,” said Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Campaigner at Greenpeace USA. “Science has become crystal clear that we need to move away from fossil fuels and disposable plastic.”

– CNBC’s Katie Brigham contributed reporting

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