California to Investigate Fossil Fuel Companies Over Misleading Plastic Recycling Myths

California’s attorney general opened a full investigation into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry on Thursday over its alleged role in spreading rampant plastic pollution, issuing a subpoena to ExxonMobil and promising to hold polluters accountable for any crimes .

Attorney General Rob Bonta said the investigation will focus on what he called a “half-century campaign of deception” and will target companies “that have caused and exacerbated the global crisis of plastic pollution”. Plastic pollution has long been a major environmental issue, with environmentalists decrying the spread of plastics into the far reaches of the Arctic, into the planet’s geology and into the bodies of everything from seabird stomachs to lungs. humans.

“Enough is enough,” Bonta said in a statement Thursday. “For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating the myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis. The truth is that the vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled.

The Los Angeles Times noted that Bonta’s investigation comes as lawmakers across California work to reduce plastic waste and ban certain types of single-use plastic. A proposed measure on the California ballot in November could give voters the option to require all single-use plastic packaging to be recyclable, refillable or compostable by 2030.

Exxon is the first company to receive a subpoena, but Reuters reported that other companies are likely to receive a call from Bonta’s office. The attorney general told a press conference that he believed Exxon was a “major source of global plastic pollution” and had used deceptive practices for decades, The Hill reported.

Despite a widely held belief that many plastics are recyclable, less than 9% of plastics were recycled in the United States in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The remaining 91% ends up in landfills, is incinerated or ends up in the environment.

A 2020 report from NPR and PBS’ “Frontline” found the plastics industry knew recycling products would be prohibitively “expensive” and “impractical” as early as the 1970s. But the industry has spent millions of dollars a year to promote the benefits of plastic and encourage consumers to recycle anyway.

Bonta said his office would target industry efforts to minimize public understanding of the “harmful consequences of these products,” focusing on “historic and ongoing efforts to mislead the public.”

“The plastics industry, made up of large fossil fuel and petrochemical companies, launched an aggressive – and misleading – marketing and advertising campaign to convince the public that it could recycle to solve the plastic waste problem,” he said Thursday. “Executives of the big fossil fuel companies, however, knew the truth.”


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