Another year rushes by with conflict and joy. Pain and relief. Heartbreak and jubilation. Politicians go through a revolving door, new fashion trends appear, and novel movies and shows are set to thrill audiences.
The new year ushers in exciting opportunities and technologies.
However, the new year also drags a decades-long fight along.
Unfortunately, unlike Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother’s chariot, the plastic pollution that suffocates our ecosphere does not vanish at the strike of midnight.
Even worse, each year the numbers continue to rise to epic proportions and corporations get greedier.
Our plastic production and consumption is out of control. Nearly 400 million metric tons of plastic is produced annually and five trillion plastic bags are processed yearly.
Globally, we use 1.2 million single-use plastic water bottles a minute and discard over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts a year.
Even plastic usage by Americans alone is horrific. Citizens of the United States drink from almost half a billion straws a day and buy close to fifty billion water bottles every year.
And while we might use a plastic bag for an average of twelve minutes, the microplastics will stay in our environment long past our lifespans.
Plastic usage harms marine life. Some oceanic animals devour plastic bags believing it is their prey, like turtles who mistake bags for jellyfish. Or this young whale whose consumption of plastic led to its death. Eighty-eight pounds of plastic was found in its stomach.
Other creatures are entangled in debris, such as sea lions off the coast of Alaska, choking on a packing strip composed of plastic.
All in all, 800 marine species are impacted by plastic pollution. According to multiple studies, 90% of seabirds and 52% of turtles have ingested plastic waste worldwide. A million seabirds die a year due to plastics.
How about the disgusting soup, that is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? A hot mess twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean.
Furthermore, oil is required to create plastic. To meet the demand of Americans’ thirst, the Pacific Institute reported that a total of seventeen million barrels of oil were needed to produce plastic water bottles in 2006. That is enough to power at least a million cars for an entire year.
It is clear that plastic breaches our ecosystem. Single-use plastic is mass-produced. Single-use plastic is seizing our culture. Single-use plastic is stripping our beauty and marine animals. Single-use plastic is depleting the valuable resource of oil.
Yet corporations are slow to pull the plug on plastics.
For years, environmentalists have been outraged at companies for their plastic use. Nowadays, corporations vow to reduce their plastic usage by the turn of the decade, but fail to follow through with their pledges. Instead of cutting out plastics, these corporations create new plastics and tinker with recycling.
In the 1970s, Keep America Beautiful, an organization spearheaded by bottling companies like Coca-Cola, debuted an advertisement called Crying Indian to shame the public for their waste. The advertisement portrayed an Italian-American man by the name of Iron Eyes Cody playing an Native American man, shedding a tear after a driver spoils his land with litter.
Crying Indian was intended to stop Congress from passing a bottle ban. It succeeded.
Crying Indian changed the public’s perception of plastic waste. Instead of admitting their misuse of plastics, the advertisement shifts the responsibility to the consumer.
Thus, an extensive campaign for recycling followed.
Recycling, however, is flawed. Since plastic companies tainted the meaning of recycling, consumers are left with confusing resin codes at the bottom of plastics indicating whether the product is actually recyclable.
These misleading symbols only complicate the message about recycling. It is no wonder that California banned the identification system in 2021.
Plastic recycling in itself is a scam, as Greenpeace discovered that no plastic can be deemed “recyclable” in October 2022.
So forget about Coca-Cola’s attempt of greenwashing when the conglomerate made the controversial decision to discontinue Sprite’s iconic green plastic bottles in favor of a clear bottle that is “easier to recycle.”
While Coca-Cola and PepsiCo report strong 2022 margins, the world is choking, gasping for air at each squeeze.
For the past fifty-plus years, companies have denied and deflected their commitments. Will 2023 be the year that corporations are up to the task?
It is unlikely.
In 2021, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (BFPPA) was introduced to Congress. The bill has not left committee.
A Campaign Legal Center (CLC) report detailed the lobbyists that brought down the bill.
Overall, twenty-five entities throughout multiple industries contributed to nearly $200 million dollars in spending to hinder the BFPPA.
Exxon Mobil spent about $10 million, Unilever shelled out around $12 million, and Coca-Cola paid over $13 million on lobbying. The American Chemistry Council allocated $67 million to block the bill.
Moreover, the CLC sensed a “conflict of interest” between certain members of Congress and the legislation, finding government officials owning stock ranging from $8.76 million and and $35.6 million in twelve of the twenty-five lobbyists.
Until corporations can prove that their promises are not public relations stunts, their sustainable goals will be a glimmer of light that flickers with each quarter.
Originally appeared in Plastic Tides’ Turning Tides Newsroom