By Catherine Uden, Oceana
An abundance of natural gas from fracking is stimulating an effort by the petrochemical industry to increase plastic production and use. By 2030, plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions are expected to reach an emissions level at least equivalent to emissions from 295 500-megawatt coal plants.
Recycling has been misrepresented for many years. Only 9% of the plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, and only 2% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled into something of equal or higher value.
NPR and PBS Frontline revealed that the nation’s largest oil and gas companies have long been selling recycling to the public when they knew there was no evidence recycling would keep up with the rate of plastic production.
The plastics industry is now pushing chemical recycling, an unproven technology that creates a large carbon footprint. Plus, plastic products are made with various chemicals, many of which pose risks to the environment or human health, so breaking them down inevitably results in a troublesome stream of contaminants.
The plastics industry is quick to criticize plastic-free alternatives. They often cite studies that assume all plastic enters managed waste streams, which we know is untrue. In fact, an estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year.
We can no longer ignore plastic’s devastating impacts on marine life in U.S. waters — especially here in Florida. A new report from Oceana revealed that nearly 1,800 marine mammals and sea turtles had swallowed or become entangled in plastic along American coastlines since 2009. Of those animals, 88% were from species endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
Finally, plastic production is a social justice issue, threatening impoverished U.S. neighborhoods. One Mississippi River corridor is known as Cancer Alley. In this already polluted region, seven new petrochemical facilities and expansions have been approved since 2015.
We need solutions that reduce plastics and move us away from a throwaway society. For instance, rather than switching from single-use plastic to a different disposable material, we can reduce the packaging required in the first place. We can also shift to refillable and reusable solutions, which were common in the past and can be expanded on now.
With plastic production projected to quadruple by 2050, this problem will only get worse. The only way to stop the increasing amount of plastic entering our oceans is for companies to stop producing so much of it — and that will require national, state and local policies that ensure they do so.
While we wait for federal and state action, local governments should have home rule on this issue. Gov. Ron DeSantis and our state elected officials need to eliminate the laws on plastic bags and polystyrene foam that prevent local governments from imposing regulations on the use and manufacture of these products.
Catherine Uden is the South Florida Campaign Organizer for Oceana
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.