Various governments are considering imposing new laws to tackle the crisis of plastic waste polluting the environment, at a time when oil and chemical companies seek to double their production of plastics worldwide within two decades from now.
In California, USA, the Attorney General issued a subpoena to ExxonMobil, to question it about its role in causing the global plastic waste crisis.
Plastic waste made from oil and gas increases carbon emissions, harming wildlife, and polluting oceans and food chains.
The role of fossil fuels in the plastic crisis
The summons is part of a broader campaign of investigations led by California’s Attorney General, General Rob Ponta, into the role that the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are playing in and exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis.
The California attorney general said: “For more than half a century, plastic companies have launched massive campaigns to deceive the public, promoting that recycling can solve the crises caused by plastic, and the truth is: the vast majority of plastic products cannot be recycled.”
The investigation will be similar to the investigations launched by more than one state attorney general into the role of fossil fuel companies in causing the climate change crisis, focusing on facts that have known the industry for decades and how they misled the public.
In this investigation, the attorney general is expected to focus on the half-century-old campaign of deception, the ongoing harm done to California by companies that produce plastics and petroleum products, and how those companies have promoted recycling myths.
ExxonMobil is the first company to receive a subpoena from the California attorney general, but officials confirmed that other companies in the industry will be summoned.
Commenting on the investigations, Matthew Kastner, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents the plastics and petrochemicals industry, said: “US plastic manufacturers are committed to a more sustainable future and have proposed bolder and more comprehensive actions both locally and globally.”
Reducing the use of plastic
More than 90% of plastic waste globally ends up in landfills or incinerated.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rate in the USA is just 9%.
Global interest is growing in reducing the production of plastic, to get rid of the waste resulting from it. Last February, the United Nations outlined a future treaty that may seek to impose restrictions on production.
The treaty aims to reduce the amount of single-use plastics, which represent about 40% of total production.
California Attorney General Rob Ponta said that the petrochemical industry has known for decades that recycling plastic products is completely useless, and despite this, companies are expanding the production of plastic, and are seeking to block any government efforts to issue a ban on its production.
The industry has promoted “advanced recycling” – a method of burning plastic into fuel or other products – as a solution to the plastic waste crisis, but these projects have had little success, according to Reuters.
“Companies like ExxonMobil have been instrumental in convincing the public that plastics can be recycled for their own good, despite realizing that this information is incorrect,” said Carol Moffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
She added that countries bear the brunt of the cost of cleaning up plastic waste.
California has passed several bills in the past few years aimed at reducing plastic waste and trying to crack down on misleading recycling claims.