Too much plastic // Corporate unaccountability

Compress used plastic bottles.

 

Part 2 of 2. Part 1 here.

The Break Free from Plastic movement undertook an audit to find out which corporations are the biggest plastics producers and most responsible for all the plastics drifting around.

The audit was supported by several organizations associated with the Break Free from Plastic movement, among them the Rockefeller University, linked to the Rockefeller Family Fund. The Rockefeller family used to invest in alternative and speculative investment funds linked to the exploitation of fossil fuels.

In 2016, the Rockefeller group announced that it would divest from what they now consider to be an industry incompatible with the planet’s sustainability. They have also accused ExxonMobil – a company created from the Rockefeller group itself – of having invested in campaigns to deny climate change. The millions that were previously invested in oil are now being directed to organizations like 350.org, focused on defending renewable energy d – and cleaning up the corporate image of the Rockefeller group.

Between August and September of this year, Break Free from Plastic organized 239 garbage collection actions in 42 countries in all 6 continents. They ended up collecting and identifying 187 851 pieces of plastic. It should be noted that their methodology leaves out plastic production and disposal for industrial use, whose footprint might be vastly superior to that of plastic for domestic use.

The participants collected the garbage, counted the pieces, registered the brand, the company responsible for the brand, the type of product (food, hygiene products, among others) and the type of packaging (high density polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl polychloride, polypropylene, polystyrene, single layer and multilayer plastic materials). Nestlé, Pepsico and Coca-Cola lead the race in plastic production. Besides them, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, Colgate-Palmolive, Mcdonalds, Heineken, Ferrero, Lidl, Philip Morris, Kraft Heinz, Haribo e Kellogg’s are also in the plastic production race.

All of these companies possess Corporate Social Responsibility principles and are involved in greenwashing campaigns, focused on creating the false image that they are defending the environment. Brands such as Nestlé, idolized worldwide, exhibit sustainability principles on their websites and promote well-intentioned policies of plastic reduction or usage of plastics with more recyclable components. But in the end, Nestlé is one of the brands identified in the audit as being one of the most polluting.

Many brands remained unidentified since, according to the published report, only about 65% of the 187 851 pieces found could be identified. Among these, cigarette butts, textiles, diapers and wipes are among some of the materials found which are not recyclable. The recycling process has been widely divulged by various means and in various media as an effective solution, but most plastics are not recyclable. And the process depends on infrastructures that not all countries possess.

Even so, according to studies carried out by the Center for International Environmental Law, plastic production is expected to increase by 40% in the next 10 years, despite the urgency of the energy transition called for by the useless 2015 Paris Agreement. The exploitation boom of “cheap” gas from the United States fracking fields and the increasing coal production from China are encouraging the construction of new ethylene and propylene production facilities, as well as new natural gas exploitation platforms. New investments which are made in defiance of the irrelevant Paris Agreement and against a public opinion which is increasingly aware of the problems caused by using plastics.

And while incentives to reduce or even eliminate plastics are increasing, companies are resistant. For example,  package-free sales significantly reduce domestic plastic use. But food like rice cannot be sold without packaging because legislation, invoking hygiene issues, will not allow it. Oats or pasta, on the other hand, are not subject to that prohibition.

To deal with the growing buzz about plastic, the European Commission started a plan in January 2017 to outline a European strategy against plastic. Since then, and until an official version of the plan was published, the Commission met 92 times to discuss and rethink the plan. Of these 92 meetings, 70 were with corporations and entities with corporate interests and only 16 with non-governmental organizations. The plastics industry has thus been able to remain within the sphere of influence of European policies, preventing the introduction of taxes on plastics and their production while delaying the prohibition of disposable plastics and plastics with shine. When the official plan was launched in January 2018, there was no compromise on the part of the industry.

For now, an European directive is being discussed to deal with harmful residues and waste plastic, in an attempt to control the production and use of disposable plastics. Measures which are part of the plan for the European transition into a poorly explained circular economy, in order to achieve the much acclaimed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the fake EU commitments on climate issues while maintaining its industrial policy objectives to continue the unbridled production of consumer goods.

In this strong-arm contest between those who regulate and those who do not want to be regulated, the markets, brands and respective companies continue to distance themselves from their responsibilities as (in this case, plastic) waste producers.

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