New report makes case against Big Oil and plastic industry for plastic waste crisis

A decades-long campaign about the recyclability of plastics despite internal knowledge contrary to its claims lays out a foundation for potential lawsuits.

Image Credit: BioEnergy Consult

In a new report from the Center for Climate Integrity, research shows how Big Oil companies and the plastics industry allegedly caused the plastic waste crisis the world is experiencing. A decades-long campaign about the recyclability of plastics despite internal knowledge contrary to its claims lays out a foundation for potential lawsuits, the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) said.

The report titled, “The Fraud of Plastic Recycling: How Big Oil and the plastics industry deceived the public for decades and caused the plastic waste crisis,” provides evidence for legal efforts to hold fossil fuel and other major petrochemical companies accountable for the plastic waste crisis.

“This evidence shows that many of the same fossil fuel companies that knew and lied for decades about how their products cause climate change have also known and lied to the public about plastic recycling,” Richard Wiles, president of CCI, said. “The oil industry’s lies are at the heart of the two most catastrophic pollution crises in human history.”

The report said that “despite their long-standing knowledge that recycling plastic is neither technically nor economically viable, petrochemical companies—independently and through their industry trade associations and front groups—have engaged in fraudulent marketing and public education campaigns designed to mislead the public about the viability of plastic recycling as a solution to plastic waste.”

Claiming fraud and deception against Big Oil and the plastics industry, the report reveals evidence from petrochemical companies including ExxonMobil’s 1980s industry report that the company knew “recycling cannot be considered a permanent solid waste solution [to plastics], as it merely prolongs the time until an item is disposed of.” A report obtained from Eastman Chemical Company from 1992 admitted “it is more likely that we will wake up and realize that we are not going to recycle our way out of the solid waste issue.”

“When corporations and trade groups know that their products pose grave risks to society, and then lie to the public and policymakers about it, they must be held accountable,” Wiles said. “Accountability means stopping the lying, telling the truth, and paying for the damage they’ve caused.”

The Center for Climate Integrity said the industry needs to be held accountable for the plastic waste crisis because their “efforts have effectively protected and expanded plastic markets, while stalling legislative or regulatory action that would meaningfully address plastic waste and pollution.”

In 1995, the American Plastics Council discussed the fact that “recycled plastic cannot compete in the market with virgin material.” And therefore, CCI is claiming fraud on the fossil fuel and other petrochemical companies because they “used the false promise of plastic recycling to exponentially increase virgin plastic production over the last six decades, creating and perpetuating the global plastic waste crisis and imposing significant costs on communities that are left to pay for the consequences.”

“Big Oil and the plastics industry’s decades-long campaign to deceive the public about plastic recycling has likely violated laws designed to protect consumers and the public from corporate misconduct and pollution,” Alyssa Johl, vice president of legal and general counsel at CCI, said. “Attorneys general and other officials should carefully consider the evidence that these companies defrauded the public and take appropriate action to hold them accountable.”


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Ashley is an editor, social media content manager and writer at NationofChange. Before joining NoC, she was a features reporter at The Daily Breeze – a local newspaper in Southern California – writing a variety of stories on current topics including politics, the economy, human rights, the environment and the arts. Ashley is a transplant from the East Coast calling Los Angeles home.