Sunday, 22 July 2018

Plastic recycling and greenwashing

Perhaps the earliest example of 'greenwashing' was the invention of the idea of 'litter' - to cast responsibility for packaging pollution on the consumer rather than the producer.

And it produced the most successful advertising campaign ever:

Keep America Beautiful - (Crying-Indian) - 70s PSA Commercial - YouTube
An Excerpt from Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images by Finis Dunaway
The Origins of Anti-Litter Campaigns – Mother Jones
Futures Forum: Plastic pollution and the invention of 'litter' > or, how the packaging industry avoided responsibility for creating the problem in the first place

'Greenwashing' is pretty effective:
The troubling evolution of corporate greenwashing | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

It includes:

> the plastics industry urging us to 'recycle' rather than 'reduce':
Futures Forum: The plastics industry is "incredibly supportive of recycling legislation over a more long-term… reduction of disposable culture."
Futures Forum: Infinitely recyclable plastic > "As it stands, only 5 per cent of plastics that are manufactured are recycled... "
Futures Forum: "Our plastic pollution crisis is too big for recycling to fix"

> consumers being lumbered with the responsibility of disposal:
Futures Forum: A plastic bottle deposit scheme for England >>> >>> "Welcome as it is, such a scheme farms out responsibility to individual consumers rather than bringing into line corporations with far greater power to pioneer change"
Futures Forum: Plastic pollution: the polluter pays

> the UK not having enough places to deal with plastic waste:
Futures Forum: UK plastic pollution ending up in Poland, rather than China
Futures Forum: Britain does not have the plants and infrastructure to recycle its own plastic waste, with the result tens of millions of pounds is spent sending our rubbish overseas.
Futures Forum: Plastic pollution: everything connects

In the spring, the Vision Group's community energy group organised a visit to the place where the County Council deals with plastic waste - and there was some disquiet about exactly what happens to that waste:
Futures Forum: SidEnergy visit to Exeter waste-to-energy plant >>> report: very positive and encouraging but still questions about recycling plastic waste...

Subsequently, a Freedom of Information request was made:
Futures Forum: County Council and plastic pollution >>> "the Council will use its position and responsibility to raise awareness of the issues surrounding single-use plastics" >>> BUT the Council "does not hold information" on how its reprocessors deal with its plastic waste

The questions remain unanswered - but research continues and contacts are being made.

Meanwhile, this piece from the Sidmouth Plastic Warriors pulls no punches:

Plastic Recycling – A Greenwashing Myth?

I’ve always advocated recycling. We recycle everything in our house – we use all the bins correctly, always have done, and before kerbside recycling we made a big effort to take everything to the recycling centre and separate it all correctly.
In the last year since doing this, my beliefs have changed. Now I am proud when my plastic recycling bag is as empty as possible. Why? Because the more I research, the more I realise that that plastic we seen in the oceans, in Blue Planet 2 and in countless Facebook posts I share, could well be ours. Not stuff that has drifted into the sea from naughty litter bugs (as annoying as that is) but on an industrial scale, sent for recycling with no thought as to how.
We don’t have many plastic recycling centres in the UK. We don’t have any in Devon. Vision Group for Sidmouth Futures Forum member Jeremy Woodward submitted a fantastic Freedom of Information request to DCC and EDDC and these are the responses:
Firstly DCC
It seems like we are going around in circles but what is clear is that DCC and EDDC send on their plastic recycling to processors and contractors with no responsibility for what happens to it, and no knowledge of whether it is recycled at all. If we has householders did this to get rid of our waste, we are potentially fly tipping…surely a great deal more checking and accountability would be required? EDDC is very proud of it’s recycling records but is it all green washing? Is it all a myth to make us feel better about our ridiculous consumption levels?
Well done to Jeremy for getting this far but it is a very difficult, time consuming, laborious job to try and tease this information out. All I feel at the moment is that the waste I put in my kitchen bin at least gets incinerated safely and made into energy – whereas the bottles I lovingly wash out and put in my recycling bag could well be floating around in the pacific right now. The huge container ships that bring our electrical goods crap destined for imminent landfill have to go back and it’s been seen as a ‘better solution’ to send our recycling back rather than an empty ship.  I know China have refused to take any more but it is still going to other countries in Far East, Africa, Europe – and some of these countries have no waste management systems for their own rubbish let alone ours too. Looking at footage of the main rivers in some of these areas shows the scale of the problem. Something needs to change urgently and I still firmly believe it is abolishing single use plastic completely.
UPDATE: I have just had this article sent to me that illustrates the problem perfectly – https://www.raconteur.net/sustainability/plastic-recycling-china-ban]

Plastic Recycling – A Greenwashing Myth? – Sidmouth Plastic Warriors

It's clearly quite an issue - with these pieces just from this year:
Is 'Biodegradable' the New Greenwashing? — Plastic Pollution Coalition
Nestlé plastics target: ‘Clear’ ambition or ‘greenwashing’?
Going Zero Waste: What is Greenwashing?
More Recycling Won't Solve Plastic Pollution - Scientific American Blog Network
3 Telltale Signs You're Being Greenwashed | Care2 Healthy Living
On why we’ve had enough of greenwash and plastic - The Fifth Estate
Why I’m Boycotting the Clothing Industry | Latest News | Earth Island Journal | Earth Island Institute

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