Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Buck: Passed

I was just surfing various ecology Web sites. And I came across a link for beach cleanups in South Africa. So I clicked. (Why not?) Here's the home page I saw:
Found at:
"Plastics don't litter - people do!" This is the marine debris prevention partnership that international plastics industries wish to create. Our products are not the problem, you are.

Let's look at that handy plastic life-cycle chart again:
Which steps involve you, the consumer?
There are at least a dozen transition steps from plastic formulation to ultimate burial/incineration. You, the consumer, are responsible for one, maybe two, of those steps. Yet the plastics industry wants to put the burden, blame, and responsibility of it all on you.

So, let's see what you've done.
  • Did you identify, clean, sort, & put out your recyclable plastics? Did the bin get blown over, scavenged, hit by a plow, poorly emptied by a recycling truck that's doing its best? Your fault.
  • Did you take your family to the park? Did your snack packages have tear-off tops? (Most likely.) Did a torn-off top blow out of your hand, or baggie, despite your good intentions? Your fault.
  • Did you try to point out that single-use plastic bags put an undue burden on our world? You may find yourself sued (Hilex Poly and others currently suing ChicoBag). And when that bag you tried not to use gets blown out of the recycling bin you put it into, it's your fault.
  • Have you ever been victim of a flood, a hurricane, worse? All that plastic material in your car, your office, your home -- it washed into the environment, and will stay there. By the millions of tons around the globe. Your fault.
The theme is clear. The plastics industry would like to shed as much responsibility and burden for the mess its products create as it can. And so far, they've done a good job of it.

But they do get one thing right: you can take responsibility. You can make a difference. As a very wise 17-year-old high schooler standing amid the plastic waste of Midway Atoll wrote last week: "There is always a choice."


  1. This is what I'm talking about!!! You ARE an ocean hero :) LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!!!!!!!!!

  2. Here's my take: There's no question that a person pollutes, knowingly or willingly or not (depending where you insert yourself into that amazing Life Cycle Analysis provided above). It is the choice of the individual, at every juncture, to "use" plastic. If we didn't use it, they wouldn't make it. At the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week, I crossed paths with no fewer than three "plastics" people, representing the American Recycled Plastics assoc, the Plastics Commission, and Coca-Cola; and all of them were VERY aware of the role that manufacturers and the plastic industry plays in the prevalence of plastics in the ocean. It was a heartening thing to have them at the conference, "toeing the line", and certainly in the minority (the preponderance of participants were NGOs and conservation groups). To paraphrase Rachel Carson, plastics are amazing, and plastics are horrible. It is the individual who gets to choose: do I bring a bag with me, or just use the plastic one they give me? Obviously there's more to it than that -- and I am a firm believer that the plastics industry needs to take responsibility for a lot of the mayhem that occurs when turtles ingest a bag. But until a totally bio-degradable, user-friendly, non-impact material is developed, it is entirely up to the consumer, the user, to eliminate their reliance on plastic. The global-ness of this issue is only highlighted by your reference to South Africa -- the impoverished, uneducated, unenlightened communities of our Earth will always be an easy target for the plastics purveyors. The rest of us need to act at our level, put our money where our mouths are, and make our statements w/ our dollars. Tough role to play -- but imperative.

    The Flotsam Diaries ROCKS for educating, outreaching, enlightening, and sharing -- I refer people to your blog all the time. Thanks HJ.

  3. Danielle, Angie, you two are enough to make a guy blush! Laura, I love the support you've given to FD from pretty much day one, and I love how your comments always help me look at an issue from a new angle. One place where you & I agree 100% is that the industry will only change its ways given a sustained reason to do so. Where I disagree is in who's driving the discussion. My gut says, it's not that people love plastic over other things. It's that they've been taught to believe things about plastic, and plastic recycling, that aren't true. As for ACC & Coke, they got a -huge- boon out of the conference, because the official, global term is still "marine debris" -- a term that offers no hint of what the problem really is & no incentive to fix it. Totally worth the $25k price of entrance. So I'm still skeptical that the industry is an honest partner in the discussion. But I'll be thrilled to be proved wrong!

  4. Amen. I agree that we need to stop buying the stuff, and that's been the point of my life for the past 3 years. But the industry needs to take responsibility for manufacturing demand. They don't spend a ton of money on advertising to convince consumers we need their crap for no reason. Some of that money should be spent on developing less toxic, less wasteful, less dangerous products that take into consideration the full life cycle.

    Its a sad fact that most people buy what's put in front of them without considering that there's another option: Refuse.

  5. "It's that they've been taught to believe things about plastic, and plastic recycling, that aren't true. As for ACC & Coke, they got a -huge- boon out of the conference, because the official, global term is still "marine debris" -- a term that offers no hint of what the problem really is & no incentive to fix it."


  6. FYI, ck out the article about plastic on NYTimes.

    I'm not promoting this view-just sharing. Complex problems are just that, complex, intertwined, spider legged. My thoughts are to take whatever small steps I can (like using aluminum water bottle VS plastic), promote others to take their own customized small steps, and to write to the(companies) to request they take steps to do their part. Applauding companies that take steps like using bio-degrade-able coffee cups is a small way to promote positive change.
    Bernie Paquette

  7. Hey Bernie, thx for the link. I'd seen that article, it's a good one. I'm with you all the way. Small steps that are real steps are worth it. Refuse a straw at a restaurant, ask the grocery bagger not to wrap the beef in another plastic bag, do business with folks that let you bring in your own coffee mug. Buy a toothbrush or mixing bowl from Preserve Products, which takes #5 plastic and genuinely recycles it into more #5 products that themselves can be recycled again. Find a local farm that sells milk in returnable glass bottles. It all adds up!

  8. reports today that Coke was busy shuttering its bottle-2-bottle recycling plant at the very same time that it was in Hawaii at the 5th Intl Marine Debris conference.

    My skepticism that Coke is an honest partner in trying to solve plastic pollution/marine debris isn't assuaged.