Mondays are recycling day in our Palm Beach County neighborhood. I used to take take a certain level of satisfaction in filling our blue bin with plastic, just as I make sure our daily newspapers are in the yellow paper recycling bin. Then, I saw Plastic Wars on Frontline and understood that we were sold a myth, a feel-good story created by the plastics industry in order to overcome public resistance to using its product.

Recycling hasn’t worked

The reality is, for all the ads and promises over the years, it’s estimated that no more than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled.

Laura Sullivan, Frontline “Plastic Wars”

The sobering reality gave me a different perspective on the plastic I saw on the seashore this morning, where some (socially distant) beachgoers were picking discarded plastic out of the tangled seaweed.

Beachgoer picking up discarded plastic on Boynton Inlet Beach

a plastic industry invention

Making recycling work was the plastic industry’s way to keep their products in the marketplace.

RONALD LIESEMER, Council for Solid Waste Solutions, 1988-2001 (in Frontline, “Plastic Wars”)

To sell more plastic

Coming up with ways to have their product perceived as more recyclable and more environmental makes their product look better. They want to sell more plastic containers.

COY SMITH, Former board member, National Recycling Coalition (in Frontline’s “Plastic Wars”)

Reduce, reuse, recycle

For the last 40 years, the conversation in this country has been about the recycle part of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” It was not an accident. It was created. It was manufactured.

David Allway, Senior Policy Analyst, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (in Frontline’s “Plastic Wars”)
One beachgoer’s collection, including barnacle-covered flip flops

More plastic than ever

And yet despite the backlash, the industry that makes plastic is expanding. The U.S. is now one of the world’s largest plastic producers, and the industry is investing tens of billions of dollars in new plastic plants.

Laura Sullivan, Frontline “Plastic Wars”

Be careful! Not everything that looks like plastic is man made. The shoreline was full of Portuguese Man-Of-War jellyfish, whose blue and purple gas-filled air sacs help them travel. They almost outnumbered the litter.

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