Make plastics-makers responsible for their product

Bottle deposits encourage users to turn them in for recycling.Nine state legislatures are considering bills to make plastics manufacturers responsible for their products end-of-life.

Pennsylvania is not one of them. It should be.

The concept is not a new one. Battery makers must process their products when they no longer start our cars. We buy new tires for our chariot and pay to have the dealer dispose of them.

But for the past 50 years, the industry has spent tons of money to convince state and federal lawmakers that any efforts to push more responsibility onto the folks who make the stuff will only increase consumer cost. And they are still making the same argument.

If only we would sort and clean our plastic containers when we have drunk the water and scraped out as much peanut butter and mayo as we can, everything would be wonderful, is the industry’s pitch. To make the industry responsible would only increase the cost of consumer goods, it says.

So the industry continues to push states and municipalities into believing they can solve the problem if only they would “invest in increasing recycling programs and curbside collection,” as National Waste And Recycling Association regional vice president Steve Changaris was quoted in the association magazine this month.

Testifying before the Connecticut legislature, he said lawmakers efforts to add products to the state’s bottle bill “will harm recycling facilities financially, driving up recycling costs for municipalities,” according to a quote in the association’s magazine.

But in spite of recycling programs across the country, including in Pennsylvania, the EPA reports only 27% of glass, 16% of paper packaging, and 9% of plastics are recycled. There are an awful lot of those nifty triangular recycling symbols in landfills or washing down our streams and rivers.

We consumers, whether in home or on a hiking trail, should pick up and properly dispose of plastic and other trash. But have neither the expertise nor the facilities to process used plastic into new park benches, soap containers and automobile dashboards.

Many of us do not consider, as we drain the last swig of water from the bottle, and cast it to the creek bank alongside which we are enthralled by the fish, turtles and various invertebrates, that our trash may well become part of our food supply.

A water bottle dropped into Willoughby Run is washed into Marsh Creek, which joins Rock Creek to become the Monocacy River, which flows into the Potomac River, which drains to the Chesapeake Bay, which melds into the Atlantic Ocean, where it either washes up on our shore or, sufficiently beaten and ground during its travel, becomes tiny particles – microplastics – ingested by fish we buy in the local grocery store. Microplastics in our creeks are slurped by cows as they mature into hamburgers and hotdogs for the Saturday family barbeque.

A recent survey of Pennsylvania waterways found microplastics in all of them.

Big companies claiming increased taxes mean higher prices are, in fact, correct. Every cost, from making a product to trucking it to market, to the TV advertisements to convince us we cannot live without it is factored into the price we pay at Walmart.

But that will not happen unless we adopt regulations requiring the makers of plastic products to figure out what to do with it when its designed purpose is ended.

Requiring companies such as Dow Chemical Company, LyondellBasell and ExxonMobile – reportedly the leading plastic products companies in the world – to be responsible for the waste they create will force them to figure out a way to solve the problem that consumers, as a practical matter, cannot.

In the end, the industry will solve the problem, boastfully claim credit, and pass the cost on to consumers.

And that beats having plastic steak for dinner.

I hope you enjoyed the journey. Thanks for coming along. Comments are welcome. Before you go, please tap a button to share.

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