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Uncovering the Methods by Which They Generate Revenue

For many people, that circle with three green arrows on a plastic bottle (known as a Möbius ring) marks the difference between consumerism and conscious purchasing. There are people who are willing to pay much more money for that label, which in theory guarantees our contribution, as buyers, to recycling. But there is a problem: they are lying to us.

The plastics industry doesn’t need recycling to work, “but for people to believe it works,” says Davis Allen, a researcher at the Center for Climate Integrity and co-author of the study published in February, “The Plastic Recycling Fraud.” The study blames Big Oil and the plastics industry for causing a global waste crisis through “decades of deceptive practices.”

“They could never lie about the existence of plastic waste,” Allen told CBS. “But they created a lie about how we could solve it, and that was recycling”.

Green labels began appearing on plastic products in 1988, in an effort to convince the public that plastic waste was not a problem because it could be recycled.

The report by Allen and other scientists from the Center for Climate Integrity points out that most products made of plastic “They cannot be recycled, they have never been recyclable and they will not be”. About 48 million tons of plastic waste is generated each year in the United States, and according to the Department of Energy, only 5% to 6% is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or is burned.

These are data that would completely destroy buyers who are willing to spend more money for reusable items and thus contribute to the reduction of waste. The American Marketing Association (AMA) refers to this feeling as “psychological property”, or the ability to connect with a product because it aligns with your values ​​and your identity.

“In the end, psychological ownership increases consumer valuation and willingness to pay,” says the AMA, which was based on a series of experiments and data from buyers at some of the large Fortune 500 companies.

It will also be a bucket of cold water for Generation Z, who values ​​environmental sustainability more than any other generation. A 2021 survey from consulting firm FirstInsight found that 62% of Gen Z shoppers prefer sustainable brands and 73% are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Additionally, they are the most likely to make purchasing decisions based on personal, social and environmental values.

“The plastics industry understands that selling recycling sells plastic, and they will say pretty much anything they have to say to keep doing it,” Davis Allen told CBS. “That’s how they make money.”

For Allen, the plastics and petroleum products industry never saw recycling as a real technical problem they had to solve, but rather as a public relations challenge.

According to the study, the toxicity of plastic and its chemical additives limits the recyclability of plastic. These toxic additives include stabilizers, plasticizers, coatings, catalysts and flame retardants, which become even more contaminated when mixed with containers of pesticides, cleaning solvents and other household items.

For this reason, a large majority of plastic products cannot be recycled into food-safe packaging, food contact surfaces, or other high-touch products.

Jan Dell, a chemical engineer who contributed to the study and is the founder of a nonprofit to combat plastic pollution, has a clear idea: the plastics industry is “lying to you.” “The only thing the plastics industry has really recycled is its lies over and over again” he settled.

CBS reported that The American Chemistry Council (an organization that declares itself “the collective voice of the chemical manufacturing sector”) has called the Center for Climate Integrity report “flawed” and “outdated.” The American Chemistry Council assures that “plastic manufacturers are working hard to change the way they are manufactured and recycled.”

In parallel, The Plastics Industry Association has launched a new advertising campaign called “Recycling is real,” and says it is investing in what it calls advanced recycling technology.

But Jan Dell doesn’t believe plastic will ever truly be recyclable: “It’s the same process they were trying 30 years ago, and my answer is that it’s science fiction,” he said.

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