Center for Climate Integrity Report: Petrochemical Companies Deceived Public on Plastics Recycling

Feb. 19, 2024
Environmental organization accuses the industry of lying about the potential benefits of plastics reuse.

The Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) claims in a new report released Feb. 15 that petrochemical companies have lied about the benefits of plastic recycling.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has called the report “flawed,” saying it cites outdated, decades-old technologies.

In the report, CCI, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization, says large petrochemical companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., have long known that plastics recycling does not solve problems with plastics pollution.

CCI cited several comments over the past several decades as evidence that the petrochemical industry knew plastics recycling had little, if any, environmental benefits. Some of the comments included:

  • A remark by Roy Gottesman, the founding director of the Vinyl Institute, who said in 1989, “Recycling cannot go on indefinitely and does not solve the solid waste problem.”
  • An Exxon Mobil employee who told staffers at the American Plastics Council (APC) in 1994 that when it comes to plastic recycling, “we are committed to the activities but not committed to the results.”
  • Notes from an APC staffer in 1995 who wrote that “virgin supplies will go up sharply in near future and kick the shit out of PCR (post-consumer resin) prices.”

“This evidence shows that many of the same fossil fuel companies that knew and lied for decades about how their products cause climate change have also known and lied to the public about plastic recycling. The oil industry’s lies are at the heart of the two most catastrophic pollution crises in human history,” said CCI President Richard Wiles in a news release. “When corporations and trade groups know that their products pose grave risks to society, and then lie to the public and policymakers about it, they must be held accountable. Accountability means stopping the lying, telling the truth, and paying for the damage they’ve caused.”

But Ross Eisenberg, president of ACC’s plastics division, said the report “undermines the essential benefits of plastics and the important work underway to improve the way plastics are used and reused to meet society's needs."

“Business as usual won’t fix the problem, but in the U.S., EU and around the world investments in advanced recycling can be a game changer to better manage our vital plastic resources,” he said in a news release. “Plastics are highly efficient modern materials that are critical to building the sustainable, lower carbon future we all want. We need plastics to meet our renewable energy, clean water, connectivity, and global health and nutrition goals.”

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