Big Plastic Sued over Recycling Claims and Pollution Scourge

By Romero Halloway

 Littorary - courthouse with plastic piled on steps


People think that once they put their plastic bottle in the blue bin or the recycle-specific receptacle that their city or town has placed conveniently about the pedestrian walkways, that it is conveyed to a recycling center to transform into the next generation of plastic products.

This is not so.

Even if the United States of America were to devise a perfect plastic collection system where all of the plastic products produced in the nation were collected and placed in a specific location, it would still only mean that less than 10% of plastics produced in a given year are actually recycled.

That’s because the United States doesn’t recycle plastic within its borders at scale. Instead, it ships the lion share of plastic waste it collects overseas.

It used to ship the majority of its waste to China, where the nation had become quite adept at either recycling it, or simply dumping it in landfills or into the environment. In 2018, however, China said it was out of the plastic waste import game, leaving the United States to scramble.

So the United States sent it to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. Unfortunately, those countries also followed suit with plastic waste import bans.

Presently, the United States sends the majority of recyclable items to Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Laos, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal.

Because these countries lack robust environmental regulations, much of the plastic waste is simply dumped, ending up back in the environment, where its inability to degrade like organic material means it breaks down into smaller and smaller parts.

Microplastics then disseminate throughout the environment, ending up in the digestive systems of wildlife, and in the ocean or along beaches and the shores of various waterways.

The problem is enormous and Earth Island Institute, a nonprofit out of Berkeley, California is tired of it.

To combat the problem, the nonprofit has unsheathed a novel legal gambit, which involves suing ten of the largest food, beverage, and consumer staples products in the United States.

As Courthouse News Service reported recently, the lawsuit seeks to hold Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company accountable for the vast amounts of plastic ending up in the environment.

The legal theory of the case hinges on two elements.

First, Earth Island says that Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other major beverage companies need to stop using the recycle symbol on their bottle because they are misleading consumers about the extent and efficacy of recycling programs.

“The misrepresentation claims are premised on the fact that when consumers see the recycle symbol on the plastic packaging, they think that when they put it in a little blue bin it will be recycled,” Noor Rahman, an attorney for Earth Island, told Courthouse News in a recent interview. “But 90% of the time it can’t be.”

The attorney said most members of the general public are unaware that regardless of sophisticated collection systems, the overwhelming majority of recycled bottles that are being sorted and placed in the right receptacle simply aren’t making it to the recycling facility.

“The way they’ve marketed their products has resulted in the mass proliferation of excessive volumes of plastic,” Rahman said.

If Earth Island is successful in their novel legal gambit, the companies in question will have to be more forthright about the degree to which their packaging is recycled.

“We want them to stop implying their plastics can be recycled,” Rahman told Courthouse News.

Second, the organization is seeking to force the companies to pay for the vast coordinated effort it takes to clean California’s beaches every year due to the presence of microplastics.

“In recent years the cost and expense of cleaning California beaches, informing the public about plastic and the limitations of recycling, and aiding marine life that has been choked, starved, poisoned, or suffocated by plastic, has grown exponentially,” the Institute said in the original complaint.

We here at Littorary take no position on the case itself or its outcome, but we support all efforts to help rid the environment of excessive amounts of microplastics.

Our contribution to the solution portfolio is to create an alternative to single-use plastic, particularly as it relates to hot or chilled beverages like coffee and tea. A reusable non-plastic product can help salve the environmental wounds created by the overproduction of plastic -- including beach pollution and climate change.

Our team is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the environmental burden. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in concert with the health of the environment. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the convenience and sustainability that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.

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