top of page
  • Writer's pictureBeth Szurpicki

Mess Part 2: "All this new plastic was creating too much trash, and people didn’t like it.”

“We gotta do what it takes to take the heat off because we want to continue to make plastic products.”


To catch you up: it's the 1970s, and people are concerned about the amount of single-use waste being created by single-use systems.

The plastics industry was under fire for all the single-use waste being created. So their marketing machine stepped up to the plate (again) to convince us all that we don’t need to feel bad about all these single-use wasteful items, because of *the magic of recycling.*

Sadly, many people knew recycling wasn’t a viable solution - but they were no match for the $ behind Plastics.

Recycling doesn't work.

Fortunately this detail has been spreading in recent years, but we’re going to take a quick detour from our history lesson to make sure it’s clear for those of us who don’t know: recycling is not the solution.

“Here's the basic problem: All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can't be reused more than once or twice.

On the other hand, new plastic is cheap. It's made from oil and gas, and it's almost always less expensive and of better quality to just start fresh.”

Oh and, Big Plastic makes more $$$ that way.

Enter public deception #3: Plastics knew recycling wasn’t a solution, so they tricked us into thinking it was.

“The industry's awareness that recycling wouldn't keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program's earliest days, [NPR] found. ‘There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis,’ one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.”

“Plastic is not valuable and recycling doesn’t work. But “the makers of plastic — the nation's largest oil and gas companies — have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.”

In the 1990s Plastics spent $50M per year on advertising, selling plastics as limitless and their recycling as effective.

So how about the little # inside the triangle ♻️ that tells you an item is recyclable? That was part of the game, too – it’s public deception #4.

A report to the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1993 shows that they knew the symbol wasn’t working:

‘The code is being misused. Companies are using it as a 'green' marketing tool.’

The code is creating ‘unrealistic expectations’ about how much plastic can actually be recycled, it told them.

In other words, the symbol was also used for plastics that couldn’t be recycled. And that suited the plastics industry as it helped create an illusion that recycling will solve the issues with plastic waste.



bottom of page