Don't fall for plastic gaslighting | Earth Day Network

By David Ayer

A few years ago, I moved into a shared apartment. One of my roommates — let’s call him Matt — had a dog — let’s call him Cucumber. Occasionally, Cucumber’s business ended up on the apartment’s floor.

It became clear that Cucumber wasn’t let outside enough. Because of this, the apartment needed to be mopped more often. I mentioned this once or twice to Matt, but nothing changed. Once, Matt even said I wasn’t contributing my fair share. He wanted a rotating cleaning schedule where we each mopped the floor (code for: cleaning up the dog’s accidents).

To keep the peace, I temporarily caved. I cleaned the apartment and took Cucumber outside when I could. Then, I found a new apartment.

In this case, aside from some annoyance and inconvenience, I was able to get up and leave. But when it comes to our planet, we don’t have that option. When pollution and climate change makes the Earth uninhabitable, we can’t simply say, “Well, it didn’t work out — guess I’ll look somewhere else.”

(And no, Mars — with its unbreathable air and zero water — is not a viable alternative to Earth.)

The plastic problem

Like Cucumber’s accidents, plastic pollution dirties our environment — but, obviously, it’s much more harmful than Cucumber’s ill-timed business. Plastic maims and kills wildlife while also clogging streets and waterways.

Plastic becomes even more insidious when it breaks down into microscopic particles called microplastics, which end up in our food and water and ultimately, in us. Recent research has shown that we consume one credit card’s worth of plastic every week.

In the United States, two members of Congress have had enough, recently introducing draft legislation to tackle this plastic problem. Their proposal includes regulations to hold producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their plastic products.

The plan requires plastic producers to ensure their products are disposed in ways that avoid damaging the environment and consequently, our quality of life. The proposed rules also call for some plastic products (those for which there is no safe and environmentally friendly method of disposal) to be phased out completely.

If enacted, this law could drastically reduce plastic waste produced by the U.S. It could even inspire countries around the world to reduce their own plastic pollution.

But here’s the catch: It would also cost a lot of money for the people who make the plastic, and those industries have significant sway (read: financial contributions) on political decision making.

Plastic money in politics

Case in point: the U.S. politicians that have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the petrochemical industry, an industry whose continued existence depends on demand for more and more plastic.

Heavy industry lobbying from the plastic and petrochemical industry has produced legislation that dials back producer responsibilities. Such legislation includes the recent Save our Seas 2.0 bill, which shifts focus to collecting plastic waste already in the environment, while doing virtually nothing to limit the amount of new plastic entering the environment.

In other words, the bill asks nothing of the multi-billion-dollar, multi-national corporations who churn out more and more plastic.

Instead, these politicians and their plastic-industry cronies are starting to remind me of my old roommate, Matt — deflecting blame (and subsequent cleanup responsibility) to others instead of facing the challenge head on.

The billion-dollar question

The plastic industry, much like my old roommate Matt, isn’t taking responsibility. In this case, though, something must change — there’s no move out option here.

Look at it this way: Would you rather live in an apartment where you always have dog business on the floor (which you have to clean up), or would you rather an apartment where your roommate makes sure that dog business never ends up in the apartment in the first place?

The plastics, oil and gas industries are trying to gaslight us into thinking that we are the problem, that if we were better at cleaning and removing plastic pollution from our environment, we wouldn’t be facing the plastic pollution crisis we are today.

We know better.

We don’t need a lot of this plastic in the first place. We also know that a product that never breaks down will continue to cause harm of thousands of years into the future, and so we should do everything in our power to ensure that product never makes it into the environment at all.

Don’t fall for plastic gaslighting. We need comprehensive legislation that puts the onus of collecting plastic waste on the producers and cuts production of plastic in the first place, and that’s what a recent bill by Senator Udall and Congressman Lowenthal does.

Reject efforts by the petrochemical industry to force us into ineffective half measures. After all, I quite like my current apartment and would prefer not to leave.


David Ayer is the End Plastic Campaign Manager at Earth Day Network.