California’s Attorney General has announced a unique probe into the fossil and petrochemical industries for their alleged role in causing and exacerbating a global plastic waste pollution crisis.
atty General Rob Bonta said on Thursday that his office would advise Exxon Mobil Corp. subpoenaed for information about the company’s role in global plastic pollution.
“For more than half a century, the plastics industry has waged an aggressive campaign to deceive the public and perpetuate the myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis,” Bonta said.
Fossil fuels such as oil and gas are the raw materials for most plastics. In recent decades, the accumulation of plastic waste has inundated waterways and oceans, sickening marine life and threatening human health.
The announcement comes amid an urgent and growing movement across California to curb plastic pollution by reducing it at its source. In the last two weeks the town and County of Los Angeles have announced regulations and policies to reduce plastic waste as state lawmakers, lobbyists and negotiators debate a bill that could ban multiple forms of single-use plastic. Also in November Californians have the opportunity to vote on a ballot initiative to curb plastic pollution.
Speaking at Dockweiler State Beach — an area of the Los Angeles County coast that sits between a Chevron oil refinery and a major sewage drain — Bonta said that despite the public perception that plastics are heavily recycled, more than 90% of them are either buried in landfills, incinerated, or washed into the sea.
According to Bonta, internal documents from the 1970s warned industry executives that recycling was “impossible” and that there were “serious doubts” that plastics recycling “can ever be made commercially viable.” The vast majority of plastic products are inherently non-recyclable, and the US plastic recycling rate has never exceeded 9%.
“In California and around the world, we are witnessing the disastrous results of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign of deception. Plastic pollution seeps into our waterways, poisoning our environments and devastating our landscapes,” Bonta said. “Enough is enough.”
Exxon Mobil has not yet responded to a request for comment.
No other state or country has conducted such an investigation of the oil and plastics industry. However, the California probe reflects other climate changes investigations and lawsuits that governments across the country have cracked down on the fossil fuel industry, accusing it of deception and demanding damages the risks and dangers emanating from its products.
The Attorney General’s investigation aims to determine whether any of Exxon Mobil’s actions violated state law and was based on “good faith” understanding of open source materials about the industry.
Bonta said that plastic-related wildlife deaths were documented as early as the 1970s, and that the plastics industry launched an aggressive — and misleading — campaign to sway public opinion in the 1980s, when state legislatures and local governments sought to restrict or to consider a ban on plastic products.
Plastics are so durable that they never fully degrade. They simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. These particles often contain harmful chemical additives such as flame retardants or plasticizers and are often cited scientific review of 52 studies concluded that, on average, people consume a credit card’s worth of microplastics every week.
Only in the last few months has research shown the presence of plastic particles people blood, healthy lung tissue and meconium — the first bowel movement of a newborn. They are also found in marine organisms, seawater, air and soil.
Some researchers say there may be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish by 2050. UC Davis researchers once scanned Seafood sold at markets in Half Moon Bay and found that a quarter of the fish and a third of the shellfish contained plastic waste.
Nevertheless, Plastics production has continued to grow and records show that the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries continue to expand their plastics infrastructure and capacity. Alone in the US Companies from around the world have invested $208 billion in new facilities, expansions and factory restarts since 2010.
Environmental leaders said Thursday it was monumental that California was taking such a clear and bold step against the industry.
“This connects the dots on a higher level than ever before, in a way that could blame fossil fuel companies for one of the greatest environmental crises of our time,” said Jennifer Savage, who leads the Surfrider Foundation’s national effort to stop plastic pollution .
“Most people don’t realize how closely linked plastic production is to the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “People don’t see plastic pollution as a fossil fuel or climate change problem, but they really are two sides of the same coin… The only way we can solve the plastic pollution crisis is by holding the fossil fuel industry accountable.” And that is a big step in that direction.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.