Plastics have become an everyday part of our lives, including the many unintended consequences of plastic production, use, and disposal. Chemicals added to plastics – to make them stronger, more flexible, or UV resistant – have been found to be toxic and have widespread adverse effects on environmental and human health. The production and disposal of plastics is unjustly concentrated near low-income communities and communities of color. To add to this list, and the subject of this webinar, it is clear from the findings of a recent report that plastics are a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and climate warming.
Beyond Plastics’ recent report is entitled ‘The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change’. The report documents the ‘less-talked about’ relationship between plastics and greenhouse gas emissions, detailing the impacts of each stage of the plastic cycle from fracking and cracking of hydrocarbons to create plastic feedstocks, to off-gassing during their usable life, and the disposal of plastics through burial, incineration, and as litter. Motivated to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions, the US shut down many coal-fired power plants in recent years. However, the growing US plastics industry – this ‘New Coal’ – is on track to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than these reductions.
This topic is very relevant for Alaskans. Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic are warming three times as fast as the rest of the planet as a whole, disproportionately and adversely affecting Alaskans’ food security, transportation, and cultures. The north/Arctic is a hemispheric sink for persistent industrial chemicals and toxic plastics that are transported on atmospheric and oceanic currents from lower latitudes through global distillation. Accelerated melting of sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers is mobilizing sequestered contaminants and microplastics, threatening the health of our oceans, fish, wildlife, and peoples of the north.
Beyond Plastics Website: beyondplastics.org
Material Research Website: materialresearch.net
Plastic and Climate Change: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet (2019 Report led by Center for International Environmental Law) https://www.ciel.org/plasticandclimate/
Recording of Beyond Plastics webinar on the findings of their recent report, ‘The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTLewVfb_uw
- Bottle Bills: bottlebill.org
- Extended Producer Responsiblity: https://www.oecd.org/env/tools-evaluation/extendedproducerresponsibility.htm
- Plastic Bag Laws: plasticbaglaws.org
- Container Recycling Institute: container-recycling.org
- Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) – Ending Plastic Pollution campaign: https://www.clf.org/making-an-impact/ending-plastic-pollution/
- Expanded Producer Responsibility for packaging legislation (proposed in Maine): https://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/recycle/epr.html
- Federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (HR 5845, S 3263)
- Model local bill – the “Plastics Trifecta” (foam food containers, plastic bags, plastic straws)
- Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) and Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NWMOA). 2020. “White Paper on Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Paper Products.” April: https://www.newmoa.org/solidwaste/EPR_for_PPP_White_Paper.pdf
Films and Videos:
- In 2018 and 2019, CHE produced a 4-part webinar series entitled ‘The Effects of Plastics on Health’. This is a link to https://www.healthandenvironment.org/our-work/webinars/plastics-and-health-webinar-series. Note, Jim Vallette was a speaker in the first webinar on Plastic Production.
- The Story of Plastic: storyofplastic.org
- Deposit Return: How it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gK80miWYOXU
- Plastic Pollution Virtual Film Series: beyondplastics.org/article/plastic-pollution-film-series
- Plastic Problem: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/the-plastic-problem
- Plastic Wars: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/plastic-wars/
Reports & Articles:
- Gardiner, Beth. 2019. “The Plastic Pipeline: A Surge of New Production is on the Way.” Yale 360. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies: https://e360.yale.edu/features/the-plastics-pipeline-a-surge-of-new-production-is-on-the-way
- Container Recycling Institute. 2013. Bottled Up: Beverage Container Recycling Stagnates (2000-2010). https://www.bottlebill.org/resources/pubs/BottledUp-BCR2000-2010.pdf
- Greenpeace. 2020. Circular Claims Fall Flat: Comprehensive US Survey of Plastics Recyclability. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Greenpeace-Report-Circular-Claims-Fall-Flat.pdf
- Budris, Kevin. 2020. Curbside Recycling is failing us, but there are alternatives that work.”
- Greenpeace. 2019. The Smart Supermarkets: How retailers can innovate beyond single-use plastics and packaging. https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-canada-stateless/2019/11/105a74a7-smart-supermarket-english-final.pdf
- The Department of Environmental Conservation / Division of Environmental Health list of plastic bag bans in the state – https://dec.alaska.gov/eh/solid-waste/plastic-bag-bans/
Judith Enck, is the founder and president of Beyond Plastics, an initiative that works on plastic pollution issues. She is a senior fellow and visiting faculty member at Bennington College where she teaches classes on plastics pollution. She is also a former EPA Regional Administrator and the former deputy secretary for the environment for the New York Governor’s Office.
Jim Vallette is the co-founder and president of Material Research L3C, a small, low-profit business based in Maine. Jim and his international team specialize in analyzing the global supply chains and impacts of toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, and waste. Material Research primarily works with non-profit, academic, and government institutions, helping these organizations and individuals with research, analysis and presentation of information important to their respective mission.