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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Fake Talking Points


the graduate plastics GIFThe spectacle was difficult to watch. The veteran lobbyist spent 30 minutes puking plastic propaganda. Much of what he disgorged was either laughable — he said by putting grapes in plastic packaging “you reduce the hazard of people slipping and falling on grapes” — or disingenuous, by, for example, placing the problem of oceans flooded with plastics on a lack of waste management in “rapidly developing countries in Asia” without ever mentioning the fact that for decades the United States has sent massive amounts of plastic waste to the very countries he was trashing.

His performance was held last year at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management headquarters in Providence. I was there to cover a meeting of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Task Force to Tackle Plastics in a fair and balanced manner. It was no easy task.

The American Chemistry Council and other lobbyists for the plastics industry like to spread bovine waste. Even during a pandemic, the Washington, D.C.-based trade association and other plastic influencers have no trouble propagating fear and misinformation. 

Last year’s presentation to Rhode Island’s Task Force to Tackle Plastics was ridiculous. The campaign to undermine bag bans and vilify reusable bags during a public-health crisis was disgusting.

Just days into the coronavirus pandemic, the plastics industry and some of its top mouthpieces, like the Plastics Industry Association, began claiming, without evidence, that reusable bags could transmit the coronavirus. Plastic was safer, they insisted.

In a March 18 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Tony Radoszewski, president of the Plastics Industry Association, requested a public statement from the federal agency endorsing the idea that single-use plastics are the safest choice amid the coronavirus pandemic. (POLITICO obtained a copy of the letter.)

“We ask that the department speak out against bans on these products as a public safety risk and help stop the rush to ban these products by environmentalists and elected officials that puts consumers and workers at risk,” he wrote.

Two days later, Radoszewski issued a press release that peddled the wholesomeness of plastics. He wrote that “single-use plastic bags provide a sanitary and convenient way to carry our groceries home while protecting supermarket employees and customers from whatever is lurking on reusable bags.”

His four-paragraph glorification of plastics included this: “As the COVID-19 virus spreads across the country single-use plastics will only become more vital. We live longer, healthier and better because of single-use plastics.”

The industry’s public-health recommendations were based largely off a study conducted by the University of Arizona a decade before this novel coronavirus was introduced to the world that found bacteria on 99 percent of the reusable bags tested. The American Chemistry Council funded the study.

The coronavirus is, however, well, a virus, not a bacterium. There’s some important differences to consider. For one, bacteria can live in almost every conceivable environment, including in or on the human body. Viruses are parasitic, which means they require living cells or tissue in which to grow (they can survive on surfaces such as plastic or cloth for a period of time).

But a lack of facts, an industry-funded study, and another study, in which 30 reusable plastic bags were microbiologically analyzed and bacteria was found, was enough to get the deceitful campaign rolling. Reeling governments and scared businesses across New England, and throughout the rest of the country, began to pause bag bans and prohibit the use of reusable bags.

No known cases of COVID-19 worldwide have been linked to any surface, real or manufactured. 

That fact doesn’t matter to the shameless plastics and fossil-fuel industries. Public health and environmental protections only get in the way of corporate profits. Protecting a disposal culture is more important than a healthy planet. The corporate lobbyists who hawk deception and stoke fear must think they and their children don’t share the same world as ecobag-carrying tree-huggers.

Plastics play many vital roles, including protecting health-care workers during this pandemic, but the world doesn’t need petroleum-based bags, crazy straws, balloon sticks, and many other single-use plastics to function.

Plastic pollution is a serious problem locally, regionally, nationally, and globally, with new information emerging routinely about its hazards. Lobbyists, though, fling manure in all directions when any advancement is made to lessen the environmental and public-health impact of plastics.

Serious discussions, as was intended at the task force meeting I covered last year, are minimized when a plastic mouthpiece touts the virtues of wrapping bananas, cumbers, and potatoes in plastic to keep them fresh.

Can we please stop providing these performers a stage.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.