Tuesday May 07, 2013 | 12:39 PM
Posted by Harold Johnson

Maine of course is hardly alone in its struggle with plastic pollution. It’s a scourge the world over. And as expected there’s lots of finger pointing, buck-passing, dodging responsibility, assigning blame.

But while regular folks bust their backsides cleaning up plastic litter everywhere, the international plastics industry knows who to blame for the state of things.

You.

Over the past few years, I’ve surfed various ecology/litter Web sites from around the world. Here’s one from South Africa.

"Plastics don't litter - people do!" This particular Web site has had the same tag line up for at least two years. The marine debris prevention partnership that international plastics industries wish to create goes like this: “Our products are not the problem, you are.”

Here’s a little plastic life-cycle chart I put together a while back:

(A full-size version is available here. If you'd like, it's yours to use as you wish.) There are at least a dozen steps from plastic formulation to ultimate burial/incineration. You -- the consumer -- are responsible for one, maybe two. Yet the plastics industry wants to put 100% of the burden, blame, & responsibility on you.

So, let's see what you've done.

  • Did you identify, clean, sort, & put out your recyclable plastics? Did the bin get blown over, scavenged,^ hit by a plow, poorly emptied by a recycling truck? Your fault.
  • Did you take your family out for a picnic? Did your snack packs have tear-off tops? (Of course, that’s how industry makes them now.) Did a torn-off top blow out of your hand, or baggie, or trash bin, despite your good intentions? Your fault.
  • Are you finding it harder & harder to reduce plastic use because even “green” manufacturers switch to persistent plastic? Your fault.
  • Have you ever been victim of a flood, a hurricane, worse? All that plastic material in your car, your office, your home -- it washed into the environment, and will stay there. By countless tons with each disaster. Your fault.
  • Do you have friends or family in a developing nation like Indonesia? A major multinational ramped up capacity to deliver single-use plastic bottles to Indonesians by 30% in 2010-2011 (PDF file). Never mind the country's waste management infrastructure can't handle what it already has.*

(Source)

Tons of waste, no means to manage it, corporate profit, citizen cost.

Your fault.

The theme is clear. The plastics industry would like to shed as much responsibility & burden for the mess its products create as it can. And so far, they've done a good job of it.

Right now, what labels are multinational corporations assigning to you? Do you agree with them?

---------------------------

^ This image comes from just down the street from me in Saco back in winter. Drive around any neighborhood after trash collection, you're bound to find more of the same.

* That same multinational bottler, Coca-Cola, was top-tier sponsor of 2011’s 5th International Marine Debris Conference (http://5imdc.wordpress.com/sponsorship/). In the 1980s, these conferences had no corporate sponsorship, and the term was “marine plastic pollution.” In 2011 Coke and the American Chemistry Council (plastic trade group) were top-tier sponsors, and the word “plastic” had disappeared.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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