Plastic Pollution Coalition

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a consortium of environmental groups and activists formed as a project from the Earth Island Institute to create a “world free of plastics.” The coalition is made up of 1,200 organizations, businesses, and “thought leaders.” The Plastic Pollution Coalition is also a part of the Break Free From Plastic campaign which is a similar operation that uses Twitter activism to spread (mis)information about plastics. 

A War on Single-Use Plastics

The Plastic Pollution Coalition will be the first to say that plastic is used in everything. As one activist put it: “Every time you drive your car, every time you take a step with your shoe, every time you open your dryer, or wash your clothes, microplastics are entering the environment.” Most Americans enjoy wearing shoes, having access to laundry machines, and driving their cars, but the Plastic Pollution Coalition wants to get to the point of having a “waste-free future” in which plastics are no longer used. 

The first round of plastics on the chopping block are “single-use plastics.” This is a broad category of goods, some of which provide essential benefits for consumers. Single-use plastic bags are easily replaced and a fairly trivial product. But other single-use plastics include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, and disinfecting wipe containers that have been used to keep people safe during pandemics. 

The coalition implies that these items are used once and discarded forever and will eventually end up in the ocean. In reality, the United States is responsible for only about one percent of the mismanaged plastic waste in the ocean. Much of the plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not from small “single-use” items but rather it is from abandoned fishing gear.

The coalition did acknowledge that plastics like PET — the resin used to make soda bottles — is recyclable, but they bizarrely do not include recycling as part of their effort to reduce plastic pollution. They argue that recycling is not an effective strategy because PET is only recycled at a rate of 29 percent in the United States. The Plastic Pollution Coalition has apparently decided it would be preferable to ban these products that people enjoy every day rather than change the public’s recycling habits. 

The Plastic Pollution Coalition encourages its members and supporters to promote bans on items like bottles, bags, and straws. They have also formed campaigns against individual companies, including Amazon, to discourage the use of plastic. 

The Plastic Pollution Coalition has offered few alternatives to plastic. The coalition acknowledged that using alternatives like aluminum cans have their own serious drawbacks. The coalition recommends using glassware, though glass can also be thrown out and has a similarly dismal recycling rate of just 27 percent. The coalition believes it can convince people to wash and reuse their glass items, even though the easier option–recycling glass–isn’t done by most people already. The Plastic Pollution Coalition also doesn’t mention that glass is heavier and requires more CO2 emissions to transport, or the fact that glass takes roughly one million years to decompose in a landfill.

The group also demonized recycled aluminum for possibly containing BPA (more on this below). 

The Last Plastic Straw Movement

One of the coalition’s main campaigns is the Last Plastic Straw movement. The campaign cites dubious data from a 9-year-old’s research project (no joke) that produced the claim that 500 million plastic straws are used each day. The coalition set out to ban plastic straws throughout the country. 

Some Hollywood celebrities have joined the cause including Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, and Margaret Atwood. 

Creating a BPA Boogeyman

The Coalition promoted dubious studies claiming that plastic is toxic to scare the public about the “danger” of plastic. The Coalition called on the Food and Drug Administration to ban bisphenol-A, a necessary element in plastics that has been repeatedly studied and found by researchers to be safe at normal exposure levels.

In fact, scientists with the FDA and the National Institute of Health published two major studies in which researchers found evidence to “support and extend the conclusion from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that BPA is safe as currently used.” The large body of research showing BPA’s safety at normal exposure levels has led government regulators, including the European Food Safety Authority, to conclude that BPA is far less risky than the Plastic Pollution Coalition and other fear-mongering environmentalists claimed. 

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the Plastics Pollution Coalition still pushed conspiracy theories warning that individuals should avoid canned food or plastics containing BPA if they “want to lose weight, reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer, and ward off diabetes.”