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By Tony Radoszewski, PLASTICS President and CEO
 

There are a number of things to object to when it comes to Sergio Peçanha’s recent Washington Post column about plastics: the sensationalist, misleading headline; the suggestion that, because the U.S. is the 20th biggest culprit when it comes to the mismanagement of plastic waste, it constitutes a major player in this arena, when close to 90% of mismanaged plastic waste comes from the top five countries; and on and on and on.

The most objectionable thing might be the way that Mr. Peçanha uses zeros to suggest a crisis where there isn’t one. I quote:

“In 2017 alone, the United States generated 268 million tons of trash. Only about a third of that was recycled or composted — most of the rest ended up in landfills. More than 300,000 tons of plastic are estimated to be littered or inadequately disposed each year.”

Mr. Peçanha knows you aren’t going to pull out your calculator here, so let me do the math for you. Three hundred thousand tons is a lot, but in terms of the 268 million tons of trash generated in the United States, it amounts to 0.1% of the trash.

Why, then, are we focusing on the 0.1%, instead of the 99.9% of other trash that the U.S. generates?

While there are other elements of our planet’s waste crisis that need to be addressed, Mr. Peçanha and the rest of the media seem determined to place the blame solely on the plastics industry. This is despite the fact that our products account for only a small portion of the overall waste our nation, and our planet, generates annually, and the fact that our materials and products deliver benefits to which no other material can lay claim: we are lighter, more efficient, recyclable, and more versatile than any other material.

Finally, Mr. Peçanha’s column seems to suggest that recycling plastic is broken. On this, we agree, at least partially. The plastics recycling system is, indeed, broken. But we should not despair that because it is broken now, it will never be fixed. There are a number of ways to improve plastics recycling and decrease litter and waste mismanagement, and some of those ways are before Congress as we speak. The Realizing the Economic Opportunities and Values of Expanding Recycling (RECOVER) Act and Save Our Seas 2.0 Act would improve our nation’s waste management infrastructure and make recycling more profitable.

In the future we hope that Mr. Peçanha recognizes the work the plastics industry is doing to increase recycling and prevent our industry’s materials from ending up where they shouldn’t. And we hope that we can all focus on the real problem of waste mismanagement together without condemning one material over another.