Plastics industry engaged in 50 years of fraud over recycling, report alleges

By Dana Drugmand

Plastics makers and petrochemical industry players have engaged in a decades-long fraud aimed at deceiving the public about plastic recycling, according to a new report that spotlights freshly uncovered industry communications and internal documents.

The report comes as the global plastic waste crisis deepens, and as environmental advocacy organizations are increasingly calling for major fossil fuel and petrochemical companies to be held responsible for plastic pollution that poses a threat to human and planetary health.

“Despite their long-standing knowledge that recycling plastic is neither technically nor economically viable, petrochemical companies—independently and through their industry trade associations and front groups—have engaged in fraudulent marketing and public education campaigns designed to mislead the public about the viability of plastic recycling,” asserts the new report, released by the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) on Thursday.

In detailing the plastics industry’s campaign of deception that dates back more than 50 years, the report reveals how the industry deployed a familiar strategic playbook to push back on threats of regulation by promoting a misleading narrative and false claims pertaining to plastics and recycling, despite knowing all along that plastics’ recyclability was more of a public relations message than an effective solution to the waste management problem.

“This evidence shows that many of the same fossil fuel companies that knew and lied for decades about how their products cause climate change have also known and lied to the public about plastic recycling,” CCI President Richard Wiles said in a statement. “When corporations and trade groups know that their products pose grave risks to society, and then lie to the public and policymakers about it, they must be held accountable.”