From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Big Plastic Asks for $1 Billion Coronavirus Bailout
Date May 12, 2020 12:00 AM
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[The 223 companies that belong to and fund the American Chemistry
Council and the Recycling Partnership — both of which signed the
letter — include 60 publicly held companies with a combined revenue
of $2.7 trillion and net profit of $210 billion.]
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BIG PLASTIC ASKS FOR $1 BILLION CORONAVIRUS BAILOUT  
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Sharon Lerner
April 27, 2020
The Intercept
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_ The 223 companies that belong to and fund the American Chemistry
Council and the Recycling Partnership — both of which signed the
letter — include 60 publicly held companies with a combined revenue
of $2.7 trillion and net profit of $210 billion. _

, Magda Ehlers

 

The plastic industry is asking Congress for $1 billion to bail out
plastic recycling during the coronavirus crisis. “Recycling is an
essential service and consumers are demanding products with more
recycled content,” an alliance of industry groups that included Dow,
the American Chemistry Council, Berry Global Group Inc., and the
Plastics Industry Association wrote in an April 16 letter
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to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House members. “In order to
meet the demands of this crisis, we need investment now.”

The companies and industry trade groups seeking the money are calling
themselves the Recover Coalition, a reference to the Recover Act, a
bill introduced in the House in November that calls for allocating
$500 million to recycling infrastructure over five years. In their
letter, which was first reported in Plastics News
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members of the coalition “implore” the House members to include
the Recover bill “in any infrastructure package Congress considers
either in response to the COVID-19 pandemic or separately” and to
double the original funding request, noting that “We feel the time
and need is right to seek a program of $1 billion.”

But others feel that the middle of a deadly pandemic, when millions of
people don’t have enough money to pay rent
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eat
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is not the right time for the plastics industry to seek a government
bailout. “Having multinational companies with their tin cups out
asking for taxpayer dollars at this moment in time is wrong,” said
Judith Enck, founder of the environmental group Beyond Plastics. “We
need the federal spending to go to things like more testing, contact
tracing, investments in clean energy — and not to attempts to prop
up the feeble plastics recycling infrastructure.”

It’s worth noting that the companies now seeking additional taxpayer
dollars to fund recycling already have hundreds of billions at their
disposal to pay for the processing of the products they create. The
223 companies that belong to and fund the American Chemistry Council
and the Recycling Partnership — both of which signed the letter —
include 60 publicly held companies with a combined revenue of $2.7
trillion and net profit of $210 billion.

The American Chemistry Council is a trade group that represents some
of the biggest plastic manufacturers in the world, including Dow
Chemical, LyondellBasell, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, SABIC, BASF,
Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, and Lanxess. The Recycling
Partnership is an organization focused on recycling policy that is
funded by trade groups and big brands. Just five of the beverage
companies that support it
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PepsiCo, Danone, Unilever, and Nestle — spent more than $24 billion
on advertising alone in 2019.

In its letter, the coalition notes that the coronavirus crisis has led
to a reduction in plastics recycling, as “many localities have
reduced/eliminated recycling collection or suspended enforcement of
bottle deposit laws, greatly reducing a much-needed manufacturing
feedstock.” Yet, because recycled plastic generally costs more
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than “virgin” plastic, the demand for recycled plastic was already
weak and declining long before the pandemic.

A downturn in plastic recycling could interfere with pledges made by
Coca-Cola
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and other companies to include more recycled plastic in their
packaging. But many big beverage companies, including Coke, have long
opposed bottle bills
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that have been shown to dramatically increase recycling rates.

Asked whether the coronavirus crisis might make it harder to meet its
commitments, Coke emailed a statement, saying,“While the pandemic
will create temporary challenges, we remain focused on our goals.
Through a partnership with our beverage industry, we took action in
2019 to create a $100 million fund, matched three to one by other
grants and investors, to improve sorting, processing and collection of
recyclables in U.S. communities with the biggest infrastructure
gaps.”

As The Intercept has previously reported, the U.S. is in the midst of
a recycling crisis
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and has never managed to recycle even 10 percent of its plastic. The
rest is either burned, sent to landfills, or littered. While the
Recover Act would address the problem by subsidizing the recycling
process with government funds, another bill, the Break Free From
Plastic Pollution Act, would instead put the financial onus for
recycling back onto the companies that make and use plastic.

Sen. Tom Udall, who introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution
Act in the Senate in February, has criticized
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the plastics industry for “relying on local taxpayers and
beach-combing volunteers” to clean up the mess. Udall is similarly
disdainful of the industry’s most recent attempt to get additional
funding tied to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“By asking for a billion-dollar handout, Big Plastic is trying to
maintain what already is the status quo: that is, taxpayers funding
and taking responsibility for the waste of plastic producers,” Udall
wrote to The Intercept in response to questions about the industry
letter. “When we surface from this pandemic, plastic pollution will
still be at crisis levels­ — and matters may be even worse, as
industry tries to exploit this pandemic to leverage more marketing for
single-use products.”

Udall was referring to recent attempts by the plastic industry to use
the coronavirus crisis as a justification for rolling back bans on
plastic bags and producing more single-use products. In March, the
Plastics Industry Association wrote to the secretary of Health and
Human Services, Alex Azar, asking him to “make a public statement on
the health and safety benefits seen in single-use plastics.” The
group also supplied its member companies with form letters
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that their businesses that make single-use plastics, including
packaging, be deemed essential.

_Sharon Lerner is an investigative reporter for The Intercept,
covering health and the environment. Her Intercept series, The Teflon
Toxin, was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. Her work has also
appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and the Washington Post,
among other publications, and has received awards from the Society for
Environmental Journalists, the American Public Health Association, the
Park Center for Independent Media, the Women and Politics Institute,
and the Newswoman’s Club of New York._

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Related
As Africa Drowns in Garbage, the Plastics Business Keeps Booming
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