Read time: 3 minutes

This May Be Most Important Piece John Oliver Has Ever Done

John Oliver looks at plastics and why they end up in our bodies.

Thank you, John Oliver. I've been pointing this out for a long, long time. I covered municipal meetings for years, and it became obvious that recycling was mostly a feel-good scam. You know what happened to all that plastic that well-meaning local earth lovers so carefully collected and sorted?

It went to the county trash-to-steam plant to be incinerated, and then into the air. Because burning plastic was the only thing that would generate enough BTUs to support a heating plant, and the county had a contract to provide enough plastic for them to do so. But because the plant was in Chester, Pa., one of the poorest and blackest cities in the country, and the township desperately needed the revenue, no one could stop it and the environmental apartheid rolled on.

And all those newspapers we collected to be recycled? Well, sometimes they got recycled. But only during the occasional market spikes where the market price of newspaper exceeded the cost of recycling it. Here's the thing: On average, recycling generally costs governments money. So once again, the responsibility for dealing with this fallout of the petrochem industry falls on the consumer in the form of higher taxes. (And if you don't believe me, go to one of your local meetings and ask questions.)

And now, the recent news that infertility has become an existential problem. Again, it's presented as a personal behavioral responsibility -- instead of a result of the known endocrine disruptors injected by plastics into every aspect of our food chain.

Oliver points out how the plastics and oil industry has spent decades training us to ignore this.

"Well, the real behavior change has to come from plastics manufacturers themselves. Without that,
nothing significant is going to happen," he said.

"We have to make them internalize the costs of the pollution that they are creating and there is a way to do this. Through a concept called 'extended producer responsibility' or the 'polluter pays' principle, the idea is to create laws that essentially shift responsibility and the cost of collection from the public sector and all of us to the actual producers of the plastic waste.

"EPR laws could, among other things, force companies to either create the infrastructure and markets to recycle the products they make, or force them to stop making them altogether. The U.S. is one of the only developed countries on earth without a national EPR law addressing packaging because of course it is, but on the positive side here, several states are currently considering EPR laws and there was even a national law introduced in the last Congress.

"It went nowhere but it will soon be introduced again and we are going to need some version of an EPR law to pass and soon, because this problem is only getting worse. Plastic production is expected to triple by 2050 and it is obvious that meaningful change is only going to come through being able to force this very powerful industry to do things that it has shown for half a century it has absolutely no interest in doing.

"We have to make them change, and if not for our sake or the sake of future generations, let's at least do it for all the fish who are about to be outnumbered by plastic in the ocean."

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C&L Team