“For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis,” Bonta said. “We are seeing the catastrophic results of the fossil fuel industry’s decades long campaign of deception. Plastic pollution is seeping into our waterways, poisoning our environment, and blighting our landscapes.”
Exxon Mobil said it rejects the attorney general’s allegations.
“Meritless allegations like these distract from the important collaborative work that is underway to enhance waste management and improve circularity,” Julie King, a spokesperson for Exxon Mobil, said in an emailed statement.
“We share society’s concerns and are collaborating with governments, including the State of California, communities and other industries to support projects around the world to improve waste management and circularity,” King said.
Even as fossil fuels are being replaced with cleaner sources of energy, oil and petrochemical companies are stepping up efforts to make more plastic, recently investing an additional $208 billion worldwide to do so, Bonta said. Global production has jumped from 1.5 million tons a year in the 1950s to more than 300 million tons now, he said.
The industry has known since the 1970s that recycling plastics wasn’t feasible, Bonta said. Even after decades of separating plastics from waste streams, the recycling rate never got above 9% in the U.S., Bonta said.
“The remaining 91% is landfilled, incinerated, or released into the environment,” the attorney general said.
California is taking a crucial step toward holding oil companies responsible for the vast volume of plastic trash contaminating the planet but more must be done, said Emily Jeffers from the Center for Biological Diversity, an nonprofit environmental group.
“The plastics industry is so polluting on so many levels that it just isn’t compatible with preserving crucial ecosystems or a livable climate,” Jeffers said. “We have to stop producing plastic junk and stop building factories that convert fracked natural gas into cheap plastic.”