Did the plastics and oil companies just seal their doom?

These men live in these shacks along with all the plastic they recycle in India.

So documentation has emerged that plastics companies knew all along that plastic recycling would not work and was a sham, and they promoted it and put "recycle" logos on all their products to make people feel better about buying single use plastics, since they were starting to resist it.

We've known for a few years that recycling wasn't happening. This became clear when east Asian countries started refusing to accept the recycling we were sending them -- now we know it was all a lie to begin with. And it's recorded on tape.

So why doesn't every city that had an expensive recycling program sue the plastics industry over this? Look at the immense costs:

  • The cost of the plastic recycling programs in every city and commercial building
  • The effort by every citizen to sort plastic and in many cases to clean it before recycling
  • Extra fees paid by waste customers to the pickup companies to handled sorted bins
  • All those CRV and other deposits aimed at recycling. (They are also aimed at preventing litter which remains worthwhile.)

Now apparently clear plastic water bottles can be and are recycled, but almost none of the coloured plastic food containers go into anything but landfill.

The class action suit from cities, businesses with recycle bins and individuals should wipe out all the companies who are on the record as knowing about the sham. The penalties can easily be hundreds of billions of dollars.

But will it happen? Nobody seems to talk much about it.


Some recent(-ish) whistle-blowing has been done by city employees (or people working for waste/recycling companies whose customers are cities or other municipalities). That strongly implies that this has been much more widely known among similar people.

But as precedent, this would be devastating – to cities, other businesses, and individuals. Why stop at (plastic) recycling? I'm pretty sure a lot of the paper and cardboard that's supposedly recycled ends up in landfills too. Apparently even small amounts of (food) oil or grease can ruin an entire batch of paper/cardboard. I know city's aren't stringently enforcing the relevant rules. And, in fairness, they're much too arcane for even a small proportion of people to follow with any exactness.

Something I ran into a few years ago was the (surprisingly) dangerous inability to properly dispose of lithium-ion batteries, particularly ones that have been damaged. It is probably very common for people to just throw those batteries in their regular household trash.

I'm sure there are lots and lots of other similar 'scandals' waiting to be uncovered. But is there a demonstrable need to do so? Would uncovering them, and punishing someone – probably any businesses involved – really do any good?

There is a difference between these three things

  1. Promoting recycling and hoping it will work well but failing at doing it well
  2. Not being proactive in telling people it's not working
  3. Knowing all along it won't work but promoting it to people to trick them into buying your products

We're talking about #3 here.

It's not like the fact that recycling was a sham was a secret. Most conservatives and right libertarians have been pointing that out for many decades. I don't think you can sue corporations for playing along with the silly scare tactics of environmentalists.

Remember 35 years ago when we were going to run out of oil in 5 years?

It doesn't have to be a secret to be a scam. There are lots of scams out there that some people know are scams, even that most people know are scams. You still can't go out there promoting them for financial gain.

I would venture a lot of people still think recycling happens. To wit, all the millions of people who are filling recycle bins every day. It really only first started hitting mainstream news when China stopped taking US recycling and it got pointed out that nobody would take it.

I'm still not sure what you'd sue them for.

You can't promote the scam of recycling for financial gain?

Customers were saying,"we don't like buying single use plastics we throw into landfills." The plastic industry said, "No problem, you can recycle them. We've put nice symbols on all our products to show which ones you can recycle." And much more, it seems, though the trial would work out the details over what role they played in convincing cities and companies that their plastics would be recycled, that they should sort them and pay fees to take them and pass laws about it.

All to sell more product. You can't deliberately deceive to sell more product.

I doubt you'll find a lawyer willing to take such a case on contingency. Feel free to try, though.

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