This Is Plastics: Recent Oceana Push Poll Promotes Unsustainable Action


Recent Oceana Push Poll Promotes Unsustainable Action

Oceana’s assumptions on plastics disregard ongoing industry leadership in creating a circular economy and sustainable future.


Plastics critics frequently invoke cherry-picked data to fit a narrative that overlooks the materials’ benefits and industry’s positive action to eliminate waste. In a recently released push poll on plastic pollution, Oceana does just this and worse—the survey uses highly leading questions and skews data points to attack plastic and promote unsustainable solutions.  

A Ban on Plastics Isn’t a Solution to Plastic Waste

According to the poll, 81% of respondents support “national policies that reduce single-use plastic,” but Oceana conflates those responses with support for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (Break Free), which would introduce a potentially disastrous three-year moratorium on both new plastics manufacturing and new advanced recycling facilities. By instead supporting sensical policies and increased investment in recycling infrastructure, we can ensure that single-use plastics are available for all necessary applications, while also creating robust and healthy end markets for discarded and recycled single-use plastics.

Oceana claims that Break Free is the “blueprint” for desired change, but it is actually a blueprint for market disruption and increased consumer costs leading to greater inflationary pressures. The bill would introduce a moratorium on new plastic production facilities despite ongoing increases in plastic demand, creating supply chain challenges as consumer demand outpaces supply. The moratorium would also have reverberating effects that increase costs for everyday plastic products that play a critical role across industries including transportation, construction, aerospace, infrastructure and food and beverage.

Restrictive Policies Will Only Hurt the Environment

Oceana is using the push poll to call for a ban on single-use plastics to protect the environment, but banning plastic products, single-use or reusable, would do the opposite. A 2020 study by University of Michigan environmental engineer Shelie Miller found that single-use plastic bans can have a greater environmental impact than plastic usage because eliminating plastics leaves a consumer gap for materials. In place of plastics, “reusable” alternatives like aluminum, glass, paper, and textiles that require more resources and energy to produce and are rarely used enough times to actually offset the environmental impact of their production.

To sway respondents, Oceana’s explanation before questions on single-use plastics was highly leading. For example, before asking respondents if they were concerned about single-use plastics, the survey explained:

“Single-use plastics like beverage bottles, grocery bags, and takeout food containers are made from a material designed to last forever but are often used only once before polluting the Earth for years to come.”

That’s a statement that includes many falsehoods and perpetuates myths about single-use plastics that groups like Oceana created.

Worse is the attempt to imply that all single-use plastics that are discarded are “pollution.” In fact, a majority of discarded plastics in the United States are appropriately managed and never make their way into the environment. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 99% of plastic produced in 2018 was either recycled or collected, meaning less than 1% of plastic exited disposal streams.

Additionally, despite the “single-use” title, plastics are frequently repurposed and reused, oftentimes in place of “reusable” alternatives, lengthening the product life and increasing the overall benefits for consumers and the environment. Plastic bags for example, are reused as trash can liners or pet pick-up bags, further adding to their value.

Sadly, if policies like the ones Oceana supports are adopted, we’d end up with a larger environmental problem. Scientific research consistently shows that plastics are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than alternatives, like glass and aluminum which take more energy to produce and create more emissions to ship. Banning plastic production would only force consumers to rely on more environmentally damaging products.

Recycling is a Real Solution to Reduce Plastic Waste

Beyond suggesting detrimental policies that would have the opposite effect of their intent, Oceana also equates plastic pollution with plastic production and ignores the entire lifecycle of the product from cradle to end of life. Consumers are rightfully concerned about plastic pollution, but plastics are not polluting unless they exit a collection or disposal stream.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act’s regulatory scheme attempts to keep plastic in the circular economy, but is an extreme, accelerated approach that is not feasible to implement in the given timeframe. The plastics industry is already investing billions to scale up innovative advanced or molecular recycling and is working with consumer brands and governments to expand both traditional and advanced recycling infrastructures. This will create more robust end-of-life systems and support the creation of a more circular economy. Policies that take us backwards and force consumers to use alternative materials that are less safe, durable and environmentally friendly ignore very viable options to reduce plastic waste, like increasing investment in recycling infrastructure.

Single-Use Plastics Are Not the Problem

Oceana uses this poll as an opportunity to address plastic pollution in the ocean, but single-use plastics discarded in the United States make up a fraction of marine debris. With real solutions like advanced recycling, the relatively small amount of single-use plastic that escapes recovery systems can be captured by the recycling system and the environment can be protected. Oceana’s call to action does nothing to address this primary source of ocean pollution and turns a blind eye to industry’s many investments into solutions. Furthermore, industry supports appropriate government action, like the Save Our Seas 2.0 and Realizing the Economic Opportunities and Value of Expanding Recycling (RECOVER) Acts, which provide sensical and practical solutions to combatting plastic waste in the environment.

Oceana’s push poll presents an important look into consumer plastic preferences, but Oceana’s analysis and call to action make unfounded assumptions and recommend strategies that will hurt, not help, the environment and consumers. Industry is already working to create robust end markets for all plastic products. But this must be a collaborative effort, not one where reports are rejigged to fit a narrative that will ultimately that will ultimately do more harm than good.

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