Plastic, convenience, and corporate power

By Deb Hogshead
Guest Columnist

June 22, 2024

“It cannot be right to manufacture billions of objects that are used for a matter of minutes, and then are with us for centuries.” – Roz Savage, environmental advocate

At a Troy City Council meeting this past spring, Rumpke representatives announced a collaboration with Hefty. The new alliance encourages us to buy more plastic so we can recycle more plastic when what we need in our environment is less plastic.

The ReNew program sounds like a good thing. For your convenience, you can spend $8 for a pack of 20, 13-gallon orange plastic bags. Fill a bag with hard-to-recycle items, then toss the bag into your regular recycling bin. At the recycling plant, Rumpke staff will pull the bag from the recycling stream and direct the contents to facilities that can recycle them. It’s better than sending that stuff to a landfill, but not much.

Truth is we can’t recycle our way out of the myriad problems caused by plastic and its production. These problems go beyond unsightly litter here in Miami County. Plastics are petroleum based. Their production causes pollution that threatens health. People of color disproportionately bear the brunt because plastics manufacturers tend to locate near their communities. Plastics take a long time to decompose. And they never go away. They just break into tiny pieces. Researchers have detected close to 240,000 particles of plastic, typically invisible to the naked eye, in an average liter of bottled water. Plastics harm and kill wildlife and marine life. When we eat seafood, we’re likely consuming plastic-contaminated fish. Research may not always be definitive, but scientists suspect the ingestion and inhalation of micro- and nanoplastics — which are found everywhere — pose serious consequences to our health and wellbeing.

There are plastic products we need. But there’s a lot we don’t need, particularly single-use plastics that make life convenient but wind up causing more harm than good. Bottled water, for instance. Most of us don’t need bottled water, yet people haul loads of it out of Kroger every day. Not only is the water bottled in plastic, the bottles themselves are wrapped in plastic. For our convenience. Of the 35 billion water bottles Americans consume each year, only 12% gets recycled. (See where plastic typically ends up by Googling the United Nation’s “In Images: Plastic is Forever.”)

We need legislation and policies that help reduce the production and use of harmful plastics. One thing likely to stand in the way of change — aside from our love affair with convenience — is the influence large corporate entities have on decisions that put profits over public and environmental health.

Cuyahoga County and the city of Cincinnati both passed ordinances to curtail the use of single-use plastic bags. Both have delayed implementation. Why? Because in 2021, the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council and other incorporated associations successfully lobbied for a state law to prohibit local bans on plastic bags.

Corporate entities, created on paper through a chartering process, should not have the power to undermine a local community’s right to home rule. Historically, corporations didn’t have this power. We shut them down if they didn’t act in the public interest. But then the U.S. Supreme Court decided a corporation is a person and, through a series of decisions over the course of many years, granted them inherent, inalienable constitutional rights. As a consequence, corporations now have power over us. The 1960s folk song “Garbage” reflects this power: “The plastic’s mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration/That’s been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land/And if you question anything, they say, “Why, don’t you see?/It’s absolutely needed for the economy.”

We must change our relationship to plastic and accept some inconvenience. We must also change our relationship to corporations and challenge their power to decide what we need. We know what we need — healthy citizens, a healthy environment, and much less plastic.

The writer is a Troy resident and a volunteer with Move to Amend Miami County.

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