The Problem with Plastic
Paul Goettlich 14dec01While a great number of professionals must deal with the problem of the weight of the waste stream, it is not all that must be included in a cost analysis of plastics. No matter how much "management" there is of it, plastics will remain un-recyclable--the loop will remain broken.
I believe that the reuse or remanufacturing of the billions of tons of plastic waste is a desirable thing, its production must be halted. But while sympathizing with the waste stream managers, I cannot change my view that it should not be made in the first place. The "complex issue" must be made more complex by including the costs of health effects, and the environmental damage. Manufacturers *must* be made responsible for *all* aspects of products they manufacture. It is not reasonable to produce anything and not be responsible for what is knowingly produced as a byproduct or cost. It is also not reasonable to externalize those costs to the taxpayers.
Applying the precautionary principle to the term "knowingly produced" must be done as well. After decades of research on dioxin, the evidence keeps coming in against it, and Industry keeps complaining that there isn't enough "scientific proof" of its toxicity. They must be overruled and even ignored. This evidence condemns all uses of PVC in construction, hospital, food contact, or any other use.
It is only a matter of time and money before many plastics in common use today are condemned as well. Given the political climate of the Bush administration, one should not expect much in the way of truth on any level. And even when the facts are made known, the Bush mob will strike it down, contending that the facts will endanger national security. The point here is that the regulations and regulatory agencies do not protect us from these products.
Industry saying they meet all current regulations for the health of humans and the environment, or that they will not use any "known" carcinogen has little meaning. Who has to "know" it (in the sense that Industry uses the term) before it is known (in the sense that would benefit our health)?
The concentrations of toxins allowed by the regulatory process fall many orders of magnitude short of being protective. At present, dioxin has been shown to have hormonal activity--are endocrine disruptors-- at 1ppt. And its threshold level (the lowest level at which the activity is observed) has not been found. I anticipate that hormonal activity will be shown at 1/10th ppt in the near future. And the threshold will still not have been found.
The regulatory agencies (and academia) are paralyzed by industry dominance. An excellent example of industry dominance of the EPA is that they have known since the 1980’s, that dioxin is an unavoidable byproduct created during the production and heating or incineration of many materials containing chlorine such as PVC and paper. One can be fairly safe in assuming that the PVC industry’s knowledge of dioxin being created by the manufacture of was prior to that of the EPA. Since they continued to manufacture PVC even after knowing this, it is therefore an intentional action placing profits above people. Industry also knows that PCBs are an unavoidable byproduct of PVC production.
Another example of industry dominance in the words of past USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman:
If common prevailed, there would be no more plastics produced. The same goes for petroleum and nuclear materials. All the tools to bypass these toxic elements are available right now. They would cost less, if *all* costs were included. And they would be far less hazardous to the health of all the creatures on Earth. Federal subsidies need to be transferred from the unsustainable to the sustainable."What I saw generically on the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn't good because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you're against it, you're Luddites, you're stupid. There was rhetoric like that even here in this department. You felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. So I pretty much spouted the rhetoric that everybody else around here spouted; it was written into my speeches" *
* Lambrecht, B. Outgoing Secretary Says Agency's Top Issue is Genetically Modified Food. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 25jan01
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