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SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: June 7, 2019

SNIP: One by one, they stepped to a clear plastic lectern at the Global Plastics Summit here and talked about what their companies were doing in response to the world’s crisis in plastics waste.

Representing businesses all along the supply and packaging chain, the speakers suggested solutions ranging from new technology that would take plastic back to its molecular building blocks for repeated recycling to redesigning plastic bottles with caps that stay connected to the bottle.

But none of that is happening fast enough to keep pace with the global production of plastics, an analyst from IHS Markit told some 270 people attending the 2019 Global Plastics Summit.

IHS Market, a co-host of the conference, expects plastics production to grow on average 3.5 to 4 percent per year through at least 2035. With recycling programs largely underfunded and ineffective, there’s potential for billions more tons of plastic waste to be headed to landfills or out into the environment, said Dewey Johnson, an IHS Markit vice president. And new recycling technology is a decade or more away, he said.

In the hallways and meeting rooms of a glitzy hotel that boasts a Rolls-Royce dealership, people from chemical manufacturers listened to presentations and talked business with representatives of plastic product makers, consumer products companies and recyclers. Government officials were also there for a meeting that was dominated by sessions on sustainability.

Industry has been taking a beating in the public’s eye—and cities, states and some countries have begun to restrict, ban or regulate certain plastics. Analysts described all this as one of many risks to plastics’ economic future.

Plastics “is in our air, our water, our food, our excrement,” said Nina Butler, the chief executive officer of More Recycling, a research and consulting company that works with the plastics industry on recycling “It’s very, very pervasive.”

The plastics industry has been confronted by a robust “anti-plastics campaign,” lamented Patty Long, the interim president and chief executive officer of the Plastics Industry Association, the conferences’ other co-host.

“If I am going to be honest, I must say it’s been pretty uncomfortable these last six months to a year as we have watched images of plastic strewn over beaches and pictures of sea animals with ingested plastic,” Long said. “We see it over and over and over again.”

At the same time, the industry has been fighting state legislation that seeks to curb plastics pollution, including pushing back on more than 400 bills in dozens of states. “Unfortunately, a lot of those are going to pass,” she said.

Fighting legislation is just one front in its battle. Long also described the industry’s publicity push to get people to love plastics instead of only worrying about their impact.

She said the industry was lobbying state lawmakers, working to get pro-plastics presentations into schools and developing a website to carry the industry’s message and give its workers something positive to say about plastics when they are confronted about their employment.

It’s a problem, she said, when “a 27-year-old might not want to come work” in the plastics industry. In fact, three Millennial generation workers in the plastics industry who spoke at one session confirmed that some people out of college are shunning the industry because of environmental concerns.

The petrochemical industry sees plastics as a long-term growth opportunity. But right now, the industry is feeling pressure, said Jacqueline Savitz, a top official with the environmental group Oceana. “They realize the public has warmed up to the problem of plastics and that is going to be a real problem for them,” said Savitz, who was not at the conference.