Before Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave the keynote address this morning at an American Chemistry Council (ACC) sponsored conference at the swanky Viking Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island he met briefly with demonstrators representing the Break Free From Plastic movement. Break Free From Plastic “is a rapidly-growing collaboration of over 800 nonprofit organizations united worldwide around the need for dramatic decreases in the production single-use plastic: packaging, containers, and bags produced and used globally,” according to their press release.
The demonstrators, including Jamie Rhodes from UPSTREAM, Melissa Gates from the Surfrider Foundation, Stiv Wilson from the The Story of Stuff Project and others, held a 20-foot banner that read “#breakfreefromplastic” outside the hotel. When Whitehouse arrived he met privately with the demonstrators, listened to their concerns and posed for pictures before going inside. Whitehouse held the banner with them before going inside to speak.
This reporter was denied access to the event to record Whitehouse’s keynote address. Whitehouse’s office responded to a query, saying, “Senator Whitehouse attended the conference to build support for the Save our Seas Act, his bipartisan bill aimed at ridding the oceans of plastic debris.”
According to the Break Free From Plastic press release, the American Chemistry Council is purportedly addressing plastic marine debris at the two-day event. However, the ACC, according to Break Free From Plastic, fails “to address the biggest issue of all: on plastics, there is simply too much being produced… We don’t need better cleanup, we need less plastic.
“Monday morning’s demonstration sent a powerful signal that the ACC is on the wrong side of a global movement with a unified vision for zero waste.”
Members from organizations within the Break Free From Plastic coalition were also working inside the conference to make the case “that source reduction and packaging redesign were the only viable solutions,” saying, “We must head off plastic pollution at the source.”
From the Break Free From Plastic press release:
Plastics have overwhelmed the global system causing serious negative impacts, beyond a simple management problem. National and international bans, restrictions, and regulations on the distribution of low-value single-use plastics (restrictions on bags, to-go boxes for food, wrappers, and single-serving sachets) are a meaningful way to reduce plastic pollution on land and in waterways. City and corporate-managed recycling systems alone can never scale up at the same pace as the production of plastic waste. There are tens of thousands of jurisdictions across the globe that handle their own waste management; updating and maintaining these systems to deal with exponentially increasing plastic waste is inefficient and extremely expensive.
“The plastics industry, led by corporations like Dupont, Dow, ExxonMobil and Shell, funds the American Chemistry Council, which in turn advocates for unviable, polluting practices, such as incineration of plastic waste. The incineration approach attempts to burn away the plastic pollution problem instead of heading off plastic production off at the source. Not only are methods like gasification and pyrolysis financially ruinous, these practices have been known to release toxic pollutants that harm children, seniors, and workers in adjacent neighborhoods and towns. Billions of dollars of investments have been wasted on unsuccessful ventures in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany, to name a few. In 2016, the failed UK project by U.S.-based Air Products lost $1 billion alone. To add to these complications, multiple now-closed gasification incinerators in Europe have had difficulties with dioxin emissions, one of the most toxic pollutants to human health. Finally, burning plastics (including burning gases from gasification) is a form burning fossil fuels—which contribute to global warming. The Break Free From Plastic movement rejects incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, and so-called “waste-to-fuel” (WTF) as false, failed, non-solutions.
“The Break Free From Plastic movement will coordinate governments, nonprofits and NGOs need as a global community to prevent plastic pollution and costly waste management, by restricting its production and use at the national and international levels. Member organizations working in coordination will also elevate and scale the many local projects worldwide, like the zero waste cities in Europe, (cities like Robaix), and the transformative work of professional recyclers in Bogotá, Columbia. Member organizations and cities are also undertaking the monumental task of collecting, cleaning, and making use of the hundreds of millions of tons of plastic pollution we’ve already created. Only then will we see an end to our overwhelming plastic waste problem.
“The Break Free From Plastic movement has demonstrated that source reduction does solve the monumental problem of plastic pollution. Only by simultaneously supporting local efforts to reclaim and recycle existing plastic pollution, while phasing out the use of single-use plastic worldwide at every level, will we see an end to our overwhelming waste problem.
“Industry’s continued reliance on single-use plastic products–and ACC’s continued defense of them– have real human impacts. The international members of Break Free From Plastic are working for a world where communities, governments, and businesses can collaborate to achieve improved economic systems that prioritize sustainability over pollution, and that ensure the rights and protection of all peoples.”
Below see Melissa Gates of the Surfrider Foundation talk about these issues. (apologies for the focus problem)