The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We must stop producing and using plastics

The Waste Management Elkridge Material Recycling Facility on June 18, 2015, in Elkridge, Md. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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After reading the May 5 news article “In U.S., plastics recycling rate slumps below 6 percent,” about the U.S. recycling rate dropping from 8.7 percent to under 6 percent, all I could think was, “Why are we even still talking about plastic recycling?”

Recycling has failed for more than half a century, an unarguable fact when you see recycling rates. Under 6 percent is dismal, but so was 8.7 percent. Decades were wasted because of the plastics industries’ multimillion-dollar public relations efforts. It wanted consumers to believe they were responsible for the plastic pollution problem and could prevent it if they used their recycling bins more effectively.

Now, here we are, with the equivalent of two garbage trucks full of plastic entering our oceans every minute — 33 billion pounds a year — and an estimation from the plastics industry that plastic production will more than triple by 2050.

Federal lawmakers must stop following industry’s playbook and take real action. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, introduced in March, would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products and prevent new and expanded plastic production facilities across the country. It’s up to U.S. leaders to reverse course and reduce the production and use of single-use plastic before it’s too late.

Christy Leavitt, Washington

The writer is plastics campaign director of Oceana.

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