California is suing Exxon for details on its role in plastic pollution

A logo for Exxon Mobil Corp will be seen at the Rio Oil and Gas Expo and conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 24, 2018.

Sergio Moraes | Reuters

California’s state attorney general on Thursday released a study of fossil fuels and petrochemical industries to allegedly overestimate the role of recycling in limiting global plastic pollution and exacerbating the crisis.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office has sued Exxon Mobil for information regarding the company’s alleged role in deceiving the public and exacerbating plastic pollution. The office did not specify which other companies it was investigating.

When state legislators and local governments in the 1980s began considering bills restricting or banning plastic products, fossil fuels and petrochemical companies began an “aggressive” and “fraudulent” campaign to convince the public that they could alleviate the waste problem by recycling , which the industry knew was not true, Bonta claimed in a press release.

“For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public and perpetuate a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis,” Bonta said. “The truth is: the vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled.”

“This first of its kind study will examine the role of the fossil fuel industry in creating and exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis – and what laws, if any, have been broken in the process,” Bonta said.

The world produces about 400 million tons of plastic waste each year, according to UN estimates. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, and the majority of plastic ends up sitting in landfills or the ocean. The United States recycles only about 9% of its plastic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Plastic is also set to drive nearly half of the growth in oil demand by the middle of the century, according to the International Energy Agency. Fossil fuels and petrochemical companies recently invested more than $ 200 billion to expand plastics production worldwide.

“We reject the allegations made by the Attorney General’s Office in its press release,” Exxon spokeswoman Julie L. King said in a statement. “We are focused on solutions and worthless claims as these distract from the important collaboration that is underway to improve waste management and improve circularity.”

Environmental activist groups on Thursday welcomed the state’s investigation into the fossil fuel industry.

“For far too long, ExxonMobil and other polluting companies have been allowed to mislead the public and harm humans and the planet,” said Graham Forbes, global plastic campaign manager at Greenpeace USA. “Science has become crystal clear that we need to get away from fossil fuels and plastic waste.”

– CNBC’s Katie Brigham contributed reporting

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