The high cost of cheap plastics

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Piles of paper at the Recycling Center in Burbank. Photo courtesy of the Recycling Center in Burbank.

“We can’t recycle our way out of this crisis.” That’s according to California’s Democratic State Senator Ben Allen-- just one of many politicians around the country proposing to ban all straws, bags and other single-use plastics.

At the overwhelmed Recycling Center in Burbank, California, Kreigh Hample says, “Our packaging has gone up exponentially in just the last few decades… it’s a sad story in the way we eat, the way we dispose of things and the way that we’re living.”

A throwaway culture may be convenient, but the costs include cleaning it up with taxpayer money--not to mention worldwide pollution.

China now requires recycled products so pure that the bottom’s gone out of the market, but the plastics industry is bigger than ever. Former EPA official Judith Judith Enck says half the world’s plastics have been produced in the past 13 years. One new process has developed from coal fracking, and development is being encouraged by President Trump with support from the fossil fuel industry.

But just 9% of the plastic produced is getting recycled. Some goes to landfills, but the rest turns into worldwide pollution. Images of plastic waste floating by the acre in the Pacific Ocean are all too familiar; microplastics are turning up from the depths of the seas to the remotest parts of the Arctic.

In Texas and other states, it’s illegal to ban plastic products. But, in Sacramento, Allen says it’s time to hold the plastics industry accountable. California is big enough to influence the nation’s economy, so his efforts are being scrutinized by politicians and advocates around the country.




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody