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Break Free From Plastic Movement Blasts Big Polluters on Industry-Backed 'America Recycles Day'

"Corporate polluters have been using recycling to justify ever-increasing production of single-use packaging, while taxpayers and cities are left to foot the bill."

"We must think beyond recycling," said Denise Patel, U.S. and Canada program director of GAIA. (Photo: Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

Members of the global Break Free From Plastic movement on Friday marked the annual "America Recycles Day" by highlighting criticism of the industry-backed event and pressuring corporate polluters to "reduce the production of plastics, instead of focusing on cleaning it up after the fact."

"In positioning recycling as the ultimate solution to our waste problem corporate producers have meticulously evaded responsibility for the waste they create by claiming their products are 'recyclable.'"
—Adi Varshneya, GAIA

America Recycles Day is a national initiative of the decades-old nonprofit Keep America Beautiful—which, as Sharon Lerner reported for The Intercept in July, is "an anti-litter organization formed by beverage and packaging companies, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Phillip Morris."

"To this day, Keep America Beautiful—which is still led by executives at beverage and plastics companies, including Dr. Pepper, Dow, and the American Chemistry Council—continues to focus on litterbugs, prodding errant citizens to better dispose of their plastic waste while many of its members fend off regulation of their production of that waste," Lerner wrote. "Several of the group's corporate partners—including founding companies Coca-Cola and PepsiCo and their trade group, the American Beverage Association—have opposed bottle bills that have been shown to help solve the plastic waste problem."

Keep America Beautiful tweeted Friday that the group's president and CEO Helen Lowman was at the Environmental Protection Agency's headquarters to help kick off the second annual America Recycles Day Summit, which followed a Recycles Innovation Fair hosted by the EPA Thursday night.

Both EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and President Donald Trump released statements Friday celebrating America Recycles Day. However, as The Guardian reported, the Trump administration is playing a part in the pollution problem:

A huge global expansion in plastic production is under way, threatening to sweep aside any effort to increase the current recycling rate of about 9% of all plastics. A 2017 analysis found that fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell have poured more than $180 billion into new facilities that form the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons.

This boom is set to fuel a 40% rise in plastic production over the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientists warn already risks "near permanent pollution of the Earth."

The Trump administration is simultaneously supporting that expansion and promoting a flawed recycling system.

Meanwhile, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)—which is part of the Break Free from Plastic movement—published a detailed critique of America Recycles Day entitled "Truth Behind the Trash."

"In positioning recycling as the ultimate solution to our waste problem corporate producers have meticulously evaded responsibility for the waste they create by claiming their products are 'recyclable,'" wrote Adi Varshneya, GAIA's zero waste communities coordinator for the U.S. and Canada.

Denise Patel, U.S. and Canada program director of GAIA, shared similar concerns about plastic production and recycling in a statement Thursday.

"Just like the fossil fuel industry, corporate polluters have been using recycling to justify ever-increasing production of single-use packaging, while taxpayers and cities are left to foot the bill," said Patel. "Lower income communities and communities of color, who are the hardest hit and the least responsible, bear the brunt of a model that has brought us to the brink of the waste and climate crisis."

"A Green New Deal for Zero Waste will create millions of jobs that focus on reduction and reuse before recycling, bring innovative design and delivery systems for products built with cities, businesses, and communities coming together, and promote health and well-being instead of waste and injustice."
—Denise Patel, GAIA

"We must think beyond recycling," she added. "A Green New Deal for Zero Waste will create millions of jobs that focus on reduction and reuse before recycling, bring innovative design and delivery systems for products built with cities, businesses, and communities coming together, and promote health and well-being instead of waste and injustice."

While industry figures gathered at the EPA summit Friday, members of the Break Free From Plastic movement joined actress and activist Jane Fonda's weekly climate crisis education and civil disobedience #FireDrillFriday event, also in Washington, D.C.

Since launching last month, Fonda has hosted live-streamed teach-ins on Thursday nights before being arrested for protesting on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building on Fridays. Fellow actors, activists, and experts have joined her. This week's teach-in and protest focused on environmental justice.

Break Free From Plastic global coordinator Von Hernandez was among those who addressed the crowd gathered for this week's Fire Drill Friday. He discussed the connection between plastic pollution and fossil fuels, emphasizing the need to "break free" from both.

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