Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Post-storm debris made up mostly of plastics and vegetation is scattered across the high tide line in Long Beach, California on Dec. 2, 2019. (Photo: Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

Post-storm debris made up mostly of plastics and vegetation is scattered across the high tide line in Long Beach, California on Dec. 2, 2019. (Photo: Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

California Praised for Probe Into Plastics Industry's 50-Year Misinformation Campaign

"Against the mountains of evidence these same companies misled the public for decades about the climate impacts of their products," one advocate said that "it is reasonable and appropriate to investigate whether and how they used a similar playbook for plastics."

Andrea Germanos

California Attorney General Rob Bonta received applause Thursday for the launch of a probe into whether the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries engaged in an "aggressive" decadeslong campaign to deceptively convince the public "that recycling can solve the plastics crisis."

"Plastic pollution is seeping into our water, poisoning our environment, and blighting our landscapes. Enough is enough."

As part of its probe, Bonta also announced he'd issued a subpoena to ExxonMobil over its alleged disinformation campaign.

His office pointed to research showing that ExxonMobil's polymers, the manufacturing of which requires fossil fuels, "account for more single-use plastic waste than any other company." The AG also said the firm was "an active participant in the Council for Solid Waste Solutions, which spent millions of dollars in the 1980s to convince the public we could recycle our way out of the plastics problem."

Emily Jeffers of the Center for Biological Diversity heralded the investigation. "California is taking a crucial step toward holding oil companies responsible for the vast volume of plastic trash that's contaminating almost every corner of our planet," she said.

“But ultimately," Jeffers continued, "the plastics industry is so polluting on so many levels that it just isn't compatible with preserving crucial ecosystems or a livable climate," which means "we have to stop producing plastic junk and stop building factories that convert fracked natural gas into cheap plastic."

The attorney general, in his statement, pointed to data showing the rate of recycling far out of pace with that of plastics produced.

"The truth is," his said, "The vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled, and the recycling rate has never surpassed 9%. Every week, we consume the equivalent of a credit card's worth of plastic through the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe."

Bonta described the probe as a "first-of-its-kind investigation [that] will examine the fossil fuel industry's role in creating and exacerbating the plastics pollution crisis," which is on track to worsen, "and what laws, if any, have been broken in the process."

Targeted companies will be those "that have caused and exacerbated the global plastics pollution crisis," with the probe centering on their "role in perpetuating myths around recycling and the extent to which this deception is still ongoing."

"Plastic pollution is seeping into our water, poisoning our environment, and blighting our landscapes," said Bonta. "Enough is enough."

In addition to the plaudits from the Center for Biological Diversity, praise for the investigation flew in from other climate and environmental campaigners, who said it was a needed step to address a widespread pollution crisis and a disinformation campaign that mirrors the one oil and gas companies waged around the climate crisis.

"We've been duped for over 50 years by the plastics industry's multimillion-dollar PR campaigns, which wrongfully blamed individuals instead of companies for the plastic pollution crisis and falsely touted recycling as a panacea when industry executives knew better," said Oceana plastics campaign director Christy Leavitt.

"The deception behind the plastics industry's recycling promise is evident on California's shores and streets, where plastic takeout containers, utensils, and more taint the beauty of the state and threaten its coastal economy and its people," she said. Leavitt further welcomed the probe's focus on "the misleading tactics that plastic producers have used to line their pockets while jeopardizing our oceans and communities."

Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said that "as the AG's subpoena of ExxonMobil demonstrates, the parallels to climate deception are far from coincidental. Plastics are fossil fuels in another form. Many of the same companies whose products drive the climate crisis are also leading producers of plastics."

"Against the mountains of evidence these same companies misled the public for decades about the climate impacts of their products," Muffett said that "it is reasonable and appropriate to investigate whether and how they used a similar playbook for plastics."

Noting that the plastic industry's impacts are "diverse, widespread, and accelerating," he added that "while California's action is the first of its kind, it is unlikely to be the last."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Kremlin Says Russia Now Considers US, European Allies 'Hostile States'

"What they are doing is war," declared Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Jake Johnson ·


Decarbonizing US Energy System Would Save 50,000 Lives and $600 Billion a Year: Study

The findings, the authors write, "offer a clear rationale for mitigating climate change on public health grounds."

Andrea Germanos ·


'Dark Money Is Dark Money': Sanders Calls on DNC to Ban Super PAC Cash in Primaries

"A super PAC is a super PAC, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Study Finds Many Existing Oil and Gas Sites Must Be Shut Down to Avert Climate Disaster

"Our findings show that halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget," said one researcher.

Jake Johnson ·


'Cancel It, Don't Means Test It!' Omar Says of Student Debt

Progressive lawmakers and other critics continue to warn the Biden administration against the "logistical nightmare" of limiting debt cancellation by income.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo