Jim Becker, Chevron Phillips, Larry discussed on Planet Money

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Why spend tens of millions of dollars telling people to recycle plastic when they knew recycling plastic wasn't going to work? And that's when he said it the point of the whole thing. It's a public thanks. The recycling is working. Then they're not gonna be as concerned about the environment and if they're not concerned about the environment They'll keep buying plastic. It wasn't just Larry and Lou, who said this, I spoke to half a dozen top guys involved in the industry at the time, who all said Ah plan was unfolding. And it went beyond adds thean Destry funded recycling projects in local neighborhoods, expensive sorting machines that didn't make any economic sense School recycling contest. All of this was done with great fanfare. Except I decided to go track down almost a dozen of the industry's biggest projects like the one where they were going to recycle plastic and national parks or the one that was going to recycle all the plastic and school lunches in New York. They all failed and disappeared quietly. But there was one more part of this campaign. The final piece that did stick around. That recycling symbol with numbers in the middle. This symbol has created so much confusion about what is and is not recyclable, and the plan to stamp it on every plastic item popped up a lot in the documents. I learned of a quiet campaign to lobby almost 40 states to require that every single plastic item have this symbol stamped on it. Even if there was no way to economically recycle it. I should note that some environmentalists also supported the symbol thinking would help separate and sort plastic, but the industry knew the truth. These symbols were causing problems. One report told executives in July 1993 that the symbol is being misused. It's creating quote, unrealistic expectations about what plastic people can recycle. It's being used as a green marketing tool. The executives decided to keep the symbol anyway. Did reach out to plastic industry folks, And they said that the symbols were on Lee meant to help sort plastic and that they were not intended to confuse people. But the symbol in the ads and the projects. All of this basically convinced people, Larry says, the idea that the vast majority of plastic could be recycled was sinking in welcome, always say that After a while the atmosphere seemed to change. I don't know whether it was because people Out, the recycling has solved the problem. Well that they were just so in love with plastic products. That they were willing to overlook the environmental concerns that we're we're mounting up. It's been 30 years now, since most of those plans have been put into place, and the public's feelings about plastic have started to shift again. People are reading stories about oceans choked with plastic trash and trace amounts of this stuff inside our bodies, and once again, people are wanting to ban plastic and the survival of the oil companies is at stake. If ever there was a sign of the future. It's a brand new chemical plant rising from the flat skyline outside Sweeny, Texas. Don't recycle plastic here. They make new plastic. This one plan alone is Chevron Philip $6 billion bet on the future of plastic. Inside the steel still shining in the concrete floors are free from stains. I walked past the railcars and the overflow ponds to a pristine new warehouse to meet Jim Becker. Chevron Phillips, vice president of sustainability, and he's feeling good way see a very bright future for for our products were very optimistic on Future growth. Plastic production is expected to triple by 2050. I told Jim that's a lot of plastic trash, and Jim nods because his job is to solve the plastic trash problem. And he says they've got a plan. Jim says Chevron Phillips will recycle all the plastic they make by 2040 all the plastic they make..

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