Addicted to Convenience

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The invention of plastic changed the way we live — and now we’re hooked. We travel from Louisiana, where plastic is born, to New Jersey, where plastic goes to die… or live again. We explore greenwashing, wish-cycling, and our collective culpability as we try to understand how we became so reliant on plastic — despite knowing its harm to the earth and the communities closely impacted.

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Beyond Plastics

Ironbound Community Corporation

The Recycling Myth: Big Oil’s solution for plastic waste littered with failure


Discarded is a Lemonada Media original, presented by Only One. Gloria Riviera is our host. Our producers are Alie Kilts, Alexa Lim, and Gloria Riviera. Tess Novotny is our associate producer. Chrystal Genesis is our supervising producer. Jackie Danziger is our vice president of narrative content. Mix and sound design by Natasha Jacobs with additional mixing by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Hannis Brown. Naomi Barr is our fact checker. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer.

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Gloria Riviera, Christina Dubin, JV Valladolid, Mark Miodownik, Valerie Volcovici

JV Valladolid  00:58

People refer to this area of the Iron Bound as the east Iron Bound. This is a neighborhood that doesn’t have the restaurants. It also doesn’t have a library or health center.

Gloria Riviera  01:32

What it does have is a front row seat to heavy industry. The Iron Bound is a four square mile neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. The name comes from the railroad tracks that form boundaries on all sides, hence the name Iron Bound. And this is JV Valladolid. She’s the environmental justice communications lead for the Iron Bound Community Corporation. And our tour guide.

JV Valladolid  02:01

We’re passing by Hawkins Street School. And if we look on my GPS, we are point nine miles from the incinerator we are four minute drive from the incinerator, you’ll see all these homes that are right. Within less than a mile of a lot of these facilities. You’ll see the planes now more clearly, you’ll see all the bumps on the road from a lot of the trucks.

Gloria Riviera  02:25

We spent the last two episodes talking about where plastic is born and the people most affected. Now we’re at the other end of its lifecycle.

JV Valladolid  02:33

New Jersey had the threat of having an incinerator in every county and the neighbors that we have some of our now elders really fought against it. And it’s now 30 years later that we’re still facing what it is to live right next to an incinerator. So we’ll if we can maybe park for a second. So, this is our local incinerator, even after having on record 800 permit violations with the EPA they want to continue functioning here.

Gloria Riviera  03:12

And listen, these violations aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet.

JV Valladolid  03:16

Once you’re out in this for about an hour a lot of people experience headaches or nausea.

Gloria Riviera  03:23

JV is talking from personal experience here. She told me when she leads what she calls toxic tours, like what we are doing right now. She often feels sick. Her community the Ironbound is located just across the river from the most populous city in America, New York City, nearly 8.5 million people. All those people mean a lot of trash, trash that often ends up in New Jersey.

JV Valladolid  03:50

Unless you have this incinerator in your community and you’re in our state, your garbage is coming here. And our community is having to breathe it in.

Gloria Riviera  03:57

Every year that levanta incinerator in Newark burns roughly 1 million tons of garbage. burning garbage has been linked to all kinds of health problems. And according to Rutgers University, one in four children in Newark have asthma. And for context, that’s a significantly higher number than the national average of one in 12. According to the CDC.

JV Valladolid  04:21

We don’t deserve to be dumped on and we will not stand for this any longer. And we will fight when another facility tries to show up and be here.

Gloria Riviera  04:30

Just like Rise St. James and Sharon, JV and the Iron Bound Community Corporation are not backing down since their formation in 1969. They have been organizing residents to fight for a more sustainable future. Communities all over the country have been in this fight for decades, pollution knows no boundaries. And despite it being everyone’s problem today, the burden is disproportionately falling on low income and communities of color. The last two episodes, we focused on the impact of plastic before it even becomes an everyday object, the invisible impacts of plastic. But what about the physical impact? The plastics you hold and interact with every day? It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, it wasn’t like this. There was a time when things were built to last, or at the very least built to be repaired. The idea of disposability that’s fairly new. So let’s see just how we got into this codependent relationship with plastic. Welcome to Discarded. I’m your host, Gloria Riviera. Okay, so I’m going to paint a grim picture. Remember, a few years back when plastic straws became the latest thing to just say no to?

Gloria Riviera  06:50

And maybe you remember images circulating of a turtle with a straw lodged in its nose? Well, what if I told you part of the reason plastic is everywhere today was actually because not that long ago, just over 100 years, our society was trying to move away from using animal byproducts. So let’s go to the beginning of plastic story in the 19th century.

Mark Miodownik  07:15

people’s houses in the West were becoming full of goods that were very pleasurable. And often these kinds of amazing materials like ivory and hoard, right, so people’s buttons on people’s clothes were made of turtle shells. And in all these animals were sort of dying in the name of, I think what we would call now consumerism.

Gloria Riviera  07:35

This is Mark Miodownik, a professor of materials and society at University College London. And he is what we affectionately call in the industry, a huge geek.

Mark Miodownik  07:46

I mean, I’ve been into materials since I was a teenager, and one of those weird people who knows what they want to do when they’re really young. So I’ve been into plastics and metals. It’s an amazing material. Actually, I think there’s a lot of bad actors in the space, who are doing bad things with this material. And there’s a lot of people who are doing good things with it. And at some point, people thought, what if we could make a synthetic version of those shells of those tasks, then we can break into this market and that will be better, and it’ll be cheaper and the first plastic that really breaks through on this front, it’s called celluloid. Where the fact with the shells that you’re getting off animals, and the woods, you’re having to carve them now you’ve got a mold, you can squirt the stuff in, and you can make 1000 10,000. So whoa, this is the essence of mass production and satisfying a need.

Gloria Riviera  08:52

Moving into the 20th century. This new scale of operation made it possible for many more households to have the kinds of goods that in the past only the wealthy could afford. According to a 1944 film titled plastics between 1927 and 1943, less than two decades, plastic production increased 2,600%, that’s a lot more combs toys and billiard balls flooding the market.

Mark Miodownik  09:20

One application of celluloid that really completely changed the way we tell stories about ourselves. And that was if you make a law into thin strips, it’s transparent like glass but it’s flexible. So photography, instead of being on glass was your as originally as all heavy and cumbersome could be on these thin strips that you could roll up and the camera the portable cameras born for everyone to take holiday snaps. It becomes this really glorious moment. And then once that happens, people go home at a roll of film. What if I just take the same photo a lot of times are now you have motion pictures. And so the motion pictures are invented by plastic. It’s Technicolor. Dorothy arrives and Oz. I mean, it really, it’s like, it’s a wonderful world that it brings into place, a hopeful, extraordinary.

Gloria Riviera  10:36

This magical material was changing our lives.

Mark Miodownik  10:40

This guy called Bakelite goes home, I think I can make a plastic it’s hard like wood. And so he embeds Bakelite named after himself. And this is a material that really is hugely influential.

Gloria Riviera  10:59

And one place that many people felt those effects was in the home.

Mark Miodownik  11:13

It was the epitome of what these modern technologies were saying, which is Hold on a minute, everything is changing the way we’re communicating this change the way we tell stories is changing. And we need a material that embodies that what is it called? It’s called plastic. We went from a post war period where things were great things are tough. I mean, that’s what’s quite sad looking back on it now is that that was a moment where this material embodied a hopeful optimism about the world and people’s houses became bright and colorful, people’s clothes became bright and colorful.

Gloria Riviera  12:01

But plastics heyday would only last for so long. What started off as a way to be less reliant on animal byproducts turned into a frenzy of consumerism and disposability, or new addiction gave rise to an entire industry known as big plastic. When I say big plastic, think of it as an industrial complex, every stage of the process, from the oil companies, to the petrochemical plants, to the beverage companies using all of those plastic bottles to sell their products. They are all invested in its continued growth.

Mark Miodownik  12:39

The cost is coming down now because it’s been made such vast quantities and the chemistry has now been refined. At some point people start thinking, Well, okay, how do we sell more of this stuff? I know. Let’s make disposable objects out of it. And we’ll start with things like cups and forks.

Gloria Riviera  13:10

It’s like that madmen scene where the Draper family is having this picturesque family picnic, the sun is shining, the kids are playing. And then as if everything that just happened, well never happened. Betty Draper packs up the picnic basket flicks the blanket free of debris, the plates, napkins, utensils, they all go flying. And they just leave it all there, hop back into their car and go on their merry way. It’s convenient, it’s fast. It’s as if it makes it all too easy to meet the demands of the American dream.

Mark Miodownik  13:52

By and large, the public accepted it as well as a part of modernity. I think you have to look at it as another one of these Liberation’s like we are so wealthy, our society is so great that we don’t even have to hang on to stuff anymore. We can make stuff for one use. And of course, there’s big corporate world saying yeah, that’s great.

Gloria Riviera  14:12

The thing is, not everyone was accepting, their work groups of activists trying to get the word out that we should be concerned about all this waste. Here’s a clip from the first ever Earth Day protest in 1970. Over 50 years ago. Sadly, it just wasn’t enough. The reality is most of us have become entirely reliant on plastic. It’s ingrained in us. Consumers like me, are helping fuel this crisis and big plastic.

Mark Miodownik  14:54

I do think that the corporate plastic world is not owning up to its response. facilities. Plastic is good for very, very many things and we need to keep hold of plastic. It’s just that the industry is in denial about its responsibility to the environment and to us, they find it very hard to draw the line between making profit and doing the right thing.

Gloria Riviera  15:17

And it’s affecting so much more than we could have ever imagined.

Mark Miodownik  15:41

I think the scale of the environmental impact isn’t even known yet. That’s the really worrying thing is that we’ve kind of slept walked into a situation where we don’t even know how bad it is.

Gloria Riviera  15:54

When we come back, we go down the rabbit hole of plastics lifecycle, and its lasting imprint, like it or not. So I’m just going to put something out there that maybe not everybody knows, I didn’t know before starting this podcast. plastic is oil, fossil fuels, you know, like fossils, prehistoric plants and animals under layers upon layers of silt and sand over a massive amount of time. Some of that prehistoric gunk turns into this finite resource we rely on called crude oil. And again, if you were like me, your only association with crude oil was the gasoline that goes into your car. Well, yes, it is that but it’s also the building block of plastic. Okay, we are back with Mark Miodownik, plastic 101, there is some chemistry involved. But don’t worry, I will be right there with you. Let’s start at the very beginning.

Mark Miodownik  19:39

So you pump oil out of the ground is this black gooey stuff? It’s not all the same stuff. But you know, pretty much is the remnants of decayed organisms millions of years ago, it’s got all this all these carbon molecules in them some long some short now the short ones, really short, with one carbon atom in a cold.

Gloria Riviera  20:03

I hear your ears shutting down. Or maybe that’s just mine because I never took chemistry in high school. But you know what I did? Do I researched the hell out of this subject, so I could explain it to you. Okay, so I’m gonna assume you’ve heard people throw around the phrase oil and gas, you know, it’s like salt and pepper, mustard and ketchup, milk and cookies. Well, that’s because when, when drills for crude oil, up comes oil, and you guessed it gas, one of these gases that comes up is ethane. And when that is broken down, it turns into another gas called ethylene.

Mark Miodownik  20:39

That turns out to be very useful for making plastics because if you get ethylene, you do something called polymerization. So you basically join one ethylene molecule to another and then to another, and then to another,

Gloria Riviera  20:51

basically, the process of lots of individual molecules coming together in one big embrace.

Mark Miodownik  20:56

What you get is a chain that’s like a million atoms long. And that’s poly, which means many ethylene, polyethylene, and  that’s the plastic.

Gloria Riviera  21:05

In order to get that long chain of atoms. There’s a process it’s called cracking.

Mark Miodownik  21:11

To crack it, it’s an engineering heavy activity with vast volumes of either gas, or oil coming into it, and lots of huge columns and lots of pipes, lots of energy being used to do this. So these are big plants. And like any big plant in any community that is going to have a huge impact on the environment.

Gloria Riviera  21:45

Crackers are what Sharon protested against in St. James. It’s what environmental activists are trying to stop across our country in the Ohio River Valley in Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. So just to review, we drill for oil, we put it through an intense engineering process, and outcomes plastic, simple, but we’re not done yet.

Mark Miodownik  22:09

So how do they come out of the process because they’re not into objects. You know, at this point, they’re just the sorts of potential of what plastic could be. So they come out as these little rice grains called a nurdle.

Gloria Riviera  22:23

Scratch that I will not be naming my dog nurdle.

Mark Miodownik  22:35

The other thing is that they in that form they flow right like sand flows. And that’s useful because you’re often having to transport a lot of it into things with tubes and pipes. They are what gets shipped to any manufacturer who wants to make something out of that plastic.

Gloria Riviera  22:56

The nurdles get transported to plastic manufacturers, they melt them down and mold them into everyday plastic objects. Like say a bottle of Coke. All of this occurs before you the consumer ever interacts with the product and say with a coke after you swallow that final drop. Well, its purpose on this planet is done. Now, where does this bottle go? Well, you could throw it into the trash and it might end up in a landfill or incinerated. You could place it into a recycling bin. Hope it gets recycled. But that’s not always the case. Yeah, it’s grim. Lastly, I guess you could toss it, it could end up on the site of your favorite trail, or hey, you might see it floating in the ocean one day,

Mark Miodownik  24:02

I’m pretty confident that in a million years’ time when people study the geology of this time, they’ll call it the plastic age because there’ll be a layer of plastic.

Gloria Riviera  24:11

Well, that’s just poetic justice. The decades of plastic products that have been tossed aside or chopped up are slowly turning into this dust. And that dust it’s showing up everywhere. You may have heard of microplastics.

Mark Miodownik  24:27

A micro plastic is just a piece of plastic that’s below a certain limit. And basically it’s a speck of plastic that you can kind of often just see with your eye and below. So the question is where does that end up? Answer in the environment unfortunately.

Gloria Riviera  24:42

And once they are in the environment.

Mark Miodownik  24:44

They end up in our bodies, they end up in the bottom of the sea. anywhere that you look in the world you find microplastics, you can look on the ice in the Arctic, you’ll find them.

Gloria Riviera  25:09

Microplastics are a can of worms that we are just beginning to open. Unfortunately, like so many things in his industry, there’s just not enough scientific research yet to come to a conclusion about what this all means for our health. But what happens if plastic doesn’t end up in the environment and gets put in the recycling bin.

Christina Dubin  25:33

at the height of recycling, it didn’t amount to much.

Gloria Riviera  25:38

This is the voice of Christina Dubin, the community organizer with the group beyond plastics, and sorry to say ruined of your recycling dreams. Beyond plastics brings together policy experts and grassroots organizers with a mission to end plastic pollution. Their number one goal is to end single use plastics, like those utensils that are thrown into the bag wherever you get your takeout, which let’s be honest, you probably just immediately throw away or you have a drawer filled with them. That’s me,

Christina Dubin  26:09

We know the solution is that we just need to turn off the top.

Gloria Riviera  26:13

cities only recycle plastics number one and two, you know those chasing arrows in the bottom of the product? Well, they always have a number in the middle. Number one is PET, a plastic that is usually clear and sturdy enough to hold liquid. This is your coke bottle. And plastic number two is HDP II. Another plastic that is sturdy and can hold liquids, but generally a solid color thing shampoo or laundry detergent, but three through seven.

Christina Dubin  26:44

Plastics three through seven, throw them in the garbage, don’t put them in your recycling bin

Gloria Riviera  26:50

and you were talking plastic bags, yogurt cups to go containers. Most of this stuff, though it does depend on where you live is much harder to recycle or doesn’t even get recycled at all. And if you’re like me and vaguely knew this, but still tossed it in the bin, well, there’s a term for

Christina Dubin  27:08

That put when we wish to cycle them. We feel better, but it’s not the truth. It’s a lie. We need to stop.

Gloria Riviera  27:15

I confess, and I am ashamed to admit this. I am a wish cycler, oh, horrible. I know. I wanted to believe that recycling could save us. But that’s a lot of hope to put on one recycling bin. You’re not wrong to believe that recycling could get us out of this mess. It’s been ingrained in us since childhood. The idea of recycling itself? Well, that’s a good thing with a lot of promise. But the reality of the recycling process on the ground? Well, it’s much harder to pull off the petro chemical on plastics manufacturers. They’ve pushed this narrative that we can recycle a huge range of plastics, plastics three through seven can be recycled. And that the single stream system you know where you toss everything into one bin that we can feel good about doing that.

Christina Dubin  28:21

When things went to single stream? You know, I think it was really part of this ruse to make people feel okay with consuming more.

Gloria Riviera  28:32

Recent investigations have found that the plastics industry created these stories, even though they knew most plastic wouldn’t be recycled properly, if at all, in response to an NPR article on this very question, Steve Russell, former vice president of the American Chemistry Council, a plastic lobby group said the industry has never intentionally misled the public about recycling.

Christina Dubin  28:58

We are moving away from oil and gas for energy, we’re looking to renewables and oil and gas industry has seen this coming right. This hasn’t been a hidden thing. And they want to evolve and maintain their profits. So they have to look at it a different market. And that’s plastics. So where they’ve had to ramp down kind of in the energy sector, they’re ramping up in plastics.

Gloria Riviera  29:27

Remember, plastic is oil and gas. These plastics companies are banking on our continued consumption.

Christina Dubin  29:33

There’s a lot of money, a lot of marketing, a lot of bending the ear of legislators of being in pockets of having the money to have lobbyists across the country and every state house in a very coordinated, calculated effort.

Gloria Riviera  29:50

Politicians not only need support from their constituents, but also from their donors. This is where the line gets blurred. On top of that, it is impossible to be an expert in everything they’re asked to vote on. So this is where politicians rely on experts in the field. That could be anyone from an environmental scientists to a community organizer, or that could be a representative of the plastic lobby. One type of law, the plastic lobby is trying to pass could change how some recycling is categorized, which could lead to less regulations.

Christina Dubin  30:27

Plastic lobbyists across the country are trying to pass these chemical recycling supportive laws. So then they can emit more things like benzene into the air legally.

Gloria Riviera  30:38

We will get more into chemical recycling in a bit. But the important part of these laws is that it moves chemical recyclers from waste managers to manufacturers. It’s kind of like these companies are trying to shift to a different boxing weight class. They’re registering themselves as featherweights when they’re actually heavyweight polluters.

Christina Dubin  31:08

I think if the public knew that they were being duped, you know, really understood that just like a lot of people that have come to that realization from individual actions to greater realization of this systemic issue, you’re angry, we are

Gloria Riviera  31:23

duped. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m kind of complicit and being duped. It makes it easier for me to just throw that plastic bottle in the bin, and never think about it again. And according to Christina, the industry won’t stop providing us with these false solutions, quote, unquote, to make us feel better about our consumption. More on that when we come back from the break. The plastic industry knows that we are reevaluating our relationship to plastic to stay ahead of the curve. There is a big marketing and PR push by companies that plays into our desire to do the right thing. It’s coming through our screens, grocery aisles and into our homes. But that untouched by man water is bottled in plastic created by man aka the plastics industry. And yet in that last ad, I’m focused on a child’s voice and the promise of a less polluted future. It is very strategic and can be very effective. This tactic is called greenwashing. And even if you don’t know the meaning of the word, you’ve definitely been greenwashed. buzzwords like eco-friendly or natural. Our standard marketing ploys to make us feel like we’re doing something good. Making greener choices. See there’s another one, right? They can be very..

Mark Miodownik  34:38

A lot of it is white lies, right?

Gloria Riviera  34:38

That’s Mark Miodownik again.

Mark Miodownik  34:39

It’s not completely false. It’s just that actually in reality, this product isn’t good for the environment, and so none of it stacks up.

Gloria Riviera  34:52

Greenwashing is when the industry is trying to sell you a product or green initiative, based on it being good or better for the environment. it. But in reality, that product or initiative is actually doing far less to improve the environment than we may be led to believe. It can take many forms. One of the big green washes these days is biodegradable plastics.

Mark Miodownik  35:16

So biodegradable plastics, we know that most of them end up in landfill or being burnt or in the environment. And when we study what happens to them in those different scenarios, none of them are good for the environment.

Gloria Riviera  35:30

I see the word biodegradable, and it makes me feel like it’s totally fine just to toss it in the trash. That biodegradable plastic is going to eventually, you know, just melt away with your carrot tops and paper towels.

Mark Miodownik  35:44

But actually, it takes decades and it can become microplastics. But also it produces methane. So you definitely don’t want it in landfill. You don’t want to burn it, because then you’re creating co2 emissions, you might have an all plastic at that point. And if you put it into the environment, almost all of the biodegradable plastics, they don’t suddenly disappear and get eaten in a benign way at all. That’s not what happens.

Gloria Riviera  36:05

If it seems confusing. Well, that’s the point.

Valerie Volcovici  36:08

That’s where greenwashing becomes the tool of choice because sometimes it improves their bottom line to look like they’re going green or producing plastic that’s less harmful for the environment. In a way plastics kind of offers the most simplest form of greenwashing because it’s something that the consumer interacts with directly when you’re making choices at a store.

Gloria Riviera  36:29

Valerie Volcovici is an environmental and energy policy journalist for Reuters. She is based just out of DC, and she lives on a nature preserve with her family and a couple of chickens. She has been covering this meat for nearly two decades and has seen a real change in terms of who’s paying attention.

Valerie Volcovici  36:48

People are definitely getting much more knowledgeable or seeking out more information really, from particularly climate policy going from a kind of niche beat to something that’s at the center of so many things.

Gloria Riviera  37:00

And greenwashing isn’t just a marketing strategy. Companies may also push technologies or initiatives, especially when it comes to recycling that are unproven or oversold.

Valerie Volcovici  37:12

A lot of these programs just they don’t work because again, the fundamental problem is most plastics are not recyclable.

Gloria Riviera  37:20

One of these new technologies that Valerie and her colleagues did a huge piece on is called advanced recycling, aka chemical recycling. The basic idea is that a company will take your used plastics and turn it into something else. Fuel, decorative walls, anything really.

Valerie Volcovici  37:38

[…] has a big chemical recycling plant that it’s about to launch. So you’re seeing some companies really stepped behind it.

Gloria Riviera  37:46

And it’s not just Exxon Mobil. Chemical recycling has also been backed by companies like Unilever and shell. Valerie heard about a new advanced recycling program in Boise, Idaho that had been sponsored by Dow Chemical.

Valerie Volcovici  37:59

What sent me to Boise was we had heard about this company that had been kind of promoted by the American Chemistry Council.

Gloria Riviera  38:08

Valerie flew out to Boise to investigate the city’s new advanced recycling program. It was read in part by Reynolds consumer products, the company that makes hefty you might have one of their trash bags in your kitchen. And for those of you keeping score, the program was also sponsored by Dow Chemical. You probably have some of their plastics in your kitchen too. The hefty energy bag program was touted as a solution to recycling hard to recycle plastics. All of those yogurt cups are bubble wrap. You could just toss it in the orange energy bags.

Gloria Riviera  38:55

This sounds like a godsend really. I’ve stayed up so many nights playing Recycle Bin trash roulette in my house. People in Boise they felt the same way.

Valerie Volcovici  39:03

I think a lot of people were excited to have the option to just put it in a special bin and have it taken somewhere.

Gloria Riviera  39:08

Orange bags started popping up in the blue recycle bins of Boise residents hefty partnered with an advanced recycling startup called renewable energy. Renewable energy would use a process called pyrolysis heating these yogurt cups and hard to recycle plastics in an oxygen starved chamber and outward come diesel fuel. Sounds pretty cool, huh? But as we know, with regular recycling, it’s not that easy. The company was having problems processing all that plastic.

Valerie Volcovici  39:42

Basically, they had all of these bags just kind of piled up outside of the facility.

Gloria Riviera  39:48

Within a year, the program stopped in its tracks. Renew logy, was having problems processing cling wrap and other plastic film in an email response to Valerie’s team at Reuters Renewable, he said they could recycle plastic films. The problem was Boise’s waste was contaminated with other garbage at 10 times the level it was told to expect. But Boise spokesperson said the city was not aware of any assurances made to renewable energy about specific levels of contamination.

Valerie Volcovici  40:20

The tire shop next door, basically saying they never really were able to do anything, there was nothing really happening inside.

Gloria Riviera  40:27

Instead, Boise ended up sending these bags of plastics out of state to be burned at a cement factory, which is exactly what they were trying to avoid. Well, that and trash going into landfills with this program in the first place, petrochemical and plastics companies. Well, it seems like they’re willing to take a gamble on these technologies that might work or might not.

Valerie Volcovici  40:53

Some companies that do have the potential do you need that investment? Do you need that kind of investor to take risk? It’s just hard to know what’s going to be successful and what isn’t. I think that is the dilemma.

Gloria Riviera  41:05

Yes, of course, we want to find new technologies and solutions that do work. But oftentimes, the results are oversold. According to Valerie, greenwashing takes advantage of our want to do good to stop the plastic problem.

Valerie Volcovici  41:20

People are very well intentioned, they want to do the right thing. And they assume that somebody else is doing the right thing too. But in this case, they’re not. But at the end of the day, when a company is giving you no option, you can’t really blame people.

Gloria Riviera  41:36

In a perfect world. We’d stop our plastic codependency cold turkey, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We’re still trying to do the right thing with the information we’ve been given. As we’ve learned, there is a huge amount of disinformation out there. I mean, it’s so confusing. Here’s the Mark, again.

Mark Miodownik  41:54

We’ve had a total breakdown in trust between manufacturers and citizens about this issue. I think you have to be absolutely honest and say maybe biodegradable. Plastics will be great in the future, but they’re not now so I’m not going to sell them. If that’s your thought process, someone else is going to sell them. So that’s the other thing they worry about. They go look, if I don’t sell them, someone else will sell them. So why should they make money out of it? So you can see why greenwash happens. But it’s pretty much how all greenwash starts, which is like people kind of think, well, it’s not as bad as the other thing. So you know, what’s the harm of me saying this is better than the other thing?

Gloria Riviera  42:29

According to Valerie companies really don’t have any incentives to stop these practices.

Valerie Volcovici  42:35

It’s one of the most difficult things for a company or country to do is to really stop producing because, you know, we really tend to associate emissions with economic growth or with more production, that’s the measure of success. It’s not really in the nature of a company to do it on its own. If there’s no incentive. I think in order to do that, you really do need regulation to force it.

Gloria Riviera  42:57

Right now in the US, the federal government doesn’t have strong enough regulations to effectively challenge greenwashing.

Valerie Volcovici  43:04

And that’s where greenwashing is tricky, because governments know their limits. The United States is not easy to govern in such a politically divided environment. We all know how the world works and their lobbyists and their bottom lines. So that’s difficult. And that’s where the problem lies.

Gloria Riviera  43:22

Here in the United States. Oftentimes, these big industries, they have the upper hand,

Valerie Volcovici  43:28

They know they can lobby and try to kill or weaken the legislation that they know is probably needed. And that’s where greenwashing comes into play, because there is public awareness that’s growing and there is public demand that companies clean up their act.

Gloria Riviera  43:42

This goes beyond greenwashing. It holds true for all of big plastic. These companies are flooding us with reasons to keep on buying, whether that’s more convenient products, like single use plastics back in the day, or greenwashed, quote, unquote, eco-friendly dead end solutions. And we’re finally waking up. So how are we holding these companies responsible from Louisiana to New Jersey.

Gloria Riviera  44:07

We’ll hear about how lawmakers scientists and even citizens are pushing for accountability in our final episode, and we’ll talk about what you can do to make a difference.

CREDITS  44:43

Discarded is a Lemonada Media Original. Presented by Only One. I’m your host Gloria Riviera. Our producers are Ali Kilts. Alexa Lim and me, Tess Novotny is our associate producer. Krystal Genesis is our supervising producer. Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content, mix and sound designed by Natasha Jacobs with additional mixing from Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Hannis Brown. Naomi Bar is our fact checker. Executive Producers are Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. To learn more and to take action, go to onlyone/discarded. Follow me on Twitter at @GRiviera. Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia. There’s more discarded with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content like my conversation with Jane Patton over delicious Cafe Du Monde venues in New Orleans. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Join my Lemonada today for free and chat with your favorite hosts, other listeners and our staff. You’ll also get exclusive audio and video content and invites to live and virtual events before anyone else. Go to to join a community who wants to make life suck less together. Go to for a list of current sponsors and discount codes for this and all other Lemonada series. To follow along with a transcript go to, shortly after the air date, follow discarded wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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