California Investigation on Exxon’s Plastics

California Investigated Exxon on Plastic

The state of California is taking oil giant ExxonMobil to court for its role in the plastic pollution crisis. The first-of-its-kind lawsuit subpoenaed Exxon for "historic and ongoing efforts” to downplay just how detrimental and dangerous plastic waste is to human health and the environment -- and for claiming it is recyclable. In recent decades, plastic has infiltrated everything from beaches and mountains to the human body. And the whole idea that plastic is recyclable doesn’t hold up: documents show that companies knew plastic recycling wouldn’t work in the ‘70s, and today more than 90% of it is disposed of in landfills, incineration, or into the ocean.

The California announcement comes after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban single-use plastic in the food service industry, and a broader phase-out of single-use plastic was confirmed to be on state ballots this fall.

CBS: California's AG investigating oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, April 29, 2022.

CBS: Climate change lawsuits | Taking fossil fuel firms to court, April 17, 2022.

Why This Matters

The UN has described plastics as a "triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution.” Plastic is made from petroleum products, so it is harmful in its extractive production that causes climate change and its long-lasting impact once used.

"In California and across the globe, we are seeing the catastrophic results of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign of deception. Plastic pollution is seeping into our waterways, poisoning our environment, and blighting our landscapes ... Enough is enough,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

The Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Plastic, April 21, 2021.

Our Changing Climate: Why Plastic Pollution Is Even Worse Than You Think, April 23, 2021.

UN Plastic Treaty

Earlier this year, the UN unanimously voted to develop a treaty to end plastic pollution, which was heralded as the most important multilateral environmental deal since the Paris Agreement seven years ago. While agreeing to develop the treaty isn’t the same as having one finalized and in place, there will certainly be negotiations and disagreements in between, and there isn’t anything binding at the moment. Still, it’s a step toward international collaboration on the problem, which is especially important given that the Western world is already violating international conventions by shipping its plastic waste to other countries like Malaysia and Vietnam.

UNEP: Global Plastic Pollution Agreement - A historic moment, March 2, 2022.

Denial, Doubt, Delay

A new docuseries The Power of Big Oil on PBS digs into the industry and its strategy to promote denial and progress its agenda. Viewers are offered a close examination of all sides of the campaigns and intentional manipulation of oil giants. Watch Part I: Denial here, Part II: Doubt here, and Part III: Delay here.

Now This: Sheldon Whitehouse on Greenwashing and Fossil Fuel Industry, May 14, 2021.

350 Silicon Valley: Exxon Exposed | A Conversation with Geoffrey Supran and Ben Franta, August 5, 2021.

NYU Environmental Studies: The Long Game | How Big Oil Delayed Climate Action For Four Decades (with Ben Franta), November 11, 2021.