FERC Approves Methane Storage Project in Finger Lakes Region of New York
Brushing aside warnings of dangerous geological risk, federal regulators say construction can start immediately on a methane gas storage project next to Seneca Lake that has galvanized opposition from wine and tourism businesses across the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.
The Sept. 30 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) represents a major breakthrough for Houston-based Crestwood Midstream. The company has been waging a five-year campaign for permission to convert long-abandoned lakeside salt caverns into a regional storage hub for both methane gas and liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, from fracking operations in Pennsylvania.
FERC has jurisdiction over the methane gas storage portion of the project, while the state Department of Environmental Conservation has the final say over the storage of LPG, mostly propane and butane. The company has been trying to persuade both agencies that the old caverns are ideal storage sites for highly-pressurized, volatile hydrocarbons. Scientists who are not paid by the company disagree and have warned of the caverns’ unstable geology.
In May, after 14 months of review, FERC granted conditional approval of Crestwood’s request to expand its existing methane storage into a cavern that has a history of instability. Meanwhile, the DEC has been evaluating the LPG portion of the project since 2009. It announced in August plans to hold an “issues conference” to further weigh the evidence before ruling.
Crestwood’s storage hub would be located in a cluster of several dozen salt caverns on the west shore of Seneca Lake less than three miles north of the village of Watkins Glen, population 1,859. The company continues to mine salt at the site, and it already uses a former salt cavern to store methane gas. FERC has allowed it to expand its working gas capacity from 1.45 billion cubic feet to 2.0 bcf.
Typically, methane gas is transported to the caverns by pipeline, while LPG storage would require truck and rail transport. If Crestwood wins DEC approval, it would store LPG in two other caverns less than a quarter mile away from the compressed methane.
The company has asserted that the history of the storage caverns, including details of their flaws, is a trade secret. And state and federal regulators have complied with the company’s requests to keep most cavern information out of the public eye. But reports dating back decades by engineers employed by the caverns’ owners—tracked down in Internet searches—candidly spell out their defects.
Opponents of Crestwood’s proposed storage hub have expressed alarm over FERC’s brisk dismissal of potential risks, but safety issues are not their only concern. They also fear increased air and noise pollution, a steep increase in LPG truck traffic through the village of Watkins Glen and new LPG rail traffic over a spindly 80-year-old trestle that spans the Watkins Glen gorge, one of the state’s Top 10 tourist destinations.
In March, two internationally renowned vintners who recently purchased 65 acres directly across Seneca Lake from Crestwood’s property wrote Gov. Andrew Cuomo to urge him to block the LPG portion of the plan.
“The potential for accidents, the threat to fresh water quality and the visual impact of a 60-foot flare stack with massive compressors is not compatible with developing the tremendous potential of the region,” wrote Paul Hobbs, owner of the Paul Hobbs Winery in Sonoma County, California, and Johannes Selbach of the Selbach-Oster estate in Germany’s Mosel Valley.
“For the past several years we have explored the vineyards and wineries of the Finger Lakes in search of an ideal parcel for growing world class Riesling,” Hobbs and Selbach wrote the governor. The site chosen on the east side of Seneca Lake just outside Watkins Glen, which features steep slopes, low-PH scale shale and slate soils and a cool growing season, “is unquestionably one of the premier places in the world for high quality winegrowing,” they added.
The Seneca Lake Wine Trail already has about three dozen member wineries. Michael Warren Thomas, who helped recruit Hobbs and Selbach to join them, recently met with a top aide to Cuomo to point out that their arrival could easily stimulate significant new investment in the Finger Lakes wine industry. Already, Thomas noted, Louis Barruol of Chateau St. Cosme and Master Sommelier Christopher Bates have floated the idea of building a visitor center near Watkins Glen in a bid to draw from around the world.
“These are not bulk wine producers,” Thomas said of Hobbs and Selbach. “They are people looking to make the best wine in the world in small quantities. We ought to pay attention when we have the best in the world deciding to make wine in our backyard.”
While Hobbs and Selbach arrived without invitation, hoopla, political backing or government incentives, Crestwood has been backed—both overtly and quietly—by a coalition of politicians.
In July 2013, state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, wrote DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens to urge him to promptly approve Crestwood’s LPG proposal.
This past June, Dennis Fagan, the Republican chairman of the Schuyler County Legislature, drafted a resolution supporting the LPG project. Skipping the customary committee process, he pushed for a vote and won 5-3. That vote incensed many in Watkins Glen, the county seat. The town council later voted for a resolution opposing the project.
Fagan’s promotional role prompted more than 400 people to mass in protest at the subsequent legislative hearing. Several local residents called for him to withdraw the resolution and recuse himself from discussion of the matter due to potential conflicts of interest. He declined both requests.
The company he had founded, Fagan Engineers, has done extensive work with companies involved in oil and gas production and pipelines. Fagan recently sold his firm to his brother and other partners, but he said he continues to receive payments from them as part of the sales agreement. Fagan Engineers is currently building a facility 15 miles south of Watkins Glen for Access Midstream, a joint venture partner with Crestwood in a Wyoming project valued at well over $100 million.
Fagan has long touted Crestwood’s planned storage hub. In an October 2011 letter of support to the DEC, he predicted that the LPG project would expand Schuyler County’s tax base by $20-30 million. Two years later, he announced that the property Crestwood plans to use for its methane gas storage would have its assessed value reduced from $29 million to $22 million by 2015, despite plans for extensive development.
Inergy, Crestwood’s predecessor company, negotiated the assessment cut with Schuyler County’s Town of Reading, where the Crestwood property is located. Inergy and Crestwood merged in 2013.
State Supreme Court records show that Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, had a hand in the court case that led to the company’s slashed assessment. Reed had served as Reading’s attorney for several years before being elected to Congress in 2010, and he was not officially replaced as the town’s lawyer until January 2012, according to Rita Osborne, Reading’s deputy clerk. Reed’s replacement, Thomas Bowes, had worked in Reed’s Corning law office for four years before leaving in December 2011.
In 2012—after Reed had officially been replaced by Bowes—Inergy petitioned in the State Supreme Court for the assessment cut. However, a State Supreme Court filing dated July 12, 2012 lists “Thomas Reed II, Esq.”—not Bowes—as “attorney for the respondents,” which included the town, its assessor and its board of assessment review.
In an interview with DCBureau.org last August, Reed acknowledged his past role as Reading’s attorney, but denied any role in the Inergy/Crestwood assessment case. Reed said his name may have been placed on the court document by mistake. Fagan, the county chairman, said in a more recent interview that he was not aware of any role Reed had in cutting the tax assessment for the methane storage property.
FERC’s decision to grant a green light for construction on the methane storage cavern preceded any public announcements of approval from the state. By law, the DEC must agree to modify Crestwood’s current underground storage permit for methane gas, and the state geologist must certify that the storage cavern is safe. However, as a practical matter, the state does not have the legal authority to block the methane storage project, if legal precedents involving federal-state jurisdiction are any gauge.
The best the public can hope for in the future is diligent monitoring of the methane storage facility for leaks and roof and wall collapses, said H.C. Clark, a Houston geologist who has sharply criticized FERC’s analysis of the cavern.
Clark pointed out in January that FERC had neglected to assess the safety implications of a massive roof collapse in the cavern. He learned about the event in a detailed report written in the late 1960s by Charles Jacoby, an engineer who worked for the cavern’s owner at the time.
During its analysis of the project, FERC had pointedly asked Crestwood if it knew of any cavern roof or wall collapses anywhere within its Seneca Lake cavern field. The company issued a qualified denial. If fact, a 400,000-ton chunk of rock—roughly the size of an aircraft carrier—had given way in the very cavern that the company proposed to use for methane storage.
After Clark disclosed the roof collapse to the public and DCBureau.org and other media outlets publicized it, FERC addressed the issue. It attributed the roof collapse to the fact that LPG and brine had been cycled in and out of the cavern at the time, eating away at its salt walls and weakening its structure. LPG has not been stored in the cavern since 1984, and it is now mostly filled with brine.
In its May 15 order conditionally approving the reopening of the cavern for methane storage, FERC concluded that after all brine has been removed and methane gas is added, “dissolution of the salt in the gallery will not occur.”
But Clark, who holds a Ph.D. in geophysics from Stanford and taught the subject for many years at Rice University, said an interview Oct. 1 that it would be “absurd” for FERC to imply that removing brine from the cavern removes all risk of further collapse. “This is an old—ancient by now—cavern sitting there with a broad, flat rock top, which is not what salt cavern folks want to hear,” he added. “The compressed natural gas will work its way up through any kind of abnormality.”
FERC attached several conditions to the methane storage expansion permit. One requires the company to provide fresh data on the current dimensions of the cavern and the volume of the huge rubble pile on its floor. But Clark said the results will probably never reach the public or independent scientists qualified to evaluate them. That is due, he said, to the understanding between the company and its regulators that flaws in caverns used to store volatile hydrocarbons are not to be disclosed to the public.
That policy may increase risks of catastrophic events, he added. “Bayou Corne illustrates the folly of trying to keep this stuff secret,” Clark said in reference to the Louisiana salt dome collapse in 2012 that has created a giant sinkhole about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated and the state’s top natural resources official was forced to resign.
“By keeping it secret, look what happened in Louisiana,” Clark said. “(Gov. Bobby) Jindal is trying to figure it out after the fact. The state has had to spend a fortune … and the sinkhole’s getting larger.”
Both methane gas storage and LPG storage in salt caverns have been prone to severe accidents. Major fires and explosions struck at salt caverns holding compressed natural gas in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Catastrophic accidents hit LPG storage caverns in 1980, 1984, 1985 and 1992, killing or seriously injuring people in three of those cases.
In August, Dr. Rob Mackenzie, a retired CEO of the Cayuga Medical Center, a hospital about 20 miles east of Watkins Glen, sought to quantify the safety risk of Crestwood’s methane gas storage operation to Schuyler County residents. An experienced risk analyst, Mackenzie prepared a formal quantitative risk analysis of the Crestwood methane gas proposal.
Mackenzie analyzed accident events—major fires, explosions, collapses, catastrophic loss of product, evacuations — at salt cavern storage facilities in the U.S. dating back to 1972. He concluded that the risk of an “extremely serious” salt cavern event within Schuyler County over the next 25 years is more than 35%.
Citing data from the Energy Information Administration, Mackenzie noted that in 2012 there were 414 underground gas storage facilities in the United States, including 40 in salt caverns. Aquifers and depleted oil and gas reservoirs are much more commonly used for hydrocarbon storage, and they have dramatically better safety records than salt caverns. “Worldwide, the percentage of incidents involving casualties at salt cavern facilities as a percentage of facilities in operation in 2005 was 13.6 percent, compared to 0.63 percent for depleted reservoirs and 2.5 percent for aquifers,” Mackenzie reported, citing a 2008 study by British health officials.
Between 1972 and 2012, there have been 18 “serious or extremely serious incidents” at U.S. salt cavern storage facilities, Mackenzie wrote, citing EIA data. “With the average number of (salt cavern) facilities in operation through most of the last two decades at close to 30, the U.S. incidence is about 60 percent (compared to 40 percent worldwide), and the frequency is about 1.4 percent per year,” he said. “Most other regulated industry sub-segments with a persistent serious to extremely serious facility incident rate of more than 30 percent would be shut down or else voluntarily discontinued, except in wartime.”
Mackenzie also found that nine of the 18 salt cavern incidents involved large fires and/or explosions; six involved loss of life or serious injury; eight involved evacuations of between 30 and 2,000 residents; and 13 involved extremely serious property losses.
FERC, the regulatory agency, saw no need to further question the suitability of Crestwood’s salt cavern storage.
Here's an independent high-level quantitative risk analysis completed in August 2014:
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7. First Peoples Worldwide (International)<p>First Peoples Worldwide was <a href="http://www.firstpeoples.org/" target="_blank">founded</a> by Cherokee social entrepreneur <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQxwHVeH6zc" target="_blank">Rebecca Adamson</a> to help businesses to align with First Peoples' rights. Now a part of the University of Colorado's <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/business/CESR" target="_blank">Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility</a>, First Peoples Worldwide continues to ensure that Indigenous voices are at the forefront of decision-making processes affecting their own self-determination. The organization works with businesses and institutions to assess their investments and guide them in incorporating Indigenous Peoples' rights and interests into their business decisions.</p>
8. Indigikitchen (North America)<p>Mariah Gladstone's Indigikitchen uses Native foods as resistance. Her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO918GT8I3HX5f4Z1xKCV4A" target="_blank">cooking videos</a> offer healthy, creative ways to eat <a href="https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=PR005" target="_blank">pre-contact</a>, Indigenous foods. The recipes abstain from highly-processed grains, dairy, and sugar, ingredients that did not become standard in diets of the Americas until European colonization. Indigikitchen hopes that its recipes inspire Indigenous cooks to connect with Native foods.</p>
9. Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (North America)<p>The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas provides model policies for Tribal governments to help <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/05/colby-duren-talks-indigenous-food-and-agriculture-policy/" target="_blank">promote and protect food sovereignty</a>. They also co-organize the Native Farm Bill Coalition with the <a href="https://shakopeedakota.org/" target="_blank">Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community</a>, the <a href="https://www.indianag.org/" target="_blank">Intertribal Agriculture Council</a>, and the <a href="http://www.ncai.org/" target="_blank">National Congress of American Indians</a>. The Initiative hosts annual <a href="https://indigenousfoodandag.com/resources/native-youth-summit/" target="_blank">Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summits</a>, where American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian youth can learn about agricultural business, land stewardship, agricultural law, and more.</p>
10. Indigenous Food Systems Network (North America)<p>The Indigenous Food Systems Network (IFSN) is a convener of Indigenous food producers, researchers, and policymakers across the 98 Indigenous nations of Canada. IFSN supports research, policy reform, and direct action that builds food sovereignty in Indigenous communities. The organization's Indigenous Food Sovereignty <a href="http://www.bcfsn.org/mailman/listinfo/ifs_bcfsn.org" target="_blank">email listserv</a> offers its subscribers everything from stories and legends to recipes and policy reform tools.</p>
11. Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (International)<p>Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty is an international organization based in Rome, Italy connecting the world's Indigenous People to agricultural research and advocacy groups. With Indigenous communities from China to India and Thailand to Latin America, Indigenous Partnerships forges dialogues within Indigenous communities to ensure <a href="http://www.fao.org/indigenous-peoples/our-pillars/fpic/en/" target="_blank">free, prior, and informed consent</a> between research and advocacy partners. Indigenous Partnerships also seeks to incorporate global and local Indigenous knowledge into non-Indigenous knowledge systems.</p>
12. Indigenous Terra Madre (International)<p>Indigenous Terra Madre is a global network of Indigenous Peoples sponsored by <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/06/living-the-slow-food-life-during-lockdown/" target="_blank">Slow Food</a>, an international institution based in Rome, Italy. The network amplifies Indigenous voices and protects the biodiversity of the crops Indigenous communities cultivate. By providing a platform for Indigenous communities to pool power and resources, Indigenous Terra Madre fights to defend the land, culture, and opportunity of all Indigenous Peoples.</p>
13. Intertribal Agriculture Council (North America)<p>The American Indian Food Program by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) helps Native American and Alaskan Native agribusinesses and food entrepreneurs expand their market reach. The Made/Produced by American Indians Trademark promoted by the IAC identifies certified American Indian products and is used by over 500 businesses. IAC's other major American Indian Food Program, Native Food Connection, helps market Native American foods and food producers across the United States. IAC also offers technical and natural resource assistance to connect Native businesses with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and conservation stewardship resources.</p>
14. Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska (North America)<p>Through its Alaskan Inuit Food Sovereignty Initiative, the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska is convening Inuit community leaders from across Alaska. The Initiative seeks to unify Inuit throughout the state to advocate for land and wildlife management sovereignty. The Initiative also strives for international cooperation to promote food sovereignty across <a href="https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/inuit-nunangat/" target="_blank">Inuit Nunaat</a>.</p>
15. Mantasa (Asia)<p>Mantasa is a research institution in Indonesia dedicated to expanding the number of indigenous plants consumed by the Javanese people. According to Mantasa, only 20 plant species comprise 90 percent of Javanese food needs. Their research is incorporating new wild foods from Indonesia's vast biodiversity into Javanese diets to improve food security and nutrition. Mantasa also helps promote these foods to consumers and local farmers to increase their popularity.</p>
16. Muonde Trust (Africa)<p>In Mazvhiwa, Zimbabwe, the Muonde Trust invests in Indigenous innovations in food, land, and water management. The Trust seeks out individuals with new ideas and provides peer-to-peer support to help bring those ideas to life. Muonde Trust currently supports innovations in indigenous seed saving and sharing, livestock and woodland management, irrigation systems, and constructing kitchen spaces.</p>
17. Native American Agriculture Fund (North America)<p>The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is the largest philanthropic supporter of Native American agriculture. The Fund offers grants to Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions to support healthy lands, healthy people, and healthy economies. In 2020, NAAF is offering US$1 million in grant funds specifically for youth initiatives and young farmers and ranchers. NAAF is also centralizing COVID-19 relief information for Native farmers, ranchers, fishers, and Tribal governments.</p>
18. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (North America)<p>The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) places Indigenous farmers, wild-crafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers, and eaters at the center of the fight to restore Indigenous food systems and self-determination. NAFSA's primary initiatives are the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, the Food and Culinary Mentorship Program, and their Native Food Sovereignty Events. Each of these initiatives centers around the reclamation of Indigenous seeds and foods.</p>
19. Native Seed/SEARCH (North America)<p>Native Seed/SEARCH preserves and proliferates <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/a-call-for-community-based-seed-diversity-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">indigenous seeds</a> through their Native Access programs. Their Native American Seed Request program offers free seed packets to Native Americans living in or originating from the Greater Southwestern Region. The Bulk Seed Exchange allows growers to pay it forward by returning 1.5 times the seeds they receive to be put towards future Native American Seed Request packs. While Native Seed/SEARCH sells an assortment of popular seeds to the general public, its collection of indigenous seeds are <a href="https://www.nativeseeds.org/pages/native-access" target="_blank">only available to Native farmers</a> and families. They hope these seeds will revitalize traditional foods and build food sovereignty.</p>
20. Navajo Ethno-Agriculture (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Navajo Ethno-Agriculture is sustaining Navajo culture through lessons on traditional farming. The seasonal courses focus on land, water, and food as students cultivate, harvest, and prepare heritage crops. During COVID-19, Navajo Ethno-Agriculture suspended its courses and is focusing on supplying neighboring farms with heritage seeds and farm equipment. They are also offering food processing and packaging services to protect and rejuvenate soil.</span><br></p>
21. North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Founded by the chefs of </span><a href="https://sioux-chef.com/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">The Sioux Chef</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) is reimagining the North American food system as a generator of wealth and good health for Native communities. The organization seeks to reverse the effects of forced assimilation and colonization through food entrepreneurship and a reclamation of ancestral education. NāTIFS is establishing an </span><a href="https://www.facebook.com/indigenousfoodlab/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Indigenous Food Lab</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a training center and restaurant for Native chefs and food. NāTIFS plans to eventually spread this model across North America.</span><br></p>
22. Oyate Teca Project (North America)<p><br></p><p>In response to dire food access on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota, the Oyate Teca Project offers year-long classes in gardening, food entrepreneurship, and traditional food preservation techniques. Oyate Teca helps make local foods available to the community by selling produce grown in their half-acre garden at farmer's markets. The project also serves as an emergency food provider for families and children.</p>
23. Tebtebba (Asia)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Tebtebba is an international organization based in the Philippines committed to sharing global Indigenous wisdom. Its Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity project strengthens Indigenous organizations' research, policy advocacy, and education on biodiversity. The project also works directly with Indigenous communities to strengthen their governance structures, protect their land, and improve their food security.</span><br></p>
24. Sierra Seeds (North America)<p><br></p><p><a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/06/new-on-the-podcast-rowen-white-talks-indigenous-seed-sovereignty-and-viraj-puri-says-urban-greenhouses-can-transform-produce/" target="_blank">Rowan White</a> and her organization, Sierra Seeds, are dedicated to the next generation of farmers, gardeners, and food justice activists. Her flagship program, Seed Seva, offers a multi-layered education on seed stewardship and Indigenous permaculture. The program is offered online, allowing anybody to access White's wisdom. Additionally, Sierra Seeds offers a <a href="https://sierraseeds.org/seeding-change/" target="_blank">Seeding Change</a> leadership incubator, where emerging food justice leaders meet virtually to support one another while developing individual projects.</p>
25. Storying Kaitiakitanga (Oceania)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Storying Kaitiakitanga – A Kaupapa Māori Land and Water Food Story is a project of Dr. Jessica Hutchings and other Māori researchers and storytellers. The project was developed as part of the </span><a href="https://www.ourlandandwater.nz/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Our Land and Water National Science Challenge</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> to collect the stories of Māori food producers across the food system. Storying Kaitiakitanga is exploring how traditional Māori principles and practices can inspire more sustainable food systems for the next generation. Stories include beekeepers, yogurt producers, and business development service providers.</span><br></p>
26. Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a grassroots Lakota organization building food sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota. Their reservation-wide Food Sovereignty Coalition is dedicated to reconstructing a healthy local food system. They have greatly increased food production on the reservation and train residents and students on Oglala food histories, current local foods, gardening, and food preservation.</span><br></p>
27. Wangi Tangni (Central America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">In Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, the women of Indigenous Miskita communities receive native plants from Wangi Tangni to grow for food, medicine, and reforestation. The organization provides communal and legal support for women, many of whom do not speak Spanish. The organization's overall mission is to promote political participation and gender equality through sustainable development projects such as indigenous plant rematriation.</span><br></p>
28. Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">The public schools of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and Arizona partner with the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project to build gardening spaces and provide nutrition education. The partnership is intended to reintroduce traditional knowledge and practices into students' educations about food. The Project hopes that the community gardens will also inspire more Zuni to grow their own food and reduce rates of obesity and diabetes in their communities.</span><br></p>
- Indigikitchen Is Bringing Native Food Sovereignty Online - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Gardening Tips From Indigenous Food Growers - EcoWatch ›
- Indigenous Peoples Hold the Past and Future of Food in Their Hands - EcoWatch ›
By Olivia Sullivan
One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.
Kamikatsu, Japan. Yuki Shimazu / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>This reveals a worldwide truth: Even products made mostly from easily recyclable materials like paper, aluminum or cardboard can't be sorted and recycled if they contain plastic components that can't be separated.</p><p>The truth is, some materials simply aren't recyclable, and <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782" target="_blank">only 9%</a> of all the plastic ever created has <em>been </em>recycled. As Kamikatsu's residents have painstakingly proven, no matter how many categories consumers sort their waste into or how diligently they scrub down their plastic food containers, most plastics <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Greenpeace-Report-Circular-Claims-Fall-Flat.pdf" target="_blank">cannot be recycled</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile we keep hearing the <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504091-the-insanity-of-plastic-recycling" target="_blank">industry-driven narrative</a> that recycling can stop plastic from choking our marine life or littering our natural places. That's intentionally misleading.</p><p>Around the world, as in Kamikatsu, plastic is everywhere. With excessive amounts of plastic products and packaging stocked on store shelves, it's clear that zero-waste goals cannot be achieved by consumers alone. Plastic is not a "zero waste" material, so in order to achieve zero waste, companies must stop making so much plastic.</p>
Marine debris collected at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. NOAA<p>We can achieve that. The first steps include banning some of the worst and most polluting single-use plastics, placing a pause on the development of new plastics facilities, and protecting state and local governments' ability to enact more stringent regulations.</p><p>We must also shift the paradigm by holding producers responsible for the waste they create. By requiring new plastic products to contain recycled plastic and making producers fund the collection and recycling of plastic products, producers would be incentivized to design longer lasting products that can <em>actually</em> be reused and recycled.</p><p>These goals — outlined in numerous scientific studies and advocacy reports — have some forward motion. In the United States, a federal bill was recently introduced in both the House and the Senate, the <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845" target="_blank">Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act</a>. If passed this bill — or others like it on the local, state or national levels — could help move the world beyond single-use plastics and make that needed systemic change a reality.</p><p>The bill hasn't moved forward since it was introduced this past February, but the world is still on a deadline. A recent study published in the journal <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/07/22/science.aba9475" target="_blank"><em>Science</em></a> looked at rising levels of plastic production and said "coordinated global action is urgently needed to reduce plastic consumption, increase rates of reuse, waste collection and recycling, expand safe disposal systems and accelerate innovation in the plastic value chain."</p><p>Requiring producers to stop making nonrecyclable products designed to be thrown out is the first step toward achieving that goal. Only then will Kamikatsu and other towns, cities and countries around the world finally be able to eliminate plastic pollution and reach 100% zero waste.</p><p><em>The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of </em>The Revelator<em>, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.</em></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/oliviasullivan/" target="_blank">Olivia Sullivan</a> <em><em>is a zero waste associate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) working on a campaign to move the United States beyond plastic.</em></em></p><p><em><em><span></span>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/cities-zero-waste/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></em></p>