Teflon’s Toxic Legacy: DuPont Knew for Decades It Was Contaminating Water Supplies
By Sharon Kelly
Almost two decades ago, Carla Bartlett, a then 41-year -old West Virginia secretary and mother of two, was first diagnosed with cancer—what her surgeon later labeled a “garden variety" type of kidney cancer.
“I was scared to death," Bartlett, now 59, told an Ohio federal jury this fall during hearings in the first of more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death suits by West Virginia and Ohio residents against the chemical giant DuPont. “And all I could think of was not being there, not being able to be there for my family."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Bartlett's tumor and part of her rib were removed in a surgery in 1997 that, she said, involved cutting her “virtually in half." Though the cancer hasn't recurred since, for Bartlett, the harm, both physical and emotional, has lingered. “It's never out of my mind, because you worry constantly about it," she said. “And then I have the reminder of the scar, every day, that, you know, this … this is … this was cancer; this could come back."
On Oct. 7, 2015, after less than a day of deliberations, the jury found DuPont liable for Bartlett's cancer, agreeing with the defendant that the company had for years negligently contaminated her drinking water supply in Tuppers Plain, Ohio with a toxic chemical formerly used to make its signature brand of nonstick coating: Teflon.
What makes the verdict remarkable is that unlike, say, mesothelioma—a form of lung cancer almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure—the renal cell carcinoma that struck Bartlett is not usually considered the calling card of a specific carcinogen. So it was difficult for her doctors to definitively say what had first made Bartlett sick—it could have been virtually anything. The $1.6 million the jury awarded to Bartlett—the product of decades' worth of legal battles that unearthed reams of secret DuPont studies and internal emails—came despite the extreme difficulty of connecting common ailments to a specific chemical under the current U.S. legal system.
Proving that DuPont was legally culpable for Bartlett's kidney cancer required years of extraordinarily innovative lawyering—and at times some plain dumb luck. The very improbability of that verdict demonstrates much that is flawed about the way this country regulates potentially dangerous chemicals. With no mandatory safety testing for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of chemicals used daily in America, doctors and public health officials have little information to guide them as they seek to identify potential health hazards—including the chemical, called C8, that DuPont knowingly allowed to pollute Bartlett's drinking water. Bartlett's travails are also a cautionary tale about C8, which has become so pervasive today that it's found in virtually every American's blood.
“Part of a diagnosis is: Well, tell me what you've been around," one of Bartlett's attorneys, Mike Papantonio, told the jury in opening arguments in the case. “Well, I drank my water. That doesn't sound like a problem. It was a problem"
Teflon was first created, as many miracle chemicals were, in a laboratory accident. In 1938, Roy J. Plunkett, a DuPont chemist, was experimenting with refrigerants when he discovered a white waxy material that seemed very slippery. The material turned out to be an inert fluorocarbon—Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)—that had superior nonstick properties. In 1945, the company patented the chemical and registered it under the trademark “Teflon," touting it as “the most slippery material in existence." By 1948 DuPont was producing about 2 million pounds of Teflon a year at its Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. For DuPont, Teflon, which was used to coat pots and pans, proved to be a gold mine, with sales peaking at roughly a billion dollars a year in 2004, according to the company's SEC filings.
Starting around 1951, DuPont began using another laboratory-formed chemical known as Perfluorooctanoic (PFOA) acid, or C8 (so called because it contains eight carbon molecules), to smooth out the lumpiness of freshly manufactured Teflon. An unusually durable chemical, C8 first entered the world in 1947 and due to its nonstick and stain-resistant properties its use as a “surfactant" spread with extraordinary speed. The white, powdery compound, often said to look like Tide laundry detergent, would ultimately be used in hundreds of products including fast food wrappers, waterproof clothing, electrical cables, and pizza boxes. (DuPont used to purchase C8 from another chemical company called 3M until 2002, when the company phased it out. DuPont then started manufacturing C8 on its own at a factory in Fayetteville, North Carolina).
The trouble was that the compound—which has since been linked to a variety of health risks including cancer, liver disease, developmental problems and thyroid disease—escapes into the air easily. In fact, C8 was often shipped to factories pre-mixed with water to keep the dust from worker's lungs.
Because it's an extremely stable chemical, C8 does not biodegrade. Instead, it bioaccumulates, building up in people's blood over time if they continue to drink water or breathe air laced with the substance. Due to its ubiquitous use, the chemical can now be found in trace amounts in the bloodstream of more than 98 percent of Americans, and even in umbilical cord blood and breast milk, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It's also been found in the blood of seals, eagles, and dolphins around the world, including in animals living in a remote wildlife refuge in the middle of the North Pacific. The chemical is expected to stay in the environment for thousands of years.
Concerns about the hazards posed by Teflon and C8 began to garner public attention only about 15 years ago. By 2003, DuPont had dispersed almost 2.5 million pounds of C8 from its Washington Works plant into the mid-Ohio River Valley area, according to a peer-reviewed study. The company's most egregious disposal practices occurred before U.S. environmental laws were first written in the 1970s and included burying toxic waste in drums along the banks of the Ohio River and dropping barrels of it out into the open ocean (where it once caused a scandal when a local fisherman dredged a barrel up in his nets), and, in more recent decades, burying it in local “non-hazardous" landfills.
Now, information emerging from millions of pages of internal company reports reveals that several DuPont scientists and senior staff members had for many years either known, or at least suspected, that C8 was harmful. Yet DuPont continued to use the chemical, putting its own workers, local residents, and the American public at risk.
The documents show that signs of C8's toxicity began to emerge very quickly as DuPont scaled up its Teflon production in the 1950s. The company funds its own safety-testing laboratory—the Haskell Laboratory of Industrial Toxicology—in part to screen workers for signs of illnesses that might be tied to DuPont products. In 1961, company lab tests linked C8 exposure to enlarged livers in rats and rabbits. DuPont scientists then conducted tests on humans, asking a group of volunteers to smoke cigarettes laced with C8. “Nine out of 10 people in the highest-dosed group were noticeably ill for an average of nine hours with flu-like symptoms that included chills, backache, fever and coughing," the researchers noted.
“Concerns about the potential toxicity of C8 had been raised internally within DuPont by at least 1954, leading DuPont's own researchers to conclude by at least 1961 that C8 was toxic and, according to DuPont's own Toxicology Section Chief, should be 'handled with extreme care,'" Bartlett's February 2013 suit against DuPont alleged.
But it wasn't until the 1970s that DuPont's researchers began to understand that C8 was building up in the bloodstreams of workers, and soon after, they began to see troubling signs that the chemical could pose serious health risks. The stakes were high: The Washington Works plant where Teflon is manufactured was one of the biggest employers in the region. The plant currently employs more than 2,000 people—3,000 if you include sub-contractors—in a sparsely populated Appalachian community alongside the Ohio River separating West Virginia from Ohio.
In 1981, the company ordered all female employees out of the Teflon division after two out of seven pregnant workers gave birth to children with birth defects. One of those children, Bucky Bailey, was born with just one nostril and other facial deformities that required many painful surgeries to fix.
“I've never, ever felt normal. You can't feel normal when you walk outside and every single person looks at you. And it's not that look of he's famous or he's rich," he told ABC News in 2003. “It's that look of he's different. You can see it in their eyes."
In 1984, DuPont began to secretively collect local tap water, asking employees to bring in jugs of water from their own homes, schools, and local businesses, and discovered that C8 was making its way into public drinking water supplies in both Ohio and West Virginia at potentially dangerous levels. Minutes recorded at a meeting at DuPont's corporate headquarters in Delaware that year suggest a high level of concern regarding how this could affect the company's image and bottom line. “Legal and medical will likely take the position of total elimination," notes from the meeting read. The company executives present, however, concluded the available methods for cutting pollution were not “economically attractive."
In the years following that meeting, instead of slashing its use of C8, DuPont escalated production, while keeping much of what it knew about the chemical's dangers secret. The company's Washington Works factory continued with its usual practice of dumping C8-laden sludge in unlined landfills, allowing it to enter the Ohio River, and pumping out C8-laced vapors from its smokestacks.
None of this would have come to light had it not been for a West Virginia cattle rancher named Wilbur Tennant who, along with four other members of his family, sued DuPont in 1998 claiming he had lost hundreds of head of cattle because of pollution from a landfill next to his farm. DuPont had purchased the patch of land, which included a creek that ran directly into the Ohio River, from Tennant in the 1980s, telling him that it would be used as a non-hazardous landfill.
But soon after the landfill got underway, the creek started to turn black and smelly. Sometimes there would be a layer of foam on the water. Within a few years, about 280 of Tennant's cattle, which drank water from the creek, had died. When the Tennants cut open a cow to investigate the cause of its death, they discovered that its internal organs had turned bright, neon green, video footage recorded by the rancher shows. Tennant and his family members, too, suffered breathing difficulties and cancers.
Tennant's attorney, Robert Bilott, forced DuPont to turn over tens of thousands of pages of internal company documents as part of the legal process. Buried in those materials was a single mention of a chemical Bilott had never heard of before: PFOA (C8). The chemical sounded similar to another one, called PFOS, which had just been pulled off the market by its maker 3M (which, if you recall, supplied C8 to DuPont for decades). So Bilott made another request to DuPont. This time he asked the company to turn over all documents related to C8.
“I did not immediately recognize the significance [of C8]," Bilott told Earth Island Journal, “but we came to."
The trove of documents ultimately uncovered during the ensuing legal battles offered up incriminating evidence about the company's decades-long cover-up. In addition to research findings, copies of internal emails and documents included in this cache were especially illuminating. One 2001 email describes a scientist warning that when airborne, C8 is so hard to deal with that “it might require the public to wear 'gas masks.'"
Another, by DuPont's in-house counsel, Bernard Reilly, shows that company officials planned to push regulators to allow the public to be exposed to higher levels of the chemical than DuPont itself had recommended. In an October 2001 email to his son, Reilly wrote:
“So far DuPont has been saying there are safe levels, we need to have an independent agency agree, we are hoping that it will agree to higher levels than we have been saying. If for no other reason than we are exceeding the levels we say we set as our own guideline, mostly because no one bothered to do air monitoring until now, and our water test has been completely inadequate."
Reilly's personal emails, written mostly to family members between late 1999 and mid-2001 using his work email address, give an unfiltered insight into the company's legal efforts to cover up C8's risks. In one August 2000 email he writes: “The shit is about to hit the fan in WV. The lawyer for the farmer finally realizes the surfactant issue. He is threatening to go to the press to embarrass us to pressure us to settle for big bucks. Fuck him."
This information not only helped the Tennant case—which DuPont settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount—it would eventually lead to one of the most significant class-action lawsuits in the history of environmental law (which culminated in the landmark October ruling in Carla Bartlett's case). Sadly, Tennant didn't live to see the ripple effect of his lawsuit. He died of cancer in 2009 at age 67.
By 2001, while still working on the Tennant case, Bilott came to realize that the C8 contamination wasn't isolated to the Tennant property, but extended across a large swath of the mid-Ohio River Valley. The chemical had seeped into the water supply of at least six public water systems in West Virginia and Ohio. That year, Bilott filed a class action lawsuit against DuPont, Leach, et al. v E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., on behalf of about 80,000 people in the six water districts. He also reported his findings to the US Environmental Protection Agency and sent along copies of some 900 pages of DuPont's internal documents, after which the agency launched a “priority review" of C8.
In 2004 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), too, filed a lawsuit against DuPont, charging it with concealing evidence about C8's risks for more than two decades. In 2005 the company agreed to pay $16.5 million as part of a settlement agreement with the EPA—the largest civil penalty ever in the agency's history. But environmental groups argue that the fine was little more than a slap on the wrist to a company where a single division sold more than that amount in a single day.
“Under the terms of the settlement, the company wasn't even obliged to pull C8 from the market … the best the agency could negotiate was a voluntary phase-out by 2015," the watchdog organization Environmental Working Group says in its May 2015 report “Poisoned Legacy."
The same year, DuPont settled the class-action suit filed by Bilott's firm for over $100 million—plus another $235 million if research funded by the settlement turned up evidence that people might be getting sick. Under the settlement, DuPont promised to install filtration systems in contaminated water districts and put $70 million into a community health and education project. And, in a rather unusual move, the company also agreed to fund a multimillion dollar health study, overseen by independent, court-appointed scientists, to determine whether exposure to C8 had actually harmed people. Moreover, DuPont agreed that if the study did prove that the C8 had caused certain diseases, those who suffered from diseases connected to C8 would be entitled to sue individually for personal injury.
It's not quite clear why DuPont agreed to the independent study. Perhaps it was the knowledge that most medical monitoring programs fail to attract enough participants, which usually makes it almost impossible to draw reliable inferences about disease clusters. But in this case, nearly 80 percent of the surrounding community in West Virginia and Ohio showed up at makeshift medical clinics in trailers around the region to have their blood drawn and a health care questionnaire completed. Community members were, more often than not, drawn by the $400 checks (pulled from the DuPont settlement) that the enterprising team of medical researchers offered to each man, woman, and child who participated.
“We have families of five dragging their three kids kicking and screaming, and the parents are saying, 'Yes, you're going to get stuck in the arms—that's $2,000!'" one local resident told The Huffington Post.
The C8 science panel, which took seven years to complete its research, ultimately linked C8 exposure to six diseases: ulcerative colitis; pregnancy-induced hypertension; high cholesterol; thyroid disease; testicular cancer; and kidney cancer. The panel's findings, published in several peer-reviewed journals, were remarkable because they proved that the chemical pretty much affected the entire body, even at low exposure levels. The researchers concluded that C8 posed health threats at just 0.05 parts per billion in drinking water for people who drank that water for a single year. They found that the average C8 level in blood samples from the mid-Ohio Valley was 83 parts per billion. The average C8 level for those living closest to the plant—whose drinking water came from Ohio's Little Hocking water district—was more than 224 parts per billion compared to 4 parts per billion for average Americans.
Once the connection between C8 exposure and the diseases was established, more than 3,500 Ohio Valley residents, including Carla Bartlett, filed personal injury cases against DuPont. Bartlett's case was the first to go on trial this past September. The court's verdict in her favor might just set the tone for the rest of cases that will come to trial.
Still, there are many who feel the company will keep trying to wriggle its way out of its responsibilities. (During Bartlett's trial, for instance, DuPont attorneys argued that her cancer was triggered by her obesity rather than C8, even though, as per terms of the class action suit settlement, DuPont isn't permitted to dispute the fact that C8 can cause the kind of cancer she endured).
“I've been at it 16 years, if that tells you anything," Joe Kiger, a local gym teacher and lead plaintiff in the original 2005 class action suit, told the Journal. “When this all started, I did not think it would get out of hand like it has, but we kept finding out more and more of what DuPont did, what the cover-ups were, them knowing full well that this stuff was toxic." Kiger—who suffers from numerous kidney and liver problems and and had to have surgery following a heart attack in May—is a member of Keep Your Promises DuPont, a community-based organization working to hold the company accountable for its actions. “Our biggest faith and trust we have is in our utilities," he said. “We flip that light switch on, we expect it to come on. We don't think anything about it. You turn on your tap to get water, you expect that water to be clean and not have all these chemicals in it. I think now, people are starting to find out that someone has lied to them."
To understand how C8 managed to remain in use for so long requires a look back at the history of chemical regulation in the U.S., and the role that DuPont itself played in crafting those laws.
Since the early 1970s, pressure had been growing to regulate the rising use of chemicals in almost every aspect of post-World War II American life. And few companies were as responsible for—or as dependent on—that expansion as DuPont.
In 1930, DuPont created Freon, making mass-market refrigerators and air conditioners possible for the first time. In 1935, a DuPont scientist invented nylon, a synthetic fiber that proved invaluable during World War II. Cellophane, Mylar, Tyvek, Rayon, Lycra—household names to this day—were all developed by DuPont in the past century. The company also made artificial fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, plastics and paints.
“We have been proud to publicize the fact that more than 60 percent of our sales in 1950 resulted from products that were unknown, or at least were only laboratory curiosities, as recently as 1930," a DuPont rep told a group of financiers in 1955. But as thousands of new chemical innovations entered the daily lives of Americans, pressure was also rising to find out what health risks many of them posed.
One of the first acts of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, after it was established in 1969, was to highlight the need for federal chemical controls—a system that would let regulators figure out which substances could pose public health risks before people got sick.
“The Council's study indicates the high-priority need for a program of testing and control of toxic substances," it said as it released a 1971 report calling for new chemical rules. “We should no longer be limited to repairing damage after it has been done; nor should we continue to allow the entire environment to be used as a laboratory."
For several years, the Manufacturing Chemists Association, an industry trade group that counted DuPont as a core member (known as the American Chemistry Council today), managed to block any attempt to regulate the industry. But as a growing list of chemicals like PCBs, asbestos and vinyl chloride began to be linked to illness, so did the demand to regulate them. Foreseeing the inevitable, many chemical companies decided that it would be better to be involved in the drafting process than to risk the type of bans that barred the use of the notorious pesticide DDT in 1972.
DuPont had a key seat at that drafting table.
Robert C. Eckhardt, a progressive Texas politician from a north Houston district packed with chemical and oil companies, is often described as the chief craftsman of the legislation that came out of this drafting process—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which even today is the primary law regulating chemicals used in the U.S. First elected in 1966, Congressman Eckhardt was known for riding a bicycle to work at the Capitol—carrying his legislative files in a whisky case strapped to his bike—a habit that put him far ahead of the curve as an environmentalist and gained him support from early conservationists, especially after the 1970s' energy crisis. During his career in DC, which ended in 1980, the Democratic congressman championed civil rights, fought to tax oil and gas companies, and helped ensure that core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act and Superfund laws passed.
TSCA, as it stands today, was the product of an unlikely collaboration between the iconoclastic Eckhardt and DuPont.
Early meetings between Eckhardt and DuPont had gone so badly that Eckhardt stormed out of the room during a March 1976 negotiation. But as a draft chemical control bill passed the Senate, DuPont reluctantly returned to the table. One of the biggest sticking points was whether safety tests should be required before companies were allowed to put new chemicals on the market—an effort that the industry successfully blocked. “No mandatory testing was a huge compromise," Rena Steinzor, University of Maryland School of Law professor and president of the Center for Progressive Reform, told the Earth Island Journal.
The bill that “Bicycle Bob" Eckhardt ultimately produced was so packed with compromises that some of his early supporters opposed the law's final version. “I mean, it was [called] the Heckert-Eckhardtbill," Steven D. Jellinek, the EPA's first-ever assistant administrator for toxic substances, told the Chemical Heritage Foundation's Oral History Project, referring to Richard Heckert, then a DuPont vice-president and the chair of the Manufacturing Chemists Association. “It was written by industry."
Eckhardt's good intentions might have been undermined by the fact that he was on the Senate Commerce Committee rather than the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was composed of people who believed in the EPA's mission and knew a great deal about it," Steinzor says. “The Senate Commerce Committee, like its name, was focused on other concerns and not knowledgeable about toxic chemicals."
Under the toothless TSCA law that DuPont helped write, industrial chemicals—unlike pharmaceuticals or pesticides—do not have to be tested before they are put on the market. The law does require that the EPA keep a current list of all chemicals used commercially in the U.S., but it does not require that the chemicals be tested for environmental or human health impacts. Additionally, TSCA allows manufacturers to claim some information, including the chemical's identity, as a trade secret.
Though the law also requires manufacturers give the EPA some information necessary to assess a new chemical's safety, roughly 60,000 chemicals that were in use at the time TSCA was enacted were exempted from this rule. These chemicals include bisphenol A (BPA), formaldehyde and several flame retardants—all of which have since been found to present significant risks to human health and the environment. Today, there are more than 85,000 industrial chemicals in commercial use in the U.S.—roughly 2,000 new chemicals are introduced every year in the U.S.—but federal regulators have so far required only a tiny percentage of these to undergo any safety testing. You can literally count on one hand the number of chemicals that EPA has banned or widely restricted under TSCA: asbestos, PCBs, dioxin, CFCs and hexavalent chromium (made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich). That's only five chemicals in nearly 40 years.
“In many ways, C8 is a poster child for the failures of U.S. toxic chemical law," says Bill Walker, one of the authors of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) report on C8. “Between 3M and DuPont you have a increasingly damning cover-up. And yet the law is so toothless that neither company was really concerned about being caught by the EPA."
The lack of safety testing helps explain why, back in 1998 when the Tennants first contacted Bilott, virtually no one outside of DuPont and 3M—not EPA field inspectors, OSHA chemists, or state environmental testing laboratories—had ever heard of C8. The two companies essentially had a monopoly on information relating to this chemical. DuPont used that monopoly to illegally cover up its own research that showed that C8 was making its workers ill.
“But for the lawsuit, it is very likely that the EPA would be completely unaware of this chemical as well its toxicological profile," says Ned McWilliams, another plaintiff's attorney. “This lawsuit quite literally blew the whistle on this still unregulated chemical."
DuPont, unsurprisingly, plans to appeal the court's verdict. “The knowledge base around [C8], its environmental footprint, and its health profile has evolved," company spokesperson Dan Turner told the Earth Island Journal. “Over the same period, the chemical industry and its regulators have also learned a great deal about how to operate more safely, sustainably and to reduce emissions." The company has, in the meantime, spun off its Teflon-related operations into another company, called Chemours, in a move that could limit the amount of compensation that plaintiffs can recover.
Over the past few years, DuPont, 3M, and other chemical firms have begun marketing C8-free Teflon, and recent studies show that the levels of C8 in most people's blood are dropping. Unfortunately, the new chemicals that have replaced C8 are also raising concerns. “These next generation PFCs [perfluorinated chemicals] are used in greaseproof food wrappers, waterproof clothing and other products," the EWG's “Poisoned Legacy" report says. “Few have been tested for safety, and the names, composition and health effects of most are hidden as trade secrets."
On a positive note, efforts to strengthen TSCA, which is the only major environmental law that has not been updated since it was first enacted, have gained steam in recent months. This fall, Congress was on the verge of passing TSCA reform measures. The House and the Senate introduced separate TSCA reform bills this year and while the House passed its bill (HR 2576) in June, and the Senate was yet vote on its bill (S 697) as this story went to press. Reforms proposed by these bills include speeding up the pace of the EPA's chemical assessments, changing how the agency prioritizes chemicals for safety review, and amending TSCA's definition of chemicals that may pose an “unreasonable risk" of harmful exposure.
Still, critics say these efforts fall short of what's needed and may be at risk of repeating the errors of the past.
“Neither bill provides the EPA with the resources to act quickly enough on reviewing and regulating the use of chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious health problems," Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group's senior vice-president for government affairs told the Earth Island Journal. “Neither clears away the legal hurdles that prevent the EPA from banning chemicals like asbestos, which we already know are dangerous." Faber is also concerned that the reforms might interfere with regulatory laws introduced by states and other local governments to make up for the lack of effective federal oversight of chemicals. (There are about 172 individual laws regulating chemicals in 35 U.S. states, and another 100 or so similar bills have been under consideration in 28 states this year.)
In the end, it all comes down to the need for a strong political push that can override industry influence and introduce laws to regulate chemicals before they cause the kind of harm that C8 has wreaked. The history of C8, still unfolding, offers many lessons for those battles.
Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.
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Speaking of Shark Week:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/film-fakery-shark-week-conservation/" target="_blank">Film Fakery: Does Shark Week Harm Conservation Efforts?</a></p>
Big Questions:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/shark-conservation-success/" target="_blank">Are We Ready for Shark Conservation to Succeed?</a></p>
Sharks and Fisheries:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/protect-sharks-overfishing/" target="_blank">How to Protect Sharks From Overfishing</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/florida-anglers-endangered-sharks/" target="_blank">Florida Anglers Are Targeting Endangered Sharks</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/recreational-fishing-environmental-impact/" target="_blank">Fishing for Fun? It Has a Bigger Environmental Impact Than We Thought</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/fins-protected-sharks-traded/" target="_blank">Fins from Protected Shark Species Still Heavily Traded</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/essential-unprotected-fish-habitats/" target="_blank">'Essential' But Unprotected: How the United States Fails Its Most Important Fish Habitats</a></p>
Sharks and the Extinction Crisis:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/lost-shark/" target="_blank">Found But Lost: Newly Discovered Shark May Be Extinct</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/rhino-rays-cites/" target="_blank">A Chance to Save the 'Rhinos of the Sea'</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/one-million-extinctions/" target="_blank">What Losing 1 Million Species Means for the Planet — and Humanity</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/extinction-crisis-keep-feeling-overwhelmed/" target="_blank">The Extinction Crisis is Here. How do We Keep from Feeling Overwhelmed?</a></p>
Broader Ocean and Conservation Issues:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/ocean-biodiversity-mpa/" target="_blank">The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/protect-species-environmental-dna/" target="_blank">How Do You Protect a Species You Can't See?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/global-ocean-treaty/" target="_blank">Here's Our Best Opportunity to Save the Oceans — and Ourselves</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/coral-reef-replanting/" target="_blank">Coral in Crisis: Can Replanting Efforts Halt Reefs' Death Spiral?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/oceans-challenges/" target="_blank">What Are the Biggest Challenges for Saving the Oceans?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/empowering-communities-save-ocean/" target="_blank">Empowering Communities to Save the Ocean</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/toxic-plastic-pollution-food-chain/" target="_blank">Something Fishy: Toxic Plastic Pollution Is Traveling Up the Food Chain</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/trump-offshore-oil-wildlife/" target="_blank">Trump's Offshore Oil Plan: Like Nothing the Country Has Ever Seen</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/john/" target="_blank">John R. Platt</a> <em>is the editor of <em>The Revelator</em>. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in <em>Scientific American</em>, <em>Audubon</em>, <em>Motherboard</em>, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/sharks-imperiled/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>.</em></p>
By Isabella Garcia
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.
Grassroots Resistance<p>The plant that would threaten Laur's health and home was awaiting the approval of an air permit by the North Carolina Department of Air Quality which, if approved, would basically greenlight the project. "This made me get out and go door to door," Laur says. One by one, she alerted her neighbors to the prospect of the asphalt plant. "I got to meet some of my neighbors I never knew before," she says. "There's no secret that there has always been a pretty strong line between the White community and the Black community here." In the end, three neighbors joined her efforts—the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, Anita Foust, and Bill Compton. Together, they formed the Anderson Community Group to advocate for environmental justice in their community.</p><p>"We are all the four corners of the community," Laur says with a laugh. "You've got a sick old White lady, Rev. Shoffner is a disabled vet, you've got Anita, who is a Black woman, and you've got a White, old country farmer. We all come from different faiths, but we've all come together as one."</p><p>Suddenly thrust into activism, the group contacted the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, a coalition that provides resources and connections with other groups. "We advocate, we organize, and we assist communities with whatever actions they are thinking of trying to protect themselves," says Naeema Muhammad, the network's co-director. Muhammad met with the activists from Anderson and recognized their need for legal advice, so she connected them with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The legal resources were key when the group determined that the data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's environmental justice report wasn't adding up.</p><p>The report—a requirement for all DEQ permit requests—stated that the Anderson community was 33% minority. That seemed far too low to the residents, so the Anderson Community Group did a census of each house within a 1-mile radius of the proposed plant—the same radius considered in the DEQ's environmental justice report.</p><p>"Rev. Shoffner went out into the community and did his own survey and found out that it was more than 70% minority," Laur says. "That was huge, because that changed the situation to a Title VI matter." Title VI is a federal civil rights law that prevents people from being discriminated against on the grounds of race, color, or national origin. Title VI cases require a more rigorous and comprehensive environmental justice report, so recognizing the Anderson community as a Title VI matter increases the strength of their request for a more in-depth report.</p><p>The massive difference in race demographics comes down to census data, Laur says. The DEQ was using race data from the 2010 census, which was only <a href="https://www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us/?latlng=35.77385,-78.73807&z=7&query=coordinates::36.44038,-79.36343&promotedfeaturetype=states&arp=arpRaceEthnicity&baselayerstate=4&rtrYear=sR2010&infotab=info-rtrselfresponse&filterQuery=false" target="_blank">completed by about 64% of the population of Caswell County</a>—the county where Anderson is located. Laur says the Anderson population response rate could be even lower because the community is considered <a href="https://www.nccensus.org/about-the-census#hard-to-count-communities" target="_blank">"hard-to-count" by the U.S. Census Bureau</a>.</p><p>"The people who don't fill it out are rural people who want to keep their land and don't want zoning and minorities," Laur says, which creates skewed race demographics. The Anderson Community Group said that when they brought up this issue with the director of North Carolina DEQ, he said he was aware of the problem.</p><p>"So that tells me that all the EJ reports in North Carolina that have been done may not even be valid, just like ours," Laur says. "We were told that we are the first [community members] who have ever doubted it and checked it out."</p>
Elevating Voices<p>Determined to have new data collected, the Anderson Community Group rallied in early 2020. After learning from the state Department of Air Quality, the department responsible for approving or rejecting the asphalt air permit, that 100 statements of concern from community members would be sufficient to trigger a public hearing, the Anderson group gathered letters of concern from their community. They submitted more than 108.</p><p>"Then we were told there wasn't enough concern to have a public hearing," Laur says. "So, we started inundating the [Department of Air Quality director with emails and phone calls from the community."</p><p>Finally, in February 2020, the DEQ declared a public comment period for the issue, effectively placing the air permit for the asphalt plant on hold until a public hearing August 3. The public hearing will be held online because of COVID-19, but Laur says most people in Anderson don't own computers, and won't be able to attend. When the community group filed a complaint regarding accessibility, the DEQ then allowed public comments to be submitted via voicemail.</p><p>"Well, we don't have a cell tower out here," Laur says. She has personally never been able to use her cellphone in her home, and even her landline phone drops calls frequently. Even being able to afford a landline is a luxury in Anderson, Laur says.</p>
By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt
The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.
1. Aboriginal Carbon Foundation (Oceania)<p>The Aboriginal Carbon Foundation is building a carbon farming industry in Australia by Aboriginals, for Aboriginals. The Foundation offers training and support for new Indigenous farmers so they can learn how to capture atmospheric carbon in the soil. The carbon farming projects generate certified <a href="http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/Infohub/Markets/buying-accus/australian-carbon-credit-unit-supply" target="_blank">Australian Carbon Credit Units</a> (ACCU), which major carbon-producing businesses must purchase to offset their carbon emissions. Income generated by ACCUs is reinvested in Aboriginal communities by the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation and its participating farmers.</p>
2. AgroEcology Fund (International)<p>The AgroEcology Fund (AEF) galvanizes global leaders and experts to fund <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/26-organizations-working-to-conserve-seed-biodiversity/" target="_blank">biodiverse</a> and regenerative agriculture projects worldwide. Projects funded by AEF have included Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives, agroecology training institutions, and women's market access networks on every continent. With the support of governments and financial institutions, AEF hopes that agroecology will become the standard model for food production worldwide within thirty years.</p>
3. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (Asia)<p>The Asia Indigenous People Pact is an alliance of Indigenous organizations across southern and eastern Asia. Collectively, the Pact promotes and protects Indigenous lands, food systems, and biodiversity. Their alliance is bolstered by regional youth and women's networks, as well as support from international institutions, including the United Nations and Oxfam.</p>
4. Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (South America)<p>The Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (AGUAPAN) is a collective of Indigenous farmers. Each farmer grows between 50 and 300 ancestral varieties of potato, which are <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/food-tanks-summer-2020-reading-list/" target="_blank">indigenous to the Andes Mountains</a> of modern-day Peru. AGUAPAN farmers preserve the crop's biodiversity in their native communities and band together to advocate for economic, gender, education, and healthcare equity.</p>
5. Cheyenne River Youth Project (North America)<p>The Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota has served Lakota youth for more than three decades. Its Native Food Sovereignty initiative offers public workshops on <a href="https://www.nativeseeds.org/blogs/blog-news/how-to-grow-a-three-sisters-garden" target="_blank">Three Sisters gardening</a> of corn, beans, and squash. They also offer classes on Indigenous plants, gardening, and cooking. Their Winyan Tokay Win (Leading Lady) Garden serves as an outdoor classroom to reacquaint Lakota children with the earth. Their other programs use food grown in the garden for meals and snacks. They also sell surplus crops at their weekly Leading Lady Farmer's Market.</p>
6. Dream of Wild Health (North America)<p>Dream of Wild Health runs a 10-acre farm just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their Indigenous Food Share CSA program and farmer's market booths sell produce and value-added products grown by Native Americans. During the summer, Dream of Wild Health offers a Garden Warriors program where children can learn about seed saving, foraging, farmers market management, and other aspects of food sovereignty. They also host the <a href="https://dreamofwildhealth.org/indigenous-food-network" target="_blank">Indigenous Food Network</a> (IFN), a collective of Indigenous partners who advocate for local and regional policy changes. The IFN also hosts community food tasting events featuring prominent Indigenous chefs.</p>
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>