Recovering From A Greenwashed Earth Day?
Plus, More Science Uncovers How Toxins Impact Our Bodies
Was it just me this year or did it feel like every company sent out an Earth Day message via email or social media? While I love to see more companies spreading the word about environmental issues, it felt like there was some major greenwashing going on this year too.
Greenwashing is a form of misbehavior by companies when they give a false impression or provide misleading info about their environmental practices. Examples include making claims that their products are made from recycled materials or have energy-saving benefits.
One of the most egregious examples this year was Coca-Cola releasing an animated video featuring Bill Nye the Science Guy, attempting to paint Coca-Cola’s plastic beverage bottles as a a recycling success story when the vast majority of Coke plastic bottles do get not recycled.
The truth is that Coca-Cola produces 200,000 new plastic bottles a minute and sells 112 billion plastic beverage bottles worldwide every year, according to a press release from Beyond Plastics, a project based at Bennington College in Vermont, that pairs policy experts with college students to build an anti-plastics movement.
The majority of these plastic bottles are not recycled and only 11.5 percent are made from recycled material. In fact, many of Coca-Cola’s plastic bottles end up in the world’s rivers and oceans.
While Beyond Plastics urges the recycling of materials including cardboard, paper, glass, and metals, the stark reality is that plastics recycling has been a failure in the U.S. The EPA has a goal to increase the recycling rate to 50 percent by 2030, but the current rate for plastic recycling in the U.S. hovers under 9 percent.
All plastic is eventually disposed of in a landfill, an incinerator, or littered.
“The production of plastics—which mostly takes place in low-income communities and communities of color—releases large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollution,” said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and a former EPA Regional Administrator. “The plastics industry has spent millions of dollars trying to mislead the public about plastics recycling even though it has been an abject failure.”
What’s more is that Coca-Cola continues to oppose what could be the single most effective policy to reduce plastic litter and boost recycling: container deposit laws, better known as Bottle Bills.
These laws are highly effective at increasing recycling rates of beverage containers but are currently adopted in just ten states in the U.S., in large part because Coca-Cola and other major beverage companies and industry associations have spent decades blocking this environmental policy.
Recycling is not the answer to our plastic problems, we need to reduce it altogether.
Other plastic facts:
Large-scale plastic production began in the early 1950s. Now, almost 80 percent of that plastic can be found in landfills. By 2050, another 26.5 trillion pounds will be produced worldwide.
We all eat or breathe in about 2,000 tiny plastic particles each week, the World Wildlife Federation found in a 2019 study. Most are ingested from bottled water and tap water.
Microplastics are literally everywhere, having been found from the bottom of the ocean to Mount Everest. More foods including fruits and vegetables may contain microplastics too.
More research is needed to see whether microplastics, or even smaller particles called nanoplastics, could affect the brain, digestive system, and other parts of the body. Could they help cancers develop or grow? We don’t have answers to these questions and that’s a big problem.
PFAS Exposure Linked To Liver Damage
Speaking of how toxins impact our bodies, scientists have identified a link between exposure to PFAS (also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and liver damage.
Reminder: PFAS are also known as forever chemicals because they break down very slowly, leak into the environment, and linger in the human body.
A new study has found that exposure to these forever chemicals is associated with elevated levels of a liver enzyme called ALT, which serves as a biomarker for liver damage, according to research published in Environmental Health Perspectives this week.
ALT is also elevated in humans with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which excess fat builds up in the liver, suggesting a possible link between PFAS and the dramatic and unexplained rise in NAFLD in recent years. NAFLD has emerged as a serious public health crisis that affects 25 percent of adults worldwide. In the U.S., cases are expected to grow to about one-third of all adults by 2030.
“PFAS are ubiquitous, and we know that all adults in the United States have detectable levels of PFAS in their bodies,” Leda Chatzi, a professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, said in a statement. “There is growing interest in the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure, and this study supports that there is evidence that PFAS are associated with liver injury.”
This is the first study to review the data on PFAS exposure and damage to the liver, synthesizing the results of 111 peer-reviewed studies involving both humans and rodents.
Study authors note that scientists first detected PFAS in the blood of people in workplaces in the 1970s. By the 1990s, studies found PFAS in the blood of people in the general population, raising public awareness of the potential danger to human health.
Let’s not forget PFAS are found in the drinking water in most states, many food products, and indoor and outdoor air. While some manufacturers in the U.S. have phased out the use of PFOA and PFOS (two common types of PFAS), the the risk of exposure remains.
“This research clearly shows that PFAS need to be taken seriously as a human health concern because even after they are phased out, they persist in the environment,” said Elizabeth Costello, MPH, PhD, the other lead author of the study. “There is enough evidence, we believe, to demonstrate a need to clean up sources of exposure to PFAS and to prevent future exposures.”
Let’s remember Earth Day is every day and we must continue to raise hell about these important issues.
Did you notice any greenwashing this year? Let us know in the comments below!