(CN) --- If you leave Los Angeles by boat and head due west for the Hawaiian Islands, about halfway you will reach The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of floating trash comprised primarily of discarded plastic.
The rotation gyre of discarded rubbish has grown exponentially, increasing ten-fold every single decade since 1945, to its present dimensions of 600,000 square miles, or roughly the size of Alaska. It weighs an estimated 87,000 tons.
Despite images conjured in the press, the giant floating garbage patch is difficult to detect. It was only discovered in the 1990s. You can’t spot it from satellites and it’s even difficult to espy from a boat.
Its relative inscrutability is due to the fact that it is composed primarily of plastic, which continues to break down into smaller and smaller particles, eventually lingering in the environment as microplastics. But plastic products, which are nonbiodegradable, never completely vanish.
Instead, the microplastics accumulate in the ecology and often end up in the digestive systems of wildlife, accrue in large oceanic gyres like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or wash up along pristine beaches the world over, sullying the ecological and aesthetic components of some of the globe’s most scenic places.
While many of the solutions proffered by various organizations focus on the technological innovations that make clean-up possible, there is an environmental organization that has undertaken a novel approach to combating the scourge of global plastic pollution.
Earth Island Institute, a Berkeley, Calif.-based environmental nonprofit, sued a collection of the world’s largest food, beverage and consumer goods companies, saying their use of millions of tons of plastic packaging has resulted in polluted oceans, waterways and beaches.
“This is the first of what I believe will be a wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the plastics industry accountable for the unprecedented mess in our oceans,” said Josh Floum, Earth Island Institute’s Board President. “These plastics peddlers knew that our nation’s disposal and recycling capabilities would be overrun, and their products would end up polluting our waterways.”
The lawsuit names Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company and The Procter & Gamble Company as defendants.
But the novel legal theory at the heart of the case delves deeper than merely suing the above-named companies for plastic production; instead, the Earth Island Institute has predicated its complaint on the little recycle symbol the companies place visibly on each plastic product.
“The misrepresentation claims are premised on the fact that when consumers see the recycle symbol on the plastic packaging, they think that when they put it in a little blue bin it will be recycled,” Noor Rahman, an attorney for Earth Island, told Courthouse News in a recent interview. “But 90% of the time it can’t be.”
Rahman said the general public is likely unaware that less than 10% of the plastics that are collected for the purpose of recycling are actually used as material to make recycled products, most likely because the companies in question have been successful at marketing recycling as an environmental solution to single-use plastics.
“The way they’ve marketed their products has resulted in the mass proliferation of excessive volumes of plastic,” Rahman said.
The problem has only increased since the advent of the coronavirus.
During the peak of the coronavirus in 2020, plastic manufacturers made about 129 billion face masks and 65 billion pairs of plastic gloves every month. Gloves and masks ended up in the ocean in large amounts, where marine mammals and fish easily mistake the spindly items for jellyfish and other prey.