Plastics and Run Amuck Capitalism

from The Guardian 12/26/2017

Plastic packaging is swamping the world with refuse that never degrades and flows into mountains of trash in land dumps and pollutes the oceans. For example, the bottled water industry produces over 50 billion bottles per year for the American market alone. Roughly 38 billion are not recycled and end up as road side trash, floating out to sea or stuffed into land fills.

This is an example of several central operating principles of capitalism. First, get someone else to pay for as much of my economic activity as possible. These are what economist refer to as external costs. I can produce more and more plastic each year with no concern for who will pay for its disposal. Someone else pays. Second, capitalist enterprises act solely on the basis of their own internal interests. It does not matter that my activity may damage the earth and all of the plants, animals and human beings that live here. Capitalism has no mechanism for looking at systemic outcomes.1

The recent emergence of public concern about plastic drinking straws is a positive development, but overall the US only recycles 9% of plastics compared to 30% in Europe and 25% in China. Only governments can act on behalf of those bearing the burdens of capitalist enterprises’ external costs. Government must step up and protect us from these features of capitalism. The problem at the moment is that, in the US, government is owned by the rich and corporations.

Charts from “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made”2

Cumulative plastic waste generation and disposal (in million metric tons). Solid lines show historical data from 1950 to 2015; dashed lines show projections of historical trends to 2050

Cumulative plastic waste generation and disposal (in million metric tons). — Solid lines show historical data from 1950 to 2015; dashed lines show projections of historical trends to 2050

Global production, use, and fate of polymer resins, synthetic fibers, and additives (1950 to 2015; in million metric tons).

Global production, use, and fate of polymer resins, synthetic fibers, and additives (1950 to 2015; in million metric tons).


Spread the word: share this on Facebook, Twitter or your favorite social platform. Email your friends.


Originally published at American Delusions.

Like what you read? Give Mark Orton a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.