A new CCI report presents never-before-published evidence that could lay the foundation for new lawsuits against Big Oil and the plastics industry for the fraud of plastic recycling.

Many of the same fossil fuel companies that knew and lied about how their oil and gas products cause climate change have also known and lied for decades about how another one of their core products — plastics — will never be recycled at scale. 

A new report from CCI — “The Fraud of Plastic Recycling: How Big Oil and the plastics industry deceived the public for decades and caused the plastic waste crisis” — lays out new evidence that could provide the foundation for legal efforts to hold fossil fuel and other petrochemical companies accountable for that deception and the significant damage it has caused.

“Fossil fuel and other petrochemical companies have used the false promise of plastic recycling to exponentially increase virgin plastic production over the last six decades,” the report explains, “creating and perpetuating the global plastic waste crisis and imposing significant costs on communities that are left to pay for the consequences.” 

The report shows how petrochemical companies, including oil majors such as ExxonMobil, have long known that, as the founding director of the Vinyl Institute, an industry trade group, explained to conference attendees in 1989, “Recycling cannot go on indefinitely, and does not solve the solid waste problem.” 

Despite this knowledge, fossil fuel and other petrochemical companies — as well as their trade associations and front groups — have fraudulently marketed plastic recycling as a solution for decades in order to escape regulation and protect their profits. Their deception was summarized by an Exxon employee, who told staffers at the American Plastics Council in 1994 that when it comes to plastic recycling, “we are committed to the activities, but not committed to the results.”  

California Attorney General Rob Bonta is already publicly investigating the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries “for their role in causing and exacerbating the global plastics pollution crisis.”  His office announced that it subpoenaed oil giant ExxonMobil, the world’s top producer of single-use plastic polymers, as part of that investigation. 

As states and communities across the U.S. take Big Oil and other bad actors to court for climate deception, it’s now time for officials to do the same to hold them accountable for the fraud of plastic recycling. 

“Big Oil and the plastic industry’s decades-long campaign to deceive the public about plastic recycling has likely violated laws designed to protect consumers and the public from corporate misconduct and pollution,” said Alyssa Johl, CCI’s vice president of legal and general counsel. “Attorneys general and other officials should carefully consider the evidence that these companies defrauded the public and take appropriate action to hold them accountable.” 

Read the full report here.