Broken (2019) s01e04 Episode Script

Recycling Sham

Pure rubbish! It's filthy rubbish.
Imported rubbish.
Polluting our land, our water, and our air.
We don't want this in our country.
We have enough of our own.
The world is drowning in plastic.
Plastic is in the streets.
It's in the water.
It's everywhere.
It's a huge global crisis.
By 2050, there's going to be more microplastics than fish in the oceans.
The threat is actually getting worse every year.
There is some smoke there.
Every morning, we can smell some plastic smell in the air.
And the solution we've always been taught will fix it is actually a false promise.
We can't recycle our way out of plastic pollution.
The plastics industry has really sold us a bill of goods.
The petrochemical industries, this is big money for them.
Right beyond the bridge, you'll see Exxon Mobil.
Anytime anybody's filming or photographing the plant or anything like that, Exxon just likes to know what's going on, so We're up against some of the most well-funded, ruthless, cut-throat Industries on the planet.
And they are actively trashing the planet.
Plastics are essential to the modern world.
We eat and drink from them.
We wear them, shop with them, and our life-saving medical devices are made from them.
They are a marvel of modern life and convenience: strong, flexible, and cheap.
As you can produce it relatively cheaply, you can mold it into thousands of different things.
Plastic packaging has huge benefits in terms of protection of food, cosmetics.
And so the technologies for producing plastic packaging have pretty much spread around the world.
But the problem with plastics is that they never really go away.
Plastic is durable.
But it's also terrible because it takes, really, a couple of hundred years to biodegrade it.
There are also serious concerns about plastic's impact on our health, from the way it's made to how we use and dispose of it.
The materials that are in plastic often are toxic.
It's tied to a whole series of human health problems.
And every single year, more and more plastic is being produced.
Plastic production around the world has exploded over the last several decades.
We are seeing a doubling of plastic manufacturing every decade.
Today we have 380 million tons of plastic produced every year.
If it goes on like this, the whole world will be full of plastic.
Why and how has something so embedded in our daily lives become such a huge problem for the world? To answer that question, we need to look deep into the roots of our relationship to plastic itself.
How we created and molded it, but, even more, how it has come to mold us.
For years, we've been told that the solution to disposing of all this plastic waste was simple.
Just recycle.
So every week, we have three collection vehicles that show up at every residential household.
One picks up the garbage, which goes to a landfill, one picks up the recyclables in a split cart, and that we process, and the other is for compostable materials.
I'm Kimberly Scheibly.
I'm the Director of Compliance and Customer Relations at Marin Sanitary Service.
Marin Sanitary is a waste management company hired by this California county to collect and sort recyclables, including plastics.
This is all the containers, the plastic bottles, the plastic jugs, the glass, the aluminum cans, steel cans, bimetal cans, tin foil.
Uh Things like that should be here, not things like film wrap, cling wrap.
We do not recycle plastic bags.
Plastic bags are actually the bane of a recycler's existence because they clog the machinery.
Places like this are called materials recovery facilities, or MRFs.
MRFs collect and sort plastic waste into bales, which can then be sold to recyclers around the world, who melt it down and turn it into something they can sell for a profit.
These bales here will go to market and will be made into other products.
Recycling plastic is a big global business, valued in 2018 at around 37.
6 billion US dollars.
After we find somebody to buy it, it'll go to the Port of Oakland where it goes to whoever is buying it.
But recycling plastic is a lot harder than we might think.
For one thing, a lot of the stuff people throw in the bin is not recyclable.
My name's Martin Bourque.
I'm the Executive Director of the Ecology Center.
We're here at the recycling yard in Berkeley, California.
Here's a highly recyclable plastic container.
This would get made into plastic lumber or bender board, maybe tubing.
But a lot of things really aren't recyclable, no matter how much we want them to be.
People just want to throw, you know, everything in, and, you know, they wish it was recycling.
So we call it "wish-cycling.
" Here's some "wish-cycling" for you.
Here's an umbrella.
I wish it was recyclable.
It's not.
There are actually thousands of different kinds of plastic, which makes recycling it extremely complicated.
Each type has a different chemical make-up, and can only be recycled if it's not mixed up with other kinds.
The difference between this piece of plastic and this piece of plastic is actually quite significant.
You can see this one squeezes and flexes a lot easier than this one.
This has completely different properties and additives in it than this one.
So when these come together at a manufacturing facility, it makes it nearly impossible for them to make anything out of it.
These should go straight into the landfill bin, straight into the garbage bin, and not in the recycling bin, until we have a better solution.
In fact, most plastic isn't getting recycled at all.
The calculations are today that 9% of all the plastic ever manufactured has been recycled.
The rest of it has been buried, burned, dumped in the environment, or is sittingin a landfill if it's contained.
In many other countries that don't have an adequate collection system, a lot of dumps are on the edge of wetlands or streams.
They flood, that then flows into the rivers and the ocean.
It's like one garbage truck of plastic just being dumped into the oceans every minute.
Every minute of every day of every year.
How much of that can we really sustain? Most people don't realize that plastic is made from fossil fuels, like crude oil or natural gas.
The vast majority of it comes from petroleum products, especially through fracking these days and natural gas, which is the basic fundamental building block for most of the plastic.
Companies like Dow Chemical, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil, known collectively as the petrochemical industry, take these basic ingredients, combine them with other chemicals, and turn them into a kind of raw plastic known as resin.
We're talking about Dow, Dupont, 3M.
These are the companies that take those resins and turn them into usable plastic pellets, or flakes, or precursors for bottles and cans, or maybe they actually manufacture different kinds of packaging.
Although plastic has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, the petrochemical industry really took off after World War II.
Consumers were ready to spend, and, thanks to plastic, had a never-ending array of affordable goods to choose from.
The shoe industry for ladies' high heels.
The toy industry, sporting goods.
As plastic became cheaper and cheaper, it became really commonplace.
Housewares, the electrical industry.
The biggest shift was when the major beverage companies consolidated their manufacturing processes.
They were really looking to scale up and have sort of these mega-centers where they could mass-produce and mass-bottle beverages that they could then ship regionally, nationally, even internationally.
This was the birth of what we now call "single-use plastic.
" Single-use plastic is your plastic bag, your clamshells, your coffee cups.
You go into a restaurant and you get a single-use plastic straw.
You order takeout food, and it comes in a single-use expanded polystyrene container.
You know, five minutes after a consumer's done with it, now it's "trash".
With the enormous amount of single-use plastic being produced and consumed, it did not take long for all those bottles, packaging, and shopping bags to start littering our roadways, choking our rivers, and washing up on our beaches.
In 1971, this commercial, sponsored by a group called Keep America Beautiful, appeared on TV.
Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country.
And some people don't.
People start pollution.
People can stop it.
The ad was considered a crucial moment in the burgeoning environmental movement.
But what people did not realize was who was actually behind the campaign.
Keep America Beautiful was funded by the beverage industry.
They were able to change the message and the mindset.
It was you, the consumer, have the responsibility to solve this problem.
Not we, the industry who produce the package has the responsibility.
The messaging worked.
And people began paying more attention to issues like litter and recycling.
Recycling was really one of the major first things of the new environmental movement in the 1970s.
Nonprofits and community members and environmentalists started recycling in earnest.
The plastics industry was right there with us and paying very close attention.
Plastic manufacturers realize that if they could convince everyone to recycle plastic bottles and packaging, they could keep selling more and more of it.
And so the American Plastics Council created the chasing arrows.
You know, this triangle to indicate recyclability.
This was their voluntary effort to allow people to sort plastics into different categories, one or two of which were actually recyclable.
Only numbers one and two plastics had buyers who were willing to recycle them.
But the threes, fours, fives, sixes, and sevens had no market whatsoever.
So, you know, they were taking what was sort of true for number ones and number two and saying, "It's true for all of it.
" And then they went around, city by city, and really did this major campaign where they got recycling programs across the country to add all plastics to their programs.
What that told the average consumer was it's all being recycled.
In fact, even today, it's only the ones, twos, and fives that get widely recycled, and there's barely a market for the others.
So that was a realgreen washing move on their part.
By 1990, over 10,000 communities in the US alone had established collection programs.
A full-blown recycling infrastructure was taking shape.
The US plastics industry is investing more than 1.
2 billion dollars in plastics recycling.
It also began to catch on in other countries around the world where collection and recycling of plastics became the norm.
But soon it actually became easier and cheaper for the developed world to sell that plastic to one country.
China has been the biggest place for recycling of scrap plastics.
China had everything the plastics recycling industry needed: a huge industrial infrastructure, a massive low-wage workforce, and a robust shipping industry that could cheaply import containers of plastic scrap from all over the globe.
Also, recycled plastic was cheaper than buying new.
If one-use scrap plastic, recycle material, they can save a lot of money.
The rest of the world was thrilled to get rid of their plastic garbage.
And make a little money doing it.
China said, "We will take all of these low-grade materials from you so you don't have to handle them anymore.
And we'll pay you a pretty good price for them.
" Thousands of recycling plants sprung up across China, processing millions of tons of plastic every year.
They were running around the globe, buying up every single scrap of plastic that they could get their hands on.
So for 20 years, they expanded their infrastructure and all of our industrial nations' internal infrastructure for recycling was undermined as a result.
By 2017, China was buying nearly three-quarters of the world's plastic scrap.
My name is Yao Hai.
I have worked in the plastic industry for 20 years.
Here I own a plastic warehouse and the Tai-Ming Factory.
In this sorting workshop, the staff clearly sorts out the mixed materials into different grades and reusable types.
Here they are packing the sorted materials.
For lots of recyclers, the main objective is to find the most efficient way to recycle.
But this most efficient way doesn't mean this is the most environmental way.
Many Chinese recyclers were disposing of their excess waste by burning it, which was causing massive air pollution.
With the start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing less than three weeks away, Chinese officials began an aggressive new effort to reduce pollution.
The Olympics in China really drove home the environmental issues associated with industrial growth in China.
It wasn't just, you know, the world seeing it, but it was their own citizens seeing just how bad air pollution had become.
All that rubbish: China bans the import of waste.
China launched an aggressive anti-pollution push, cracking down on what it calls "foreign garbage.
" China has introduced a ban on recycling many types of plastic waste from abroad to try to reduce pollution.
On July 18th, 2017, China announced that they were going to effectively ban imports of plastic scrap and severely limit most other recyclables.
They were finished serving as the recycling bin to the world.
At first, I didn't accept the plastic ban.
Now, we see the blue sky and white clouds.
We gradually realized and accepted what the government did.
When China actually started enforcing policies and said "no" to a bunch of materials, mainly mixed materials, that sent the world into a tailspin.
America is suddenly facing a recycling crisis.
We're seeing recyclers across California struggling to find a place to put their recycled materials.
Already huge bundles of recycling turned down by China are piling up in Hong Kong.
The impact of China's ban was felt almost immediately in cities and towns all over the US, Europe, and around the globe.
There's now a rush to try to sell the stuff to India and other countries.
Plastic waste began piling up.
There are piles and piles of recycling, taller than anyone you've ever met, and as long as a football field.
What was the world going to do with all of this plastic? The waste has to go somewhere.
Waste from the developed countries, US, Europe, Japan.
It won't be going to another developed country, it will be going to developing countries.
And we thought that Southeast Asia would be the next dumping ground.
No place has been more impacted by the China ban than Southeast Asia.
Steve Wong is one of the most successful plastic recyclers in the world.
For this material, I don't know whether Before the ban, Steve owned dozens of plastic recycling factories all over China and had an estimated net worth of more than 900 million US dollars.
My quantity imported into China account for seven percent of the total import of scrap plastic imported in China.
That was a really lucrative business.
But now that China shut the door, everything is different.
The total import of plastic scraps dropped almost 99%.
So we have to sell our property, to sell our asset, to sell factories.
But I believe in recycling.
The opportunity is still there.
Steve and his colleague, Tony Wong, have traveled to Malaysia to explore new business opportunities.
Looks like business is good.
Yeah, Mr.
Yeong's business is quite big.
He has clients from mainland China and many other places.
Today, Steve and Tony are visiting one of Steve's new business partnerships, a plastics recycling plant in the central Malaysian city of Ipoh.
- Hello! - Hello! Long time no see.
This plant is owned by SK Yeong, a Malaysian recycler of Chinese descent.
My factory's total area is four acres.
The total revenue, 40 million ringgit Malaysia, which is equal to ten million US dollars.
The raw material processed here is a mix of industrial-grade plastics from things like cars or computers and household materials, like bottles and detergent containers.
First the material come in, we have to sort it out.
After that, we crush it and we blend it into formulas and go to the extruder.
The extruder heats the plastic scraps until they melt together.
Workers feed the hot, gooey plastic into a machine that cools it down, elongates it into strands like noodles, and then chops it into tiny pellets.
The pellets are this plant's final step.
A valuable commodity used in the production of other plastic products.
All these are recycled content plastic pellets? Yes, recycled content plastic.
So these are all recycled content plastic.
These two colors mix together.
These become the standard color.
Let's go to the test laboratory.
We use these for pipes because they can withstand extremely low and high temperatures.
Yeong's factory is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But even with that, it's impossible to keep up with the enormous amount of plastic flowing into Malaysia.
The country is inundated.
The place ahead is an industrial site.
Chiam Yan Tuan lives in Klang, forty kilometers east of Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur.
Klang is home to the twelfth busiest container port in the world.
Here is fine.
No one is around.
Is there any smoke we can see? There is some smoke there.
And I think they burning everyday.
Recently, Chiam started noticing that plastic waste was being dumped in this abandoned area near the port.
This island is called Pulau Indah.
In English, means "beautiful island.
" But we can see there are rubbish everywhere.
Every morning, we can smell in our community some plastic smell in the air.
The stench was overpowering, and Chiam and his neighbors worried about toxic fumes.
When we make complaint directly to local authority, they challenge us, "Can you prove it?" "Is this really pollution?" And, "Is this really toxins?" We cannot.
I think maybe we can stop on the other side? There's a big factory there.
In this area, a number of illegal operations have sprung up, makeshift recyclers trying to turn the overflow plastic into profits.
This factory had been banned one time, at least.
But later on, it's still operating.
This road is called Sungai Chandong.
I think over 20 small factories here.
I think most of them are illegal.
This half-built shopping area is being used as a dumping ground for discarded plastic shipped to Malaysia from around the world.
Maybe from computer.
They will process this in maybe landfill, or just dump outside.
You cannot be recycling 100%.
Made in China.
Made in Thailand.
So terrible.
So terrible.
All across Malaysia, citizens are fed up with the plastic waste pouring into their country.
Residents of the small town of Jenjarom were shocked to discover this massive pile just one kilometer from the town center.
From Japan.
Made in the United Kingdom.
This from UK.
My country already import about one million tons of plastic waste this year.
This mountain of rubbish, it's produced from the illegal factory next to this dumping site.
The air pollution became very serious in my village because we've been surrounded by more than 40 illegal factories.
The townspeople began documenting the illegal factories with photos and videos they uploaded to the Internet.
The illegal factory, we found that they burn their solid waste.
The burning caused a lot of respiratory disease problems to our people, especially our children.
And our elderly, who has this problem of repeating asthma, repeating coughing also, our study found maybe a four times increase of these cancer patients.
SAY NO TO PLASTIC WASTE! The Jenjarom residents began a full-fledged campaign to pressure the Malaysian government to take action.
We knew that these were illegal factories.
How can we stay here in this sort of condition? The air is very terrible in this village! When we first complained to the local authority, we were ignored.
When we asked them to close down these illegal factories, they say they have got no power to do that.
How could they claim they don't have the power to close the illegal factories when they are in charge? These foreign operators, they don't care for our environment.
- They just care for profits only.
- Profits.
After months of agitation, the Jenjarom townspeople got the government to crack down.
The government aims to shut down up to 100 illegal plastic waste recycling factories nationwide.
We are hearing increasing number of complaints from the community that there are these illegal plastics recycling factories mushrooming in different areas in Malaysia.
So we are closing down as many as possible.
To some residents here, simply regulating the industry is not enough.
Enforcement, monitoring is not the solution.
There's only one solution.
That is the total ban of foreign plastic import.
But the government isn't quite ready to take such a drastic step.
Malaysia wants to encourage industry.
We cannot say a total "no" to plastics.
But we are opening the door only to people who are legitimate.
We are not letting the low quality plastic scraps come in.
But the high quality ones, we would evaluate case-by-case basis.
The government has also adopted a road map to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2030.
For now, Minister Yin and the Malaysian government have promised to ban imports of all non-recyclable plastics over the next three years.
We people bear such a big burden from the air pollution and the water pollution and just benefit to a very small group of people that our minister is saying that they already invest big money in the factory.
But what happened to the environment risk and also the health risk to us? Why we bear this? Who can answer me this question? Why we bear this? While Southeast Asian communities are fighting back against plastic waste, citizens in western countries, including the US, have also begun to join the struggle.
What we want is an all-out ban to the use of plastic bags.
When one Texas town decided to clean up its own environment, it set itself up for an epic battle with some powerful opponents.
Laredo is a border city in South Texas.
Ninety-five percent of the population is Hispanic.
It is a really dynamic and fast-growing city.
Tricia Cortez is the executive director of an environmental group called the Rio Grande International Study Center, or RISC.
Our organization exists to defend this.
This is our client.
The Rio Grande supplies water to six million people.
For many communities along the border, it is the only source of drinking water.
It's one of the ten most endangered rivers in the world.
The number one reason is insufficient water supply.
And the secondary reason is pollution.
In the early 2000s, many people in Laredo began to notice an extraordinary amount of plastic bags littering the city.
Plastic bags were everywhere along the highways and all the empty lots.
In the creeks, all along the riverbanks, in the storm drains.
Global estimates are that up to five trillion plastic bags get used every year.
That's 160,000 per second with an estimated revenue of 39.
2 billion US dollars annually to plastic bag makers.
Just our town alone, we were consuming 120 million single-use plastic bags every year.
Hoping to cut down on litter, some Laredo citizens had an idea.
Get the city to pass a law banning plastic bags.
Public meetings and hearings started to take place about getting an ordinance to restrict these plastic bags.
Mayor, today we are opening up a public hearing on the plastic bag ordinance.
We're asking for change.
Laredo was among the first US cities to attempt it.
There was a lot of fear and questioning and concerns.
The Texas Retailers Association is and do oppose any type of discriminatory ban on plastic bags.
The downtown merchants, a small, very vocal group, went to many of these meetings and hearings and they just opposed this, period.
Walmart is part of the Texas Retailers Association.
We do stand with the Retailers Association's position on this issue.
Their argument was that this was really going to do some serious damage to the Laredo downtown retail economy.
As the debate wore on, a new voice from outside Laredo entered the fray.
A Washington DC-based representative of the plastics industry.
My name is Donna Dempsey.
I'm with the Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council.
I represent plastic bag manufacturers, resin producers, and plastic recyclers.
The American Chemistry Council is a powerful lobbying group that represents the oil and gas companies.
Plastic bags are an environmental choice.
It was clear that the plastics industry was paying close attention.
Across the country, plastic bag bans were becoming a trend.
San Francisco enacted the nation's first in 2007, followed by other places, including Seattle.
The last thing the plastics industry wanted was a city in their home state of Texas banning one of their most profitable products.
And even before Laredo could vote, other Texas towns joined in.
Under the ban, the use of plastic bags is outlawed in most stores in Brownsville.
That means shoppers must provide their own bags and many of them do.
Now Austin's mayor says Austin should do the responsible thing and ban plastic bags.
All right.
Motion to adopt the final readings.
By the time the plastic bag ordinance came to a vote in Laredo in 2014, most people in the city supported it.
District five.
Vote yes.
District six.
In June 2014, by a six to one vote, the Laredo City Council passed the ordinance.
Measure passes.
That year, we started to see very visible changes.
The bag ban really cleaned up this place.
You didn't see plastic bags just lining, you know, every single spot on our side or their side.
Retailers and shops didn't go out of business because this happened.
People survived without their plastic bags and they did okay.
But the bag ban's opponents weren't going down without a fight.
Mayor, members of the council, and staff, once again we hear that this is a downtown issue, but it's not.
I was first approached by Les Norton, who is a friend and a business leader here in town, approximately two weeks before the ordinance went into effect.
Plastic bags are reusable by the consumer.
If you eliminate them, people are going to have to buy them.
It only took me about 15 minutes to find a state law that preempted the city from doing this.
It was clear on its face.
And I called Les and said, "This is an illegal act.
We can strike this down with ease.
" The Laredo merchants sued the city alleging that the bag ban violated state waste disposal laws that prohibited cities from regulating containers.
They were arguing that plastic bags are containers.
These were laws from the '80s, early '90s, that the bottle industry had successfully passed through the Texas legislature.
So they piggybacked onto those laws to say, Um, "You're regulating containers, and you're in violation of state law.
" The case ended up at the Texas State Supreme Court in Austin.
And by this time, the merchants had once again enlisted some powerful allies.
The Retail Merchants Association of the State of Texas, they filed briefs.
Different retail groups filed briefs.
The plastic bag industry groups, they filed briefs in support of our position.
The Texas Attorney General also joined the effort to strike down the bag ban.
This is the new measure of these municipalities.
They wake up one day and they decide that if they don't like the law and because of their political preference or personal conviction, they can just go around the law.
Many supporters of the ban felt that the merchants' lawsuit was actually being bankrolled by the petrochemical industry.
They got serious funding for this.
They had a really large legal entourage with attorneys from all over.
So I can only imagine the kind of industry money that went into their fight.
However, the Merchants Association's lawyer denies this.
I was paid by my clients.
My ethics in this case was solely with the merchants.
I have not worked for the plastic bag industry.
They were not my clients.
That was not my ethical obligation in this case.
The odds were stacked against the city from the get-go.
The city still said, "We think we have a chance.
" The question presented in this appeal is whether the Laredo single-use check-out bag ordinance is valid, and not prohibited.
Not only would this affect the city of Laredo now, this would have a statewide effect on whether or not these bans are legal in any city or county across the State of Texas.
For the petrochemical industry, there was a lot more at stake than just plastic bags.
If the court ruled that cities like Laredo could choose to ban bags, there was nothing stopping them from banning other things they didn't want in their towns, like oil drilling or fracking.
In June 2018, all eyes were on the Supreme Court as the decision came down.
The Texas Supreme Court today ruled that a Laredo ban on plastic bags violates state law.
Texas Supreme Court overturned Laredo's ban on disposable plastic bags.
It was so devastating.
It was a terrible day.
Brownsville's plastic bag ban is now under review.
This ruling leaves Austin's plastic bag ban in the crosshairs, as well as ordinances in Dallas, Port Aransas, and South Padre Island.
The fight ended up with the bag ban being struck all across the State of Texas.
You start to think about, "Well, why is that happening? What is moving them to do that?" It's industry.
It's big money.
You have these legislators who don't want Washington DC to come in and tell Texas what to do with health care or these certain laws and or the EPA.
And yet they did the same thing with us.
Six months after the Supreme Court decision, the main stakeholders who worked to pass the bag ban met to discuss their next steps.
The city voted to do something and to protect the interest of a certain industry, all that was wrecked, you know.
And it's just very unsettling that the State of Texas can go in and overturn something that the citizens of one community decided to democratically embark on.
The Texas Supreme Court, given its very conservative make-up, were really just pushing hard so that the plastics industry didn't take a hit.
It's time to go up to Austin and and have our voices be heard one more time through the legislative process.
For now, these bag ban proponents will focus on passing new laws at the state level.
You know, I've lived in Laredo for 36 years, and I think that was probably one of the most positive things I've ever seen happen in this city.
And it didn't take that long for people to look around and see.
"Hey! This is a different place than it was six months ago.
" Just a few hours northeast of Laredo is the epicenter of the plastics manufacturing industry.
Houston, Texas.
A visit here is a crash course on the direct impacts of plastic on our health.
Houston is home to the largest petrochemical complex in the entire nation.
Second largest in the world.
Second only to Saudi Arabia.
This is an oil and gas Mecca.
Yvette Arellano leads a bus excursion around Houston called "The Toxic Tour.
" The tour is designed to show the effects of the oil and gas industry on local communities.
The smell that you're smelling is the smell of plastics production.
A typical tour makes stops at various neighborhoods, refineries, and plastic production facilities along the Houston Ship Channel, a 50-mile waterway dominated by oil and gas complexes.
The first community that we're visiting is Manchester.
Hartman Park is the heart of the entire community.
Manchester is home to nearly 5,000 residents.
The majority are Hispanic, and a third of the population live in poverty.
So, welcome to Hartman Park.
You look all around us, you'll be completely surrounded by oil and gas infrastructure.
Ninety percent of the town's population lives within one mile of facilities that process or store toxic chemicals.
The daily exposures here are seven highly toxic chemicals, from acute exposure to chronic exposure.
There are serious health risks that arise from living near petrochemical plants.
Multiple cancers have been identified in people livingdownwind of those places.
The levels of ADHD in communities downwind can be elevated.
We're right next to a playground and right in front of a tennis court, right behind a baseball field.
Wheneverchildren come into these public spaces, as they're playing around, they're also having snacks, they`re drinking water, and all of those heavy metals are slowly accumulating inside of their body.
All of these exposures can lead to fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting, asthma.
Plastic production facilities certainly pollute and poison the people who live around them, who are often some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in our country.
Petrochemical companies produce an estimated ten tons of plastic every second.
A lot of it right here, on Tidal Road.
Every day, the refineries here emit powerful fumes into the atmosphere.
A number of us are just We're feeling a tightness in the throat right here, like a squeezing on both sides.
I was used to it growing up, but this is our backyard and, like, no one ever told us growing up what we were being exposed to.
Many of the health risks associated with plastic production and use arise from endocrine disrupting chemicals, commonly referred to as EDCs.
Many of the chemicals known to be endocrine disrupting compounds are plastic or are added to plastic.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals are chemicals that behave like hormones.
Hormones turn genes on and off.
They make your brain develop properly.
They give you five fingers.
They determine what sex you are.
One of the most commonly known endocrine disrupting chemicals found in plastics is bisphenol A, better known as BPA.
BPA is tied to a whole series of human health problems, including infertility, changes in the way the brain is wired if exposure takes place in the womb, breast cancer, prostate cancer.
When you begin to look at the range of human health effects which have been linked to BPA, it's jaw-dropping.
The next stop on the Toxic Tour is El Jardin Beach, close to where the Houston Ship Channel flows out into the Gulf of Mexico.
As plastic production along the channel has increased, people along the coast have found plastic residue washing ashore.
We came down here to look for these little plastic pellets.
And I have found them every single time that I've come down here.
These are known as the feed stocks for plastics.
So this is what you use to make all of your plastic items.
And, you know, some are clear, some are whitish, some are, like, older.
They look just like food for animals, or they look like seeds, or they look like fish eggs.
So fish eat these, turtles eat these.
By now, the issue of plastics polluting our oceans is well-known.
Images of its impact have gone viral.
Experts believe around eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
It's starting to have an impact in terms of the marine environment.
Not just in terms of what the beaches look like, but in terms of the health of the marine biota and, since we eat it, human health.
But what is less known is the impact of what are called microplastics, tiny particles that are now being found everywhere on Earth, from our air, to our water systems, to the depths of the ocean.
When you have a big piece of plastic and it's in the environment for a long time, It gets broken down to smaller and smaller pieces.
Those ultimately will become little microplastics.
Microplastics can pick up contaminants.
Those contaminants can be highly toxic.
Things like dioxins, E.
coli, or even the bacteria that causes cholera.
Microplastics smell like food to small fish.
Small fish are usually eaten by big fish, and bigger fish are then eaten by even bigger fish, and then we eat them.
I read somewhere that every time you eat mussels, you eat something like 60 or 70 potential microplastic particles.
And although the research into microplastics in our food supply is in early stages, there's a growing body of evidence that the impacts are significant.
There's been a lot of serious scientific study of the health effects.
Type two diabetes, infertility.
A five-decade-long decline in human sperm count.
We should be taking public steps to reduce exposures.
And that's gonna require changing what we're making in the chemical industry.
If you look right beyond the bridge as we cross, to the furthest left, you will see Exxon Mobil, the second largest refinery in the entire nation.
The Exxon Mobil complex in Baytown, Texas, covers more than five square miles of refining, processing, and production.
This here.
The Big Boss.
You know, when we talk about plastics pollution, you think of plastics pollution in the ocean, and really where the plastics pollution starts is right here.
- Hi, how are you doing? - Hi.
I'm working security here.
Any time anybody is filming or photographing the plant or anything like that, Exxon just likes to know what's going on.
So I gather you're maybe protesting, or you're trying to relay your concerns to the community - about Exxon.
- Right.
So, also Exxon also has public information for people.
If you don't have that contact information, I can get that for you.
Do we have a public information person contact? Five-nine, you can go ahead and have them contact three, two, niner, three.
Thank you so much.
- All right, take care.
- All right.
Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, and the American Chemistry Council all declined to participate in this film.
Over the next ten years, plastic production is expected to skyrocket.
The petrochemical industry have, on the books, expansion of their plastics industry of 150 billion dollars in the US alone for the next decade.
They're projecting a three-fold increase by the year 2050.
The problems created by plastic are only going to get worse.
So, what's being done? In January 2019, a new initiative called "The Alliance To End Plastic Waste" was announced with this promotional video.
Managing plastic waste is one of the most critical issues of our time.
One only has to watch the news to realize that the issue around plastic waste is a worldwide issue.
We've got to solve this problem.
It's time for us as an industry to step up, make a difference, and make the world a better place.
Comprised of nearly 30 of the world's largest petrochemical and consumer goods corporations, the Alliance was created in order to, quote, "advance solutions to eliminate plastic waste in the environment.
" The companies collectively committed one billion US dollars to fund the effort, which so far seems mainly focused on better garbage collection, recycling, and clean-up.
But critics say the Alliance won't tackle the plastic problem at its source.
A billion dollars.
When they're spending hundreds of billions of dollars to produce plastic waste? These are global companies with hundreds of billions of dollars in their portfolios.
I mean, if you think about Procter & Gamble being sixty-seven billion dollar a year in revenue, that's a drop in the bucket.
It's really absurd.
So the question becomes what can we do about the problem of plastics? There is no one answer to what do we do faced with this problem.
We can't recycle our way out of plastic pollution.
Recycling can be part of the solution.
But we have to start with reducing overall.
A growing movement of people is trying to quit using plastic altogether.
It's called Zero Waste.
Zero Waste, for a household, aims at eliminating as much trash from your house as possible.
So when we go to the grocery store, we simply bring a kit of reusables.
So we bring some cloth bags to buy anything dry, like flour, salt, sugar, cereal, tea, coffee.
I also bring mesh bags for produce.
When I come with my totes, I'm not gonna need a plastic bag.
Every time you buy something that is made out of plastic, more plastic will be created because it simply creates a demand for more plastic.
So, when you get away from all that, then you're investing in a more sustainable world for our children.
Easy things that people can do, I mean, learn to say no.
Take a moment and ask yourself, "Do I really need that? What is the impact of that?" So, in the past, underneath that sink was filled with cleaning products.
But all we need is Castile soap and white vinegar.
We don't have to worry about recycling those containers, or what the impact of those plastics would have on the environment.
We simply have eliminated them with those simple solutions.
Not everyone is going to be able to completely eliminate plastic from their lives.
But changing behavior is definitely a good start.
Consumers have more power than they realize.
Start with a reusable cup.
Start with a reusable bag.
Maybe choosing your products based on something that you know can be reused, versus something that you know will be immediately put into the landfill or the recycling bin when it's empty.
Individual behavior is really important.
What you and I do every day through our small actions, they do add up.
And they do make a big impact.
But you and I cannot do it by ourselves.
We need regulation to protect us.
I'm pleased to announce that today, the government is phasing out single-use plastic shopping bags over the next year.
Governments around the world are starting to recognize what they can do.
The authorities here have banned plastic bags.
The capital is all set to impose a complete ban on the manufacture, use, and sale of plastic carry bags.
The European Parliament has voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics.
The government is trying to ban materials that are relatively easy to ban.
Consumers are looking to use less plastic than they've used before.
But neither of those things by themselves is going to be sufficient.
Science and the marketplace also have a critical role to play.
We need to be designing plastics that are inherently safer, to create new chemicals that would not be endocrine disrupting chemicals.
I love it when I walk into a CVS and I see BPA-free bottles being advertised.
Environmentally conscious companies are trying to find innovative ways to reuse plastic or invest in bioplastics.
Wheat stalks are just as effective as plastic straws and completely biodegradable.
This carrier bag was not made with plastic, but with cassava, a tropical root found abundantly in Indonesia.
His team has developed a clear film made from crab shells and trees.
They believe it could be a biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging.
But in the end, unless the petrochemical companies take more drastic actions to either reduce the amount of plastic they produce or to invest far more on clean-up, the crisis isn't going away anytime soon.
They have more money than government has.
We're going to have to figure out a way to extract money from them to solve this problem.
Many governments around the world, they're saying, "Hey, you produced the package.
You will have to collect it and manage it.
" That's only going to happen if consumers themselves demand it.
It means putting pressure on our federal government to create a real regulatory environment in which business can thrive, but not trash the planet at the same time.
We've made changes before.
It's not impossible, even when the odds are stacked against us.
We need our leaders at every level to fight this tidal wave of plastic.
We need them to be educated and connect the dots and see that this is a global crisis.

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