The tale of the donut holder
I’m going to start off my column this week with a tale:
Your neighbor, Bob, decides he wants to start a donut shop in town. Good donuts are hard to find, so everyone thinks this is a wonderful idea. The city government even votes to give Bob a tax subsidy because they also strongly believe good donuts should be easily accessible to everyone in town.
Bob’s donuts are special, and with each donut comes a donut holder. It’s the way these particular special donuts are made and the use of the donut holder is unavoidable. You start buying a donut every day, so do your neighbors. You start noticing that you have much more trash, as donut holders are being thrown away every day. You also start to notice that your neighbors have the same issue, with their trash cans overflowing. Pretty soon, you start noticing empty donut holders on the streets, at the parks, and just about everywhere.
Everyone is loving the donuts, purchasing them daily. A few residents request that Bob stop serving donuts in the holders, but he tells them it’s impossible and everyone is loving the donuts so he will continue to sell them. Soon, Bob sells his house and buys a big home on the lake. He buys a luxury car. He is enjoying his success from the donut business and, remember, his business has a tax subsidy so he’s really raking it in!
The city starts fielding complaints from residents about the new litter scattered about town and the overflowing trash bins. The city hires two more service employees to pick up the donut holders from the street and public grounds. The city then contracts with the waste removal company to provide every household an additional trash can to hold the extra trash everyone is producing. Soon, taxes rise for residents, as the cost of extra services to handle the excess waste needs to be paid for.
When asked what he can do about all the donut holders everywhere, Bob tells the city that with some effort, they can ensure the holders get disposed of properly. It’s the city’s and residents’ responsibility to dispose of the holders even if it means higher taxes and more litter. Everyone loves the donuts, right? Bob is not going to stop selling them.
You are frustrated. You have watched Bob start a highly successful business that has enabled him to upgrade his living circumstances while simultaneously you have had your taxes increased and witnessed trash from Bob’s business strewn all over town. And Bob is still enjoying his business tax subsidy. How do you feel about this? Is this a situation you are okay with and believe is fair? What if I told you this exact scenario has been playing out on a grand scale for years and years?
I recently had the opportunity to watch the film “The Story of Plastic” through a screening offered by the Bay Village Green Team. If you have a chance, you should absolutely watch this film. The plastics industry is guilty of the above scenario, and it’s a factor in all of our lives, in every city across the world.
Plastic is produced using petroleum and fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are subsidized in the United States. Shale gas, extracted during fracking, is cheap because of the subsidies. With the push for cleaner energy to power our homes, the fossil fuel industry has doubled down on the production of plastics.
Since 2010, over $180 billion has been invested into new plastics production that convert natural gas into ethylene, which is used to make plastics. There is no end to this expansion. The fossil fuel industry is planning to make the Ohio River Valley the next petrochemical hub for plastic production. Plastic pellets manufactured in other U.S. plants have been found in waterways around those plants, making the proposed Ohio River Valley plastic production plant projects even more concerning. The energy companies are betting that the world’s demand for plastics will grow, not recede. And they will ensure that this happens by backing recycling campaigns and telling us that we need to figure out the waste problem, not them.
The bottom line: natural gas and oil companies have tax subsidies that incentivize them to produce more and more plastic. Environmentally speaking, plastic will never go away. Just 9% of plastic produced is recycled. It is polluting every corner of the earth. It is polluting our water and food supply.
The film equates the plastic production problem to attempting to use a teaspoon to stop an over-flowing bathtub with the faucet on full-force. The faucet MUST be turned off, and then the teaspoon will begin to make a difference. The way to turn off the faucet is to cease subsidies for fossil fuels, enact legislation to put an end to single-use plastics, and hold companies responsible for cleaning up the waste they create.
This problem is not “ours” as consumers. We have been led to believe that it is our problem, that we can solve it by recycling. Recycling absolutely has a place but it is not going to solve the plastics problem.
What can you do? Let your local, state and national representatives know your concern. Call and email them. Send them letters. This is not a problem we will ever be able to recycle our way out of. The tap must be turned off. Bob must be held accountable and financially responsible for the donut holders all over town, he must find a better way to deliver his product.