John Oliver breaks down the big, terrible lie at the heart of plastic recycling

If you were thinking plastic recycling was as straightforward as popping your empty bottles in the right container, John Oliver has some bad news for you.

For the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, the host takes a deep dive into the world of plastics, from skyrocketing production to the terrifyingly-large portion of plastic that isn’t actually recycled, some of which ends up in our oceans and even in our stomachs by way of our food and drinking water.

Oliver then turns his attention to the corporations who have done their best to place the onus on the consumer to fix this problem via questionable advertising campaigns, despite admitting behind closed doors that the recycling of plastic on a large scale might not even be economically viable.

“So what can we really do here?” asks Oliver. “Well the real behaviour change has to come from plastics manufacturers themselves. Without that, nothing significant is going to happen. We have to make them internalise the costs of the pollution that they are creating. And there is a way to do this, through a concept called extended producer responsibility, or the polluter pays principle. The idea is to create laws that essentially shift responsibility, and the costs of collection, from the public sector and all of us, to the actual producers of the plastic waste.”

As Oliver points out, the U.S. doesn’t currently have an extended producer responsibility law addressing packaging, but with plastic production expected to triple by 2050, it needs to happen soon.

“It is obvious that meaningful change is only going to come from being able to force this very powerful industry to do things that it has shown for half a century it has absolutely no interest in doing,” he says. “We have to make them change. 

“And if not for our sake, or the sake of future generations, let’s at least do it for all the fish who are about to be outnumbered by plastic in the ocean.”

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