I’ve written previously about the urgency associated with the problems caused by waste plastic. However, there’s a big difference between me blogging about it and Michael Bloomberg opening his wallet to try to do something about it. And the news this week was that Michael Bloomberg is putting $85 million into a new “Beyond Petrochemicals” campaign.
What’s really interesting is that Bloomberg has taken a substantially different tack than most of those who have been trying to address the problem of plastic pollution. The difference is apparent from the get-go; the campaign is not called “Beyond Plastics”; it’s called “Beyond Petrochemicals”. The other significant difference is that it’s not focused on encouraging the circular economy or other efforts designed to address plastic pollution – other than to prevent the manufacture of plastics in the first place.
And although there is brief mention in the “four key pillars” of the campaign about regulations to reduce the demand for plastic products, the discussion of the need for the campaign is focused on two different issues: (1) the climate impact from the use of fossil feedstocks and the operations of the manufacturing facilities and (2) the environmental impact from the release of traditional pollutants from these facilities, particularly in environmental justice communities. The campaign notes that it is focused on stopping 120 projects located primarily in Texas, Louisiana, and the Ohio River Valley.
It is an interesting strategic choice by Bloomberg to focus on climate and environmental justice issues, rather than on the back-end impact of plastic pollution itself. In modern regulatory lingo, the reduction in plastic pollution will just be a co-benefit of the campaign’s efforts to stop the construction or expansion of all these facilities. I don’t know if this was part of the rationale behind the strategy, but it does allow the campaign to avoid having to discuss the convenience plastics deliver to consumers.
I still think that we’re going to have to do more than stop construction or expansion of petrochemical facilities. Plastics are really convenient and provide some significant benefits; we’re going to have to find alternatives to plastics and incentivize investment in the technologies and the facilities that will ultimately deliver those alternatives.