Plastic recycling is a problem all over the world and here in Grand Rapids. While we heartily support recycling, it’s important to note that the Plastics Industry first promoted it in the 1970’s. The American public became concerned as they saw single-use plastic accumulate and the industry knew it had to do something about it in order to keep making plastic products.

Their solution was to blame the public for the increased pollution through a number of public service ads that pointed an accusing finger at careless consumers. They even portrayed an Italian/American actor as a weeping Native American looking at a trashed landscape. Through the industry’s “Keep America Beautiful” campaign, they enlisted Boy and Girl Scout volunteers, and a host of other community organizations to do their work for them as they continued to fill their coffers through more and more plastic manufacturing. (Science History Institute)

Another solution was to send plastic trash to China until it said “No more.” Now the industry is eyeing Africa as its dumping ground. Lobbyists for oil companies are pushing to ship their waste to Kenya, hoping it will be a jumping off point to other African countries. The sad irony is that Kenya has the strictest plastic bag ban in the world and many Kenyans are concerned that such a move will harm their progress toward reducing plastic usage. (Star Tribune)

Now, as the pandemic rages, plastic has become an “essential worker” in the fight to combat the virus and the plastic industry is delighted. As Forbes Magazine explains, “Some members of the plastic industry are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty around the pandemic to push suspensions or rollbacks of hard-won environmental measures to reduce plastic pollution.” It seems they never miss an opportunity to enrich themselves and mar the planet.

We still take our reusable bags when shopping, offering to pack them ourselves or carry items, unpacked, to our vehicles. That has worked out well for us and we see other shoppers doing the same. We need to remember that when this pandemic is over, plastic pollution will still be with us and with all people around the world.

Pat Helmberger

Barb Veit


BYOBag Committee

Grand Rapids Area Earth Circle


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