Plastic Pollution Coalition

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 14, 2022
Plastic Pollution Coalition’s work involves changing laws, policies, and actions, along with encouraging people to implement solutions themselves

In one of the funnier moments in the famous 1967 film The Graduate, a friend of Ben’s parents takes him aside to deliver some advice about his future: “I just have one word for you: Plastics.”

Back then, of course, plastics was becoming a burgeoning field, as the material seemed to be an incredible scientific breakthrough that could replace almost anything and create a more convenient life. More than half a century and 400 million metric tons of mostly petroleum-produced plastics later, we’re now aware of plastic’s astonishing amount of environmental damage. At least two-thirds of all plastic ever produced has been released into the environment, remaining as debris in the oceans, and microparticles in air, agricultural soils, water, and even the human body.

No laughing matter. 

Enter Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), a growing global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries with the mission of a more just, equitable world, free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact. The PPC is involved in many projects, legal battles, and policy or advocacy campaigns that it has initiated or supported, including one just launched this year to combat how Hollywood treats plastics, both on set and within movies and TV shows. 

The coalition’s Flip the Script on Plastics initiative grew out of a commissioned report analyzing the portrayal and prevalence of single-use plastics versus reusable alternatives on top television shows. Researchers at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center examined 32 such scripted series from the 2019-2020 season and found them awash with plastic pollution.

The report suggests that instead of portraying the unfortunate reality of excessive plastic use, films and TV shows could help change our society’s throwaway culture by modeling life with less single-use plastic and portraying a healthier future.

“Life imitates art, and we are all impacted by what we see on TV or in the movies,” explained Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition and a longtime visual artist. “The campaign is a pledge drive for content creators of all types – writers, actors, actresses, directors, producers, show runners – to make a commitment to look at ways to begin incorporating that into the narrative, as well as reducing their plastic footprint behind-the-scenes on set in production.” 

Cohen and her equally high-powered sister Julia, who has held numerous positions in leadership at major nonprofits, co-founded the Coalition 13 years ago, and have seen the organization and its work grow exponentially as people become more aware of plastic pollution. PPC’s work at changing laws, policies, and actions, as well as hearts and minds, extends in many more ways beyond Hollywood. 

The Coalition inspires action through education programs, advocacy campaigns, art projects, and even lawsuits. Most recently, they’ve been putting a lot of attention on the petrochemical industry as the increasing switch from gas and oil to renewable sources of energy threatens their business model, Dianna Cohen said. 

“Plastic is their Plan B, and they’re scrambling, quadrupling up on plastic as a solution, which will only make the problem worse,” she said, adding that it’s no wonder that more than 90 percent of plastic is never recycled, because that concept was a matter of marketing. 

“Plastic is not and was not designed to be recycled. It’s the same cleverness that added the word ‘debate’ onto climate change, employing brilliant marketing teams getting paid a lot of money to rebrand things, problems, and disasters to lighten them up and create misinformation. The fact is production of plastic is highly toxic and it remains so in every step of its life cycle.” 

Plastic Pollution Coalition co-founders Julia and Dianna Cohen

Noting that California spends half a billion dollars a year to “clean” plastic pollution from beaches, waterways, forest, and national parks, Cohen said “Those costs should be borne by the companies that are responsible for producing the plastic. But even cleanup stuff is really just a Band-Aid.” 

Hence, the Coalition’s support of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which builds on successful statewide laws across the country and outlines practical plastic reduction strategies to realize a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable future. 

PPC is applauding California State Attorney General Rob Bonta’s recent announcement launching an investigation into the role of fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.

“It’s an unprecedented investigation of their decades-long campaign of deception, much like how the Truth Campaign uncovered how the tobacco industry knew from the start their products were harmful,” Cohen said.

There are many ways to help PPC achieve its mission, starting with educating yourself and others through the nonprofit’s presentations. There is a vast catalog of free information on the website, plus specific guides on plastic-free living and other resources. That includes the Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard, a free, easy-to-use science-based online tool created through a cross-industry collaboration of foodservice companies, environmental NGOs, and technical experts. It helps individuals, plus concert and sports venues, restaurants, and other businesses assess the sustainability impacts of common foodware and food packaging choices.

Other ways of stepping into action include taking PPC’s “4Rs Pledge”: Refusing disposable plastic whenever possible; Reducing your plastic footprint; Reusing durable non-toxic everyday items such as straws, bags, and other containers; and Rethinking what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse.

“We want to empower people to implement those solutions themselves, and in their communities, and with their families,” Dianna explained. 

People can also join the Coalition as an individual, organization, or business, helping to build the strength of the nonprofit’s numbers. And, of course, donations are always welcome, monthly or otherwise. 

“It’s a cliché, but no amount is too small to help support this work,” Dianna said. “All the money that people donate goes toward this work of educating, connecting, and advocating on behalf of humans and our world that we would like to see free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact. The dollars help us be able to provide free information, support our campaigns, and help advocate for policy change.” 

The funds are welcome even if you have to use a, ahem, plastic credit card to make your contribution, Dianna said. 

“That’s the only time you can feel good about using that plastic card,” she said. But just the subject reminded her of another fact: “There’s a stat that says that the average person right now is ingesting a credit card’s worth of plastic a week.” 

Sobering information and certainly something worth chewing on. And then maybe making a donation via PayPal. 


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