Opinion | Plastics, The Fossil Fuel Industry, and Irvine

Approximately 400 million tons of plastics are produced as byproducts from fossil fuel companies each year. It is a very profitable business and, as in so many issues that affect the environment, the fossil fuel industry is throwing its money around like Sam Bankman Fried trying to stay out of jail. It would have been nice to see them be similarly unsuccessful. However, the Irvine City Council meeting from last Tuesday, November 28, 2023, did not give much hope. 

Here are some industry concerns put together by research and discussions with local industries related to the plastics ban:City staff provided the following options for the City Council’s consideration and direction: This gave our elected Council many options to take the information gathered, listen to input from the community, and then make a decision for going forward. 

Councilwoman Dr. Kathleen Treseder called out the connection with the petroleum industry:

“The reason we have a single-use plastic issue is that we have a petroleum industry…looking for new markets… pushing for things to be made of plastic that were never made of plastic before…” She also stated that plastics were the biggest concern of her University of California, Irvine students. 

As seen so often, the youth came out in force to be strong proponents of an ordinance that might do even a tiny bit to safeguard the environment. They are the ones who will be most affected by the continued proliferation of plastics locally and globally. Here are some excerpts from the youth who showed up: 

Samantha Do, a student at Irvine Valley College, stated: 

“As the climate crisis becomes more dire, we must work with equal urgency..plastic production pollution is one of the biggest contributors to global warming… Microplastics produced by water bottles and other plastic products that we use are becoming more pervasive in the environment…these can lead to serious health issues like cancer, birth defects, diseases, and much more… disadvantaged communities are going to be the ones who bear the brunt…much of the plastics produced in the United States ends up in less industrialized countries which do not have the ability to manage the waste… Sometimes it requires making sacrifices if we want real change to occur.” 

Kyler Chen, a student at University of California, Irvine researching computer science and atmospheric science stated:

“Plastic is a petrochemical derivative and its extraction causes pollution in local communities… Compton, Wilmington, South Bay…we see the effects of petrochemical extraction very close to home. It causes respiratory illnesses … by 2050 about 20% of oil extraction is actually for plastics manufacturing. The petrochemical industries know that. Because of electrification, they are running out of things to sell. The alternatives are here. They are easily manufacturable and this will create demand for these products and drive those prices down…Our local ecosystems will hopefully see less pollution…The fisheries and wildlife need to be protected as well as our human health.”

Many of the people who showed up to speak about plastics were youth- the people who will be most affected by the continued proliferation of plastics locally and globally- and those on the council and speaking in favor were not- a fact which was pointed out by another speaker, Orab (sp) Habibi, a student at Irvine Valley College stated:  

“Young generations are the ones who are going to have to deal with this problem in the ages to come and I don’t see many young faces represented in this panel today I am sorry to say….it is not hard to see the effects of plastic pollution in Irvine… For a city that prides itself on being a progressive hub.. and is very rich, we are not doing a very good job of addressing climate change in its totality. I hear a lot of talk about company profits and small businesses here…my dad runs a small business…you don’t have to use single-use plastics in your small business… It’s just a lot of deliberation.. push it back another year, another year until we all forget.” 

These students have already seen their lives disrupted by COVID-19 (viruses increase with climate change), increasing wildfires and evacuations, and decreasing mental health as a direct and indirect result of climate stress. Maybe it’s time we put aside our pocketbooks for just a minute and start to repair the damage. 

Unfortunately, the Irvine City Council voted not to approve the ordinance as originally written, but did amend it paring it down significantly to stop the use of single-use plastics in city facilities only. Even with this microscopic change to the usage of single-use plastics in the city, Councilmember Mike Carroll still was not on board. The final vote to the much-diminished plastics ban passed 4-1 (Yes: Khan, Agran, Kim, Treseder; No: Carroll).