Late in the federal court hearings last week, in their lawsuit against plastics regulations, Big Plastic’s arguments went completely off the rails. Lawyers for the corporate coalition and Dow Chemical, who are fighting the federal government and, by association, the environment and all living things, tried to argue all week that there’s not enough evidence that plastic items are toxic to the environment.
Big Plastic’s lawyers acknowledged there’s evidence that plastics harm or kill animals. But they had two quibbles.
Yes, our products kill turtles. We’ve seen the pictures. But how many turtles?
And what proportion of the turtle population? [Shocked silence]. Aha! We thought so. The government doesn’t actually know how many turtles we’ve killed with our plastic, and what that number represents of the total number of turtles in the world. So how can they say plastic is toxic?
The lawyer for Animal Justice, which is intervening in the case alongside Environmental Defence and Oceana Canada, pointed out the industry is effectively saying: harming animals is simply collateral damage to the right of our industry to make money. Until the government can quantify the full scale of the damage, we must be allowed to keep on rolling out plastic by the millions of tonnes.
Animal Justice pointed out this approach shows “callous disregard” for the wellbeing of animals.
In an argument reminiscent of the satirical hashtag that popped up during the #MeToo moment, Big Plastic lawyers tried to argue that – even if we deign to accept that some single-use plastics are causing damage – the government has gone too far in listing all “plastic manufactured items” as toxic.
In a surreal moment, the lawyer for Dow Chemical even insisted a couple of times that you don’t see items like plastic rail cars dumped in the environment. His point appeared to be that some plastic items are more likely to end up in the environment than others, and that the government should study each and every one of the millions of plastic manufactured items – there’s probably at least a new one every day – and prove that each and every one of these items gets into the environment and causes enough harm to be considered properly toxic.
The Ecojustice lawyer, acting for Environmental Defence and Oceana, pointed out that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) requires the government to take precautions from hazards, even those that *may* pose a threat to the environment. It’s called the Precautionary Principle and it’s widely accepted in environmental law in Canada and well beyond. She pointed out that Big Plastic’s interpretation of the Precautionary Principle would make it meaningless.
No doubt. Following their logic, we might be able to get a handle on plastic pollution by the year 3000.
But the Dow lawyer’s insistence that “plastic rail cars” don’t cause pollution is the most difficult to forget. As if the environmental (and human health) disaster caused by the tragic train derailment in Ohio a mere month ago doesn’t underscore the need to “rein in plastics.”
Big Plastic doesn’t have the public on their side. So, with their legal and PR minions, they’re pretending that science is on their side. But it’s not, either. They say that federal regulation of plastics is merely political. A big nope to that, as well.
As with climate change, there is a global consensus among scientists that plastic pollution poses a big threat to the environment. It’s not a controversial idea – no matter how much Big Plastic producers want to try to make us think it is.
For an antidote to corporate disinformation, check out this interview with scientist Lisa Erdle.
The court hearing is over. Now we await the judge’s decision.
This blog is the second post in a two-part series. Read the first post here for background information on the lawsuit.