Attorney General Bonta Petitions Court to Compel Plastics Industry Association and American Chemistry Council to Fully Comply with Outstanding Investigative Subpoenas

Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today filed two petitions to compel the Plastics Industry Association, Inc. (PLASTICS), formerly known as the Society of the Plastics Industry, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to comply with outstanding investigative subpoenas issued by the Attorney General on behalf of the People of California. The state’s petitions allege that PLASTICS and ACC have failed to comply with the Attorney General’s subpoenas by providing insufficient responses and failing to turn over documents and publications without a justified legal basis. The state’s petitions ask the Sacramento County Superior Court to order PLASTICS and ACC to comply. The subpoenaed documents are relevant to the plastics industry’s decades-long campaign of deception surrounding the recyclability of plastic. The subpoenas are part of the Attorney General’s first-of-its-kind investigation into fossil fuel and petrochemical industries for their role in causing the plastics pollution crisis, which has significantly harmed California, its people and its communities.

“For years, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics waste and pollution crisis,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The continuous delay tactics are failing to comply with our subpoena. Enough is enough: What are they trying to hide? That’s why we’re seeking a court order to compel the plastics industry to comply fully with our investigative subpoenas.”

The California Department of Justice issued an investigative subpoena to PLASTICS in August 2022. The subpoena seeks specific documents regarding the feasibility of recycling and the evolution of the organization’s campaign surrounding the recyclability of plastic. These documents were housed at the Hagley Library in Delaware, which was generally open to the public for research at the time PLASTICS donated the documents, but now requires permission from PLASTICS before the documents can be reviewed. The documents sought by the state include historical documents that likely lay out what the plastics industry knew, and what they did to conceal, the future harms of plastics including the staggering waste issue California is forced to manage. These documents, mostly PLASTICS newsletters, are housed at the Hagley Library in Delaware. PLASTICS donated the documents for purposes of scholarly research, and the documents are available to the public for that purpose. To date, PLASTICS has failed to adequately respond, missing additional opportunities to comply with the Attorney General’s subpoena request.

The California Department of Justice issued an investigative subpoena to ACC in December 2023. The subpoena seeks specific documents containing information about an ACC-funded study, called the Environmental Claims Study (Study), that ACC submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in an attempt to modify the existing definition of recycled content and other definitions relevant to their campaign to expand chemical recycling. Chemical, or “advanced” recycling, includes a variety of heat-or solvent-based technologies that can theoretically convert certain types of plastic waste into fuels, chemicals, waxes, and petrochemical feedstock, which, after further refinement, can be used to make new plastic. The plastics industry, through ACC, is falsely promoting “advanced” recycling as new technology that is an effective solution to the plastic waste and pollution crisis. In reality, “advanced” recycling processes like pyrolysis have existed since the 1950s and suffer from major flaws, including that “advanced” recycling is not economically scalable and many “advanced” recycling projects do not actually convert plastic waste into plastic products. Rather, the very small amount of plastic waste that is put into the system is mostly converted into non-plastic materials, such as waxes, lubricants, and fuels (which are then combusted). To date, ACC has failed to adequately respond.

Rather than comply with the subpoenas, on May 24, 2024, PLASTICS and ACC filed unfounded lawsuits against the Attorney General in federal court in the District of Columbia seeking to preemptively prevent the Attorney General from enforcing the subpoenas. 

PLASTICS is a trade group that lobbies on behalf of the plastics industry, and represents members of the entire plastics supply chain, historically including chemical giants such as Exxon, Chevron, Amoco, Dow, DuPont, and Procter & Gamble. PLASTICS adapted the widely used “chasing arrows” symbol to add numerals in its center, assigning various polymer grades 1 through 7. PLASTICS successfully promoted the symbol to state governments as a “coding system” to be adopted in lieu of restrictions, such as plastic bans, deposit laws, and mandatory recycling standards, even when PLASTICS knew recycling would not occur because there was no economically feasible method to recycle plastics products. This effort has led to the current false belief of the majority of Americans that any plastic bearing the chasing arrows symbol can be recycled. In reality, the vast majority of plastic products cannot be recycled and the U.S. plastic recycling rate is less than 6%, down from a maximum of under 10%. The remainder is landfilled, incinerated, or otherwise released into the environment.

ACC is a trade association that represents the interests of American chemical companies, including petrochemical companies responsible for creating plastic products. ACC states its mission is to promote the interests of the chemical industry, and its leadership has for decades included major petrochemical company members such as ExxonMobil.

Over the years, Attorney General Bonta has been committed to tackling the plastics waste and pollution crisis head-on in California and across the country. As part of a separate investigation into the plastic bag industry, the Attorney General demanded that manufacturers of plastic bags substantiate their recyclability claims given that plastic bags are in fact not recycled, a hindrance to mechanical sorting of glass and paper for recycling, and a massive source of plastic waste.  In February, he urged the federal General Services Administration (GSA) to implement a mandatory phase-out of all single-use plastic products in federal procurement. In January, he supported EPA’s proposed revisions to its Safer Choice Standard program. Last August, he led a coalition of 14 states in urging EPA to adopt a more comprehensive strategy to combat the plastic pollution crisis. Last July, he led a comment letter in support of the Biden Administration’s development of a national Ocean Justice Strategy. Last September, he called on the federal government to reduce its purchase of unnecessary single-use plastics.  

Today’s petitions can be found here and here


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