40 years of Reaganomic sociopathy has managed to convince hundreds of millions of otherwise sensible people that big, social problems are caused by their personal choices, and not (say) by rapacious corporations that corrupt the regulatory process in order to get away with literal and figurative murder. The Intercept's Sharon Lerner made a short doc on the subject, showing how the inevitable pollution from single-use plastics was rebranded as a matter of individual carelessness, starting with the "Crying Indian" ads, and how that continues to this day, with the plastics industry successfully lobbying states to ban cities from limiting plastic bags, even as those cities have to pay to landfill and clear them away.
Plastic production really began in earnest in the 1950s. It's hard to remember, but we once got along without it. Of course, plastic offered great convenience, and its production skyrocketed. In 1967, when Dustin Hoffman was advised to go into plastics in "The Graduate," there were 25 million tons of plastic produced. These days, we're making 300 million tons. At this point, the plastics industry is worth $4 trillion and almost half of what we're producing is single-use plastics — things that will be used once and almost instantly become trash.
Public outrage at this problem erupted in 1970, with the first Earth Day, and the industry has been successfully dodging the issue ever since. Through advertising, public outreach campaigns, lobbying, and partnerships with nonprofits designed to seem "green," plastics industry organizations have been blaming "litterbugs" for the growing menace and promoting the idea of recycling as the solution, while at the same time fighting every serious attempt to limit plastic production.
The Plastics Industry's Long Fight to Blame Pollution on You [Sharon Lerner/The Intercept]