Plastic Pollution is an Ecological, Environmental and Human Health Crisis.
by Eileen Ryan - Beyond Plastics, Greater Boston. Photographs by Lita Xú Líng Kelley
Plastic pollution is an ecological, environmental and human health crisis. The production, use and disposal of plastic is accelerating climate change and is a major environmental justice issue. Many of the petrochemical plants that produce the feedstocks for plastics are located in an 85 mile long corridor of Texas and Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley.” These are low-income communities and many of the people who live there are the direct descendants of enslaved people who worked on sugar cane plantations. As the fracking boom continues in the Ohio River Valley many poor folks in Appalachia are also experiencing increased health risks. All of these fenceline communities are excessively burdened with increased air pollution, water contamination, and toxic chemicals that threaten their health. These communities are in so-called “Sacrifice Zones.” We are living in a broken world if we are willing to sacrifice human health and the health of our planet for the profits of the fossil fuel industry.
Plastics are made from fossil fuels and chemicals. Most plastics are now made from a byproduct of fracking. The United States is in the midst of a fracking boom which makes the U.S. the top producer of energy in the world. This is why we see more and more single-use plastics and why the petrochemical industry is creating unnecessary markets for plastics. Pipelines in the Northeast are being used to transport fracked gas abroad to make plastics.
If plastic were a country it would be the 5th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, after China, the United States, India, and Russia. Emissions from plastic are on track to outpace coal by 2030.
As transportation and buildings become more energy-efficient, the fossil fuel industry is investing billions of dollars in plastics. Plastics are the petrochemical industry’s Plan B and the industry plans to triple plastic production by 2050. Over 330 new petrochemical facilities have been proposed or permitted since 2010. If all of those facilities go into operation it will threaten our ability to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. With the way things are going plastics will account for nearly half of the demand for fossil fuels by 2050.
Who’s making all of this plastic? Some of the biggest polluters in the world: BP, Chevron Phillips, Shell and ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil is the world’s biggest plastic producer.
Here in Massachusetts, companies are also trying to build “chemical recycling” facilities. Chemical recycling is a euphemism for incinerating plastic. It is extremely toxic.
Why are Plastics so cheap? Because the fossil fuel industry continues to be heavily subsidized by our taxes. It’s time to demand a stop to fossil fuel subsidies. But, ultimately plastic is not cheap. It comes at a huge cost to our health and the health of our planet. Plastic is toxic from production to disposal. Nanoplastics are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Fifty percent of all plastic ever made has been produced in the past 15 - 20 years. During this time there has also been an exponential rise in chronic diseases that are directly linked to plastic. It’s time to get off the fossil fuel treadmill and demand legislative change and corporate accountability.
We need to see action on the UN Global Treaty to Address Plastic Pollution, the national Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act and on statewide bans of single use plastics and incinerators to burn plastic. It’s time to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate change and the devastating consequences of the petrochemical industry and stop building more fossil fuel infrastructure. We call on President Biden to step up and stop approving permits for dirty energy projects. We need to stop letting corporations kill us and our planet for throw-away toxic plastics.
Things are Getting Drastic: No More Plastic
Speech given in front of Massachusetts State House on April 21.2023 in front of a crowd of 300+ during Earth Day: In Love and Rage
Beyond Plastics Greater Boston is a Local Group of www.beyondplastics.org.
"We work to educate and motivate people living in the Greater Boston area to address the climate, ecological, and human health consequences of plastic production and pollution through educational programs, peaceful direct action, and local and state-wide legislative change."