End Plastics

How Plastic Creates Injustice

The plastics industry is powerful, all-encompassing, and inequitable. The industrial money-making machine contributes heavily to the way consumerism operates, but has deep institutional effects spreading beyond the evident environmental consequences. As a result of a history of redlining and gentrification as well as zoning policies, plastic-producing facilities in the US tend to be located near low-income communities of color, predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, who are exposed to various health concerns such as asthma and cancer. 

Black people are 75% more likely to live in fence-line communities adjacent to industrial zones. Moreover, most residents in fence-line communities are low-income and thus have little political or economic power to fight back against these large corporations. Decades of historical practices such as redlining — a discriminatory act in which governments labeled Black neighborhoods as risky for real estate investments — have trapped residents in a long-lasting cycle of environmental injustice. 

From extracting to transferring to refining, each step of plastic production adversely affects nearby neighborhoods. The process of fracking, or drilling into the ground to extract oil, can result in groundwater contamination and the pipelines built to transfer the oil has the potential to rupture, causing hazardous fires and toxic spillages. 

Furthermore, facilities transforming oil into gas and gas into plastic release large amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, bombarding nearby residents with health issues ranging from cancer, respiratory diseases, and asthma to childhood leukemia, development concerns, and miscarriages. In fact, black children are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, as around 13% of black children have asthma compared to 7% of white children.

A prime example of these injustices is Cancer Alley, Louisiana: an 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is home to 150 plastic and chemical plants and oil refineries with the highest cancer rates in the country. Black residents throughout this stretch bear an unequal amount of air pollution and are subjected to dangerous levels of carcinogens by simply walking into their backyards.

The plastics industry continues its reign in Louisiana, with Formosa Plastics announcing construction of a new $9.4 billion factory in St. James Parish, where 87% of the residents are Black. Despite Formosa officials arguing this site was chosen due to its remoteness and emphasizing their promises to comply with all state and federal requirements regarding air pollution, it will only add to the preexisting inequitable concentration of toxic industries in the area. 

In 2050, The International Energy Agency predicts 50% of the growth in oil demand will be related to plastics production. The production of plastic has already harmed low-income communities of color for decades. It is long overdue for environmental justice to be served. EARTHDAY.ORG’s theme for this year’s Earth Day, “Invest In Our Planet,” calls on everyone to do their part in taking action against the climate crisis. Be a part of a movement working towards ending plastic pollution, transitioning to a fair, green economy.