You’re Paying for Plastic Pollution

Lauren Packard
Feb 25, 2019 · 3 min read
Plastic pollutes oceans and beaches around the world. (Credit: NOAA)

Taxpayers subsidize creation of plastic every step of the way

That plastic water bottle you just bought is more expensive than you think. You’ve already paid for that plastic many times over. And we’ll all keep paying as it becomes litter in our oceans, landscapes or landfills.

Those huge costs are worth considering as plans move forward for a massive new plastic plant west of New Orleans.

First, Americans subsidize extraction of fossil fuels — the feedstock from which plastics are made — to the tune of $20.5 billion each year.

This figure doesn’t include the costs of dealing with the environmental, health and climate harms caused by fossil fuel production and consumption. These costs have been estimated at up to $500 billion annually. Taxpayers foot the bill for those as well.

Taxpayers are also funding the industry’s plan to increase plastic production by 40 percent in the next decade, spurred by an oversupply of cheap fracked natural gas. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year to replace roads ruined by fracking and treat contaminated water.

In St. James Parish, La., a proposed behemoth $9.4 billion petrochemicals plant would turn natural gas byproducts into plastic resins used to manufacture single-use plastic items. Nearby residents in what’s been dubbed Cancer Alley will pay with their health in addition to their wallets.

The Formosa Plastics project would receive $1.5 billion in state and local tax incentives, including $1.4 billion in local property tax exemptions — money that would otherwise go toward building roads, schools and other badly needed local infrastructure.

It doesn’t end there. Formosa Plastics is a known bad actor. Its Baton Rouge plant released tons of toxic chemicals into the air and dumped processed wastewater into the bayou.

Its Point Comfort, Texas plant released millions of plastic pellets (called nurdles) into nearby waterways in violation of state and federal pollution control requirements. The nurdles have even been found in the bellies of fish caught in Lavaca Bay.

According to Environmental Protection Agency, four of Formosa’s seven plants nationwide are currently violating environmental laws — including two other plants already operating in Louisiana.

And the plastic the plant will produce? Because only a small percentage of plastic is recycled, the vast majority will end up polluting our beautiful wild places or taking up space in our dumps. Taxpayers will ultimately bear the costs of these many harms.

Yet Congress wants to put taxpayers on the hook yet again — by changing the law so that dirty energy projects are eligible for federal loan guarantees originally intended for innovative green projects.

Last session Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia introduced Senate Bill 1377 to make sure that a regional storage hub for fracked natural gas would qualify for a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the federal government. As Manchin is now the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate Energy Committee, this issue is likely to come up again.

So you’re paying for fossil fuel extraction, its storage and transmission, and its conversion into plastic. And eventually you’ll pay to address the plastic accumulating in our oceans, where it’s choking marine life, attaching itself to toxins, and often ending up on your seafood platter.

Every corporation that touches this stuff along the way takes its profits. And you get stuck with their pollution. It’s an insane system that will only get worse until we stop it.

We need to phase out fossil fuels and the plastic waste they get turned into, not subsidize them every step of the way. One place to start turning the tide is the Formosa Plastics facility. State officials should rethink their support for this monstrously polluting project.

Lauren Packard is an attorney at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

Lauren Packard

Written by

Staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, focused on solving the climate and plastic pollution crises.

Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. More info at www.biologicaldiversity.org

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