We’ve all heard about how the oil and gas industry continues to pollute our air and water. Leaks and explosions from pipelines and fracking wells do irreparable damage to the environment and show no sign of letting up, unless we end our dependence on fossil fuels once and for all. But did you know that companies that use plastics to package their products, like the bottled water industry, rely and profit off fracked gas—and also add to the pollution?
That’s right—fracking helps provide the raw materials needed for manufacturing plastics. In the past few years, the fracking boom has produced an oversupply of cheap ethane, a hydrocarbon present in natural gas. Ethane is used in petrochemical manufacturing and helps create a chemical called ethylene – a petrochemical that creates the most common type of plastic.
Plastic production tends to be really wasteful. A huge portion of the plastics industry is packaging—material that is immediately thrown away. In 2010 alone, over 1.5 million tons of plastic bottles ended up in the trash, and under a third of plastic bottles are recycled. Moreover, many of the bottles that are thrown away end up in the ocean. A 2015 study estimated that nearly 200 coastal countries generated over 600 billion pounds of plastic waste in 2010 — and between 11 and 27 billion pounds of this ended up in the oceans. We’ll continue to see increasingly littered oceans if the plastics bonanza continues.
Worst of all, the process of turning fracked gas into ethylene, which is used in plastics manufacturing, requires a ton of energy—and it is toxic for our environment. In 2012, a study conducted by a researcher at Houston Advanced Research Center noted that petrochemical plants can expose nearby communities to high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen and ozone pollution precursor! Making matters even worse, industry leaders are hoping to build new petrochemical plants near fracking and drilling operations, potentially compounding pollution problems for nearby residents.
So what we you do to help stop the plastics overload in our oceans and the toxic buildup in our environment?
One first big step you can take is to stop buying bottled water. Tap water has been proven to be just as safe—and cheaper!—than bottled water. By limiting purchases of non-biodegradable, plastic plastics products, people can help limit an activity that effectively supports and finances the oil and gas industry.
But using a reusable water bottle and drinking more tap water is only the beginning of the solution—and it won’t help the people who have to live next to the pollution made by plastics production. The best thing we can do to help our environment is to call for a ban on fracking and an increased emphasis on renewable energy. When you take the pledge to ditch bottled water, we’ll keep you informed of ways you can fight fracking and help us move toward a renewable energy future.