Think about plastic pollution. What do you see? A tangled sea turtle? A dead bird with a belly full of bottle caps? A floating pile of ocean debris?
If you’ve ever lived near a petrochemical facility, you might instead envision a scene similar to the image above, which was photographed by Sierra Club organizer Bryan Parras. It was taken on March 22, 2018, overlooking the community of Manchester in Houston, Texas. The flare is coming from the Valero refinery.
Valero and hundreds of other petrochemicals facilities across the United States produce the plastic pellets used to make soda bottles, six-pack holders, and grocery bags. The struggling fossil fuel industry sees plastic production as a lifeline for maintaining its profits as demand in the electric and transportation sector drops.
Petrochemical manufacturing, a precursor to creating plastic, makes up 14 percent of oil use and is predicted to account for 50 percent of oil and fracked gas demand growth by 2050—the same year that it’s estimated there will be be more plastic pollution than fish, by weight, in our oceans.
The pollution from plastic starts long before these toxic, single-use products ever reach the sea.
Houston accounts for “42 percent of the nation’s petrochemical manufacturing capacity,” according to the city’s website, which appears to have been created in proud partnership with Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and other oil and gas corporations. However, the reality for people