The Plastics Pipeline

The Plastics Pipeline

A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

E360, 2020

Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Hot Topic


The plastics industry is currently in a period of rapid expansion and enjoys high demand, particularly in the United States. In this grim but important piece, environmental journalist Beth Gardiner explains why the plastics industry is booming and why stopping it may prove nearly impossible.


Expecting lower demand in fuel, petrochemical companies are driving a boom in plastics production.

Petrochemical giants like ExxonMobil and Shell produce plastics from crude oil, natural gas and their byproducts. These companies are strategically increasing plastics production to protect their bottom lines in the event that public sentiment about climate change drives customers to alternative fuels. According to the World Economic Forum, plastics output will double between 2016 and 2036. 

US plastics manufacturing uses ethane feedstock, a byproduct of fracking. 

Thanks to fracking, the United States is a major source of ethane feedstock, a byproduct of the process. Producers have funneled ethane into plastics production partly to offset losses due to low gas prices...

About the Author

Beth Gardiner is an environmental journalist and author. She is a former Associated Press reporter whose work has appeared in major publications, from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal. 

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