Texas worst hit by plastic pollution in US

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Comfort Point (United States) (AFP) – Former shrimp trader Diane Wilson watches in disgust as a Taiwan-owned factory in Texas spits millions of plastic pellets into Matagorda Bay.

For years, Wilson has documented this pollution by Formosa Plastics Group, the world’s fourth largest plastics manufacturer. She settled in 1983 south of Houston at Point Comfort, near the waters where she fished in abundance for shrimp.

“When we did the sampling on Formosa, we found 2,000 violations. How many did the state of Texas have? Zero,” Wilson told AFP as she stood at the helm of a shrimp boat.

She said environmental protection agency regulators in Texas, the second most populous U.S. state, operate on a revolving door system.

“They leave state agencies and get jobs at the chemical plant because there is no money to be an inspector or an officer,” Wilson said.

America the polluter

The United States is by far the world’s biggest plastic polluter, according to a study released Wednesday.

It generated 42 million tonnes of waste in 2016, more than twice as much as China and more than all the countries of the European Union combined, according to the study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Wilson comes from a family of shrimp fishers but the industry has been wiped out by pollution Marc Felix AFP

The United States represents less than five percent of the world’s population.

Point Comfort, 737 inhabitants, is essentially a plastic town: it has 17 Formosa production units spread over several hectares.

Wilson, a mother of five, comes from a family that has been fishing for shrimp for four generations and is the face of the local fight against the polluting practices of Formosa.

In particular, she fights against the white pellets, called nurdles, that factories near the coast release by the millions. These little balls smaller than beans are the raw material that buyers melt down to make a variety of plastic products.

Nurdles leak faulty pipes from production plants and are so light that they are easily blown into nature by the slightest wind.

There are few shrimp boats left

Complaining that the state of Texas is taking a hands-off approach, Wilson sued Formosa Plastics and succeeded in forcing it to sign a consent decree in 2019 under which he pays tens of thousands of dollars for each day in which it releases plastic pellets or powder into the environment.

A view of the Formosa Plastics plant in Point Comfort, Texas on November 3, 2021
A view of the Formosa Plastics plant in Point Comfort, Texas on November 3, 2021 Marc Felix AFP

“Right now, Formosa has had over 50 violations probably since June of this year, and they’ve been fined around $ 1.1 million,” Wilson said.

“And the money that Formosa pays goes into a trust. It’s called the Matagorda trust. It goes into environmental projects.”

But Formosa is also dumping toxic liquid waste into the water, millions of gallons a day, she said. This landfill is legal – and it has ruined the local shrimp industry, Wilson added.

“Before there were probably maybe 4,500 fishermen in this community and now you’re in luck if there are more than a handful,” she added.

Formosa Plastics Group also has factories in the US states of Louisiana, South Carolina and New Jersey, as well as in Vietnam and Taiwan itself.

“We have documented that over the next decade there will be more greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production than from coal-fired power plants in the United States,” said Judith Enck, author of ‘a report for Beyond Plastics, a project run by Bennington College in Vermont.

His study found that nearly 80% of the plastics industry’s CO2 emissions in America occur along the Gulf of Mexico coast in Louisiana but primarily in Texas.

$ 560 million in fines

Plastic is made from a variety of gases, especially ethane. And the southern United States offers advantages in producing it: cheap energy, a skilled workforce, and good port and energy infrastructure.

Enck said the area has another appeal: “A lot of fossil fuel companies like to do business in Texas because environmental laws are so weak and often not enforced.”

Wilson shows plastic pellets called nurdles polluting the coast
Wilson shows plastic pellets called nurdles polluting the coast Marc Felix AFP

Over the past 21 years, the Formosa Plastics Group – all of its affiliates and subsidiaries in various countries – have paid a total of just over $ 560 million in fines, said Jane Patton, who wrote a report titled ” Formosa Plastics Group: a Serial Offender of Environmental and Human Rights. ”

It was published in October by the environmental advocacy group CIEL.

Formosa Plastics declined to be interviewed for this article, instead referring AFP to the 2019 consent decree drawn up by shrimp trader Wilson.

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