Frequently asked questions

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What is People over Plastic?

People over Plastic reports from the heart of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities most harmed by pollution and the effects of climate change. We honor those experiences by documenting their stories of resilience and by exploring their community-based solutions.

What is environmental injustice?

Environmental injustice is an insidious tool of racial oppression that is part of the fabric of structural racism.  It is born from a history of colonization, slavery, racial redlining and sharecropping, and perpetuated by ongoing practices like biased permitting, negligent monitoring and enforcement, and a chronic refusal to adopt pollution limits that will actually protect those most exposed.  Meanwhile, chemical plants, refineries, incinerators, wastes sites, and other sources continue to disproportionately poison members of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and other communities of color.  The Environmental Justice movement seeks to both recognize and remedy this situation. This means demanding that frontline communities play an active and meaningful role in the decisions that affect their wellbeing, that new pollution or other harmful exposures are not piled on top of old, that existing harmful exposures are eliminated, that communities are made whole for the legacy of toxic burdens they were forced to carry, and that communities receive the benefits of positive environmental investment (in things like parks, green space, and water and clean energy resources).

Want to learn more about environmental justice and other useful terms? Check out our Grassroots Glossary.

Today we see many notorious examples of environmental racism such as hazardous projects, polluting industries and toxic sites nestled in among BIPOC residential areas, neighborhoods and communities. Yet so much of these modern-day injustices stem from historical injustices that go back more than 600 years. The search for new resources resulted in the exploitation, cultural genocide and enslavement of tens of millions of people (including 60 million Indigenous Amerindians who died from foreign diseases, displacement, and war, and more than 12 million Africans who were forcibly transported to work as slaves in the United States and across the Americas).

Against that historical backdrop, environmental justice recognizes this legacy of systemic racism. It’s about acknowledging the disproportionate burdens BIPOC and low-income people carry and tries to reverse them by ensuring these populations have equitable access to benefits, AND are active participants and partners in decision-making especially when it affects their communities, neighborhoods, and families. 

Want to learn more about environmental justice and other useful terms? Check out our Grassroots Glossary.

Who does People over Plastic focus on in their digital media?

Various people and organizations focus on environmental justice differently. At People over Plastic, we focus on communities that don’t usually make mainstream news. These are BIPOC and low-income communities that are harmed by plastic pollution. There are many steps involved in the production of plastic and each one of these steps is extremely harmful to human health and the environment. There are many forms of plastic pollution including:
  • Fossil fuel extraction: the actual process of extracting fossil fuels generates air and water pollution, and harms local communities.
  • Chemical plants: petrochemical plants convert the components of oil and gas — such as ethane, propane, butane, and methane — into chemicals like ethylene, propylene, butadiene, and methanol. These chemicals are the building blocks for plastic.
  • Waste incinerators: in many places, burning plastic is the only way to get rid of plastic waste. But when plastic is burned, it releases pollutants like microplastics, bisphenols, and phthalates. These toxins can disrupt neurodevelopment, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
We use our community connections and interview folks who are experiencing these types of  harmful effects, but are also fighting back to stop them. Our storytelling also focuses on community-driven solutions that don’t leave anyone behind.

Why do you focus so much on plastic?

Plastics are fossil fuels in another form. Think about plastic from the moment its ingredients are first extracted, all the way to when plastic waste is thrown away. Each of these steps can have a catastrophic and long-term impact on health and the environment:

  • Extraction: And with an estimated 1.2 million oil and gas facilities across the United States, the impact of extraction is both devastating on local communities and on the environmentWhen oil and gas is extracted it can cause lasting damage to the environment like disrupting the migratory pathways of animals, degrading their habitats and negatively impacting biodiversity. Oil drilling produces methane (a greenhouse gas worse than carbon dioxide) which is often flared (burned). It is estimated that the equivalent of 25 percent of total US consumption, is flared annually worldwide.

Then there is the human cost. In the U.S. around 12 million people live within a ½ mile of extraction and are exposed to pollutants on a daily basis. These pollutants are known to cause respiratory, cardiovascular disease, poor birth outcomes, developmental defects and other diseases.

  • Transportation: When fossil fuels are transported from a mine or a well, it can cause air pollution and can lead to serious accidents and spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill which released 130 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Although the spill happened in 2010, it continues to harm wildlife even today.  Thousands of oil spills occur each year in U.S. waters and even the smallest of these can have major environmental and economic harm. 
  • Petrochemical Plants: People living near petrochemical refineries, where fossil fuel-derived products such as plastics and fertilizers are made, have an increased risk of respiratory illnesses such as childhood asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and blood cancers.
  • Transportation of Petrochemicals: Petrochemicals are highly toxic, which makes transporting them extremely dangerous. In February of 2023, 50 rail cars transporting petrochemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio releasing vinyl chloride (known to cause cancer in humans) and other toxic chemicals into the surrounding air, water, and soil. Local residents have reported a number of health problems since the derailment including chemical-induced bronchitisMore than 43,000 fish, amphibians and crustaceans are known to have died. 
  • Use: We are constantly exposed to plastic every single day. We inhale it, ingest it and have direct skin contact with it. And this exposure comes with great risks. All sorts of scientifically-proven health effects result from plastic exposure from cancer to  changing hormone activity. Microplastics can also harm health by making it easier for pathogens to enter our system, which increases the spread of diseases.
  • Incineration: Nearly half or our plastic waste gets burned. Since plastic is made from fossil fuel, burning plastic is burning fossil fuels.  When plastic is burned it releases all sorts of toxic gasses, heavy metals and particles into the air. Many of these emissions - like Dioxins - are highly toxic, cause cancer and damage our immune systems. 

Plastic Industrial Complex

Despite all the scientifically-proven harm of plastics and plastics production, the oil and gas industry is scaling up plastic production. In an era when the world is moving towards zero-emissions and a transition to 100% clean energy, the oil and gas industry is launching a “last ditch effort” to protect its profits by producing petrochemicals.

How is People over Plastic making a difference?

What makes us different is that our news focuses on the entire value-chain of plastic pollution - from production to disposal. That’s because as an organization, we have a lot of deep knowledge in this area and community connections. We also feel our world’s plastic crisis stems back to the source of all this plastic waste: the plastic producers. There are a lot of untold stories in the communities that live near these industries as well as those who live in places where all this waste ends up. We want to shine a light on these stories because if there is greater public awareness, then meaningful change is possible.

Do you only focus on plastic?

You’ll also find us covering a wide range of stories that uplift environmental racism and community resilience.  We tell the stories that need to be told. This has included:

  • Indigenous Activism against Oil & Gas - We look at the patterns of stolen wealth and land from Indigenous groups fighting to protect their homes and their way of life that depends on natural ecosystems.
  • Redlining- We look at the historical restrictions on where Black and other minority groups were allowed to live (which were usually the most undesirable places in a jurisdiction, town or city) and how this plays out today. 
  • Cop City and Abolitionist Organizing - We look at the fight against the proposed Atlanta police academy, which is illegally being built in a natural wildlife and watershed area. We look at its intersections with historical patterns of unfair Black and Latino incarceration.  
  • Food Sovereignty - We examine how ancestral farmers are creating solutions to grow clean and resilient food systems, and tackle the chemical pollution of farm land. 

We are interested in stories where racial justice meets the environment.

What if I have a story for People over Plastic?

If you have a story for us, reach out and connect with us. Drop us an email at hello@peopleoverplastic.co

© People over Plastic 2024
© People over Plastic 2023