plastic production

A Plastics Spill on the Mississippi River But No Accountability in Sight

Read time: 7 mins
Nurdles on the bank of the Mississippi River in Chalmette, Louisiana, on August 9, 2020

When I arrived on Sunday, August 9, scores of tiny plastic pellets lined the sandy bank of the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, Louisiana, where they glistened in the sun, not far from a War of 1812 battlefield. These precursors of everyday plastic products, also known as nurdles, spilled from a shipping container that fell off a cargo ship at a port in New Orleans the previous Sunday, August 2. 

After seeing photographs by New Orleans artist Michael Pajon published on, I went to see if a cleanup of the spilled plastic was underway. A week after the spill, I saw no signs of a cleanup when I arrived in the early afternoon, but I did watch a group of tourists disembark from a riverboat that docked along the plastic-covered riverbank. By most accounts, the translucent plastic pellets are considered pollution, but government bureaucracy and regulatory technicalities are making accountability for removing these bits of plastic from the river’s banks and waters surprisingly challenging.

'The Cost of Plastics Is Lives': House Oversight Hearing Highlights Environmental Justice Burdens of Plastic Production

Read time: 6 mins
Environmental justice march in Cancer Alley in 2019

During a congressional hearing Tuesday, a plastics industry executive echoed a common refrain from the industry: “Plastic saves lives.”

However, for many communities of color living in close proximity to the petrochemical plants producing those plastics, the exact opposite is often true.

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