Plastic

The obscure energy feeding the world's plastics obsession

Data: EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals 

America's oil and gas boom is fueling the rise of a lesser-known energy central to the plastics in our lives: ethane.

The big picture: Ethane, a colorless and odorless gas produced alongside natural gas, is the single largest type of raw material in North America for petrochemicals, the building blocks of plastics. America is consuming and exporting ethane in record quantities.

Column / Harder Line

Oil companies double down on plastics as public outcry grows

Illustration of plastic bag coming out of a gas pump
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The oil and gas industry is ramping up petrochemicals — building blocks of plastics —right as the global outcry intensifies over plastic waste.

The big picture: Most people associate oil companies' products mainly with gasoline. But they also generate plastics that are interwoven into all facets of our lives. This durable material is, more and more, leaving waste virtually everywhere on Earth.