Your plastic water bottle will likely spend its golden years floating around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but its life began thousands of feet underground. How it got from there to you—and why it was made in the first place—has big implications for global climate goals.
To make that plastic bottle, raw natural gas had to be pumped from beneath shale rock deposits. After it was refined to make ethane, it was piped to a facility called an ethane cracker, where steam heated the gas to about 850°C and broke apart its chemical bonds, turning ethane into ethylene. A final step braided together long chains of ethylene and chopped it into small plastic pellets called “nurdles,” which were shipped around the world to make products like grocery bags, bubble wrap, and action figures.
It’s a long journey, and every step of the way, plastic is heating the planet.[…]
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