Quantcast
Popular
Plastic debris collected by NOAA staff and volunteers on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific ocean. Holly Richards / USFWS / Flickr

20 Facts About Our Plastic-Packed Planet and 9 Ways to Help

Plastic is moldable, durable, and its versatility means it's everywhere and in everything from computers to medical devices. Its benefits are impossible to deny, but our relationship to this marvelous material is ultimately an unhealthy one. We undervalue and overuse plastic and in turn overdispose of it.

Our plastic addiction has created a dilemma that has made plastic an indispensable part of the modern world while simultaneously contaminating the oceans, choking landfills and even harming our health.


Each year humans send an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic out to sea. Our massive waste management problem means that pound for pound, humans are on pace to fill oceans with more plastic than there are fish by 2050.

Around the globe a million plastic bottles are bought and sold every 60 seconds, on average. This figure will spike another 20 percent by 2021. Last year, 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were consumed around the world. To put this into perspective, if placed end to end, the water bottles produced in 2016 would reach more than halfway to the sun.

Plastic is so pervasive that it has even made its way into the food chain and our drinking water. Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium calculated that the average European shellfish consumer eats up to 6,400 microplastics per year. Similarly, 83 percent of tap water samples in a recent investigation were found to contain microplastics.

So, let's break down some the staggering figures surrounding this ubiquitous material and what its presence means for the planet:

  • Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and only seven percent of those collected were turned into new bottles.
  • In 2016, Coca Cola increased its production of single-use bottles by more than a billion, according to an analysis by Greenpeace.
  • Coca Cola alone produces 3,400 bottles a second.
  • Half of all plastic becomes trash within a year.
  • A recent study found that plastic was found in nearly a third of UK-caught fish.
  • Even uninhabited islands in the pacific are polluted by plastic. In 2017, marine scientists found that Henderson Island, a tiny island in the South Pacific, was covered by roughly 18 tons of plastic.
  • More than 200 animal species have been documented consuming plastic, including turtles, whales, seal, birds and fish.
  • 90 percent of seabirds eat plastic and nearly every seabird will consume it by 2050, according to a 2016 study.
  • The U.S. has the world's highest rate of microplastic water contamination—94.4 percent of tap water samples contained plastic fibers, which are known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals.
  • Europe, which was found to have the lowest rate of microplastic water contamination, had a contamination rate of 72.2 percent.
  • In 2017, the European chemicals agency decided that BPA was an "endocrine disruptor."
  • More than 90 percent of the world's population have traces of BPA in their urine sample.
  • Although we know about the pervasiveness of plastic, very little is understood about the effects of its consumption, a phenomenon that nearly all humans are a part of.
  • In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments—grocery bags, straws and soda bottles—are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.
  • Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces.
  • The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world's oil production, according to estimates.
  • The heart of the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is thought to be around 386,000 square miles, with the periphery spanning a further 1,351,000 square miles. According to the UN Environmental Programme, the patch is becoming visible from space.

What can be done to scale back this problem?

  • Pressure politicians. While day-to-day actions are important, ultimately macro policies are needed to make meaningful change. Governments should be funding research into microplastics and regulating and incentivizing changes in plastic production and consumption.
  • Complain to retailers. Pressure retailers to do away with over-packaging.
  • Support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.
  • Use natural clothing fiber rather than synthetic clothing, as synthetic cloth releases plastic fiber in every wash cycle.
  • Choose to reuse. Neither plastic shopping bags nor plastic water bottles can be easily recycled.
  • Deposit return schemes are highly effective ways to reduce plastic bottle waste. In Germany, where a bottle-return program is in place, nearly 98 percent of plastic bottles are returned.
  • Recycle. If you must use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics.
  • Avoid plastic bags and polystyrene foam as both typically have very low recycling rates.
  • Seek out alternatives to the plastic items that you rely on.
Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals

Close-up of beluga whale swimming in water. Graham Swain / EyeEm / Getty Images

Beluga Whale in River Thames 'Very Lost and Quite Possibly in Trouble'

Beluga whales are normally found in icy Arctic and subarctic waters. So onlookers were undoubtedly surprised to spot one of the distinctive white whales swimming very far south in the UK's River Thames.

Ecologist and ornithologist Dave Andrews first posted footage of the unusual sighting onto Twitter on Tuesday and said the whale was feeding around the barges near the town of Gravesend in northwest Kent.


Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Environmentalists paint "DIRTY" onto a silo at an Indonesia palm oil plant. Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

Rock Band Occupies Palm Oil Tanks With Activists Protesting Deforestation

Thirty activists, including members of Greenpeace and the Indonesian rock band Boomerang, occupied a palm oil refinery owned by Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil trader, on Tuesday to protest deforestation in Indonesia.

The environmentalists abseiled down silos and unfurled a banner that read "Drop Dirty Palm Oil Now" and painted the word "DIRTY" onto another tank.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Pixabay

Trump Administration Asks Court to Re-Hear Case That Banned Chlorpyrifos

The Trump administration is appealing a federal court ruling that ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide tied to brain damage and other health problems in children.

In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the EPA must ban the pesticide within 60 days based on strong scientific evidence that chlorpyrifos—which is applied on dozens of fruit, nut and vegetable crops—is unsafe for public health.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Katharina Jaeger / LOOK / Getty Images

Locals Unite to Stop Hog Farms From Polluting Their Community

By Wyatt Massey

Sue George never intended to be an activist. The soft-spoken, retired elementary school teacher was content on her century farm near Lime Springs, a town in the rolling hills of northeast Iowa with a tad under 500 people.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Science
Young Florida panthers, one of the most endangered species in the U.S. according to the Center for Biological Diversity. USFWS

9,000+ Scientists Defend Endangered Species Act in Letter to Trump Administration

Thousands of scientists have signed two letters opposing changes to the Endangered Species Act proposed by the Trump administration that critics say would weaken protections in favor of developers, Reuters reported Monday.

The proposed changes were announced by the Interior and Commerce Departments in July, and include axing the "blanket rule' granting threatened species the same protections as endangered species and removing language telling officials not to consider economic impacts when listing a species.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Sandy Huffaker / Corbis / Getty Images

EPA Watchdog: 'Emergency' Pesticide Approval Process Is Flawed

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of the Inspector General released a report Tuesday finding that the agency's practice of routinely granting "emergency" approval for use of pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
Russian and U.S. students carry bug spray for the mosquitoes, bear spray for the grizzlies and notebooks for the salmon science, while studying in Alaska's backcountry. John Simeone on behalf of WWF

Sharing Knowledge and Salmon Across the Bering Sea

By Amy McDermott

At the height of the Alaskan summer, a troupe of students hiked up the middle of a shallow creek. Undergraduates and grads from the University of Washington, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Kamchatka State Technical University in eastern Russia carried handheld clickers to count the multitudes of salmon thrashing upstream to spawn. Some of the students spoke English, others Russian, but they all came to see salmon: fish that their two countries share.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
The Orangutans in Indonesia have been known to be on the verge of extinction as a result of deforestation and poaching.
Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images News

5 Ways to Make Food Production and Land Use More Earth-Friendly

By Edward Davey

The world is vastly underestimating the benefits of acting on climate change. Recent research from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. This ground-breaking research, produced by the Global Commission and more than 200 experts, highlights proof points of the global shift to a low-carbon economy, and identifies ways to accelerate action in five sectors: energy, cities, food and land use, water and industry. Our blog series, The $26 Trillion Opportunity, explores these economic opportunities in greater detail.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!