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Plastic bags in landfills can be carried by wind and caught in trees. European Parliament / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Martin LaMonica

From its arrival decades ago, plastic has transformed modern life. But in 2018, the alarm over the plastic pollution crisis sounded louder than ever. On Earth Day, the United Nations issued its first State of Plastics report, calling for more recycling and better ways to manufacture and manage the material in its many forms.

At The Conversation, we took a broad view of plastic, working with scholars to explain not only the environmental and health effects but also its cultural contribution and the industries that handle plastic goods—and waste.

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The crew of the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise voyage into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch document plastics and other marine debris. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a soupy mix of plastics and microplastics, now twice the size of Texas, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. Justin Hofman / Greenpeace

By Perry Wheeler

Throughout this year, people all over the globe united to take on plastic pollution. Greenpeace supporters have asked their local supermarkets to phase out throwaway plastics, helped us reach 3 million signatures to companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle and Unilever demanding they invest in real solutions and participated in beach cleanups and brand audits to name the worst corporate plastic polluters.

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AAron Ontiveroz / Denver Post / Getty Images

However, the infiltration of plastics into our daily lives goes much deeper, making it hard to avoid this polluting material which will remain in our ecosystems for centuries to come.

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A fisherman sorts great scallops off the French coast. These scallops can absorb billions of microplastics within six hours, a study has found. DAMIEN MEYER / AFP / Getty Images

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the proliferation of microplastics in the world's oceans is how they might move up the food web from smaller to larger marine life, eventually ending up in our stomachs.

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Magnus Larsson / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rachel Kaufman

Humans produce hundreds of millions of tons of plastic every year. As much as 12.7 million metric tons of it ends up in the ocean, where it can transport pathogens, or be mistaken for food by hungry animals.

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Microplastics. MPCA Photos / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Humanity has created more than 9 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, when large-scale production of the material first took off. Of that total, a staggering 76 percent has gone to waste. These days, plastics are found in most table salt, marine life and the deepest parts of the ocean. So is it any surprise that they have made it into our bodies, too?

A small study has detected microplastics in human excrement for the first time, raising larger questions about how the tiny particles can affect our health.

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