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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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Workers collect salt crystals on Aug. 22 at Aigues-Mortes where the salt pans cover 10,000 hectares. PASCAL GUYOT / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A year after researchers at a New York university discovered microplastics present in sea salt thanks to widespread plastic pollution, researchers in South Korea set out to find out how pervasive the problem is—and found that 90 percent of salt brands commonly used in homes around the world contain the tiny pieces of plastic.

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A seagull pecks at a plastic bag on Jan. 30, 2017, in Venice Beach, California. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

By Lorraine Chow

The world's plastic problem may seem vast and incalculable, but its footprint has actually been measured. In a sweeping 2015 study, researchers calculated that 9 billion tons of the material have been made, distributed and disposed in fewer than 70 years. That's an astonishing figure, but it's also one that's hard to picture. Perhaps a better way to illustrate the problem of plastics is by looking at the damage that can be caused by a single drinking straw.

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Mosquito larvae can mistake tiny bits of plastic for food. fuentedelateja / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Microplastics, which get gobbled up by whales, deep-sea fish and plankton, have also turned up in the bodies of mosquitoes, scientists have revealed.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, is the first to show that bits of plastic can be transferred between a mosquito's life stages that use different habitats.

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The Cora Ball can be dropped inside a washing machine to snag free-floating microfibers before they go down the drain. Rozalia Project

As Fashion Week kicks off in New York City Thursday, it's a good time to think about the impact that our clothing has on the environment.

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Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Contact lenses may appear harmlessly soft and small, but a big chunk of American users are improperly disposing their used lenses and adding to the planet's microplastic problem, Arizona State University researchers found.

In a survey of 409 wearers, about 1 in 5 responded that they flushed their used lenses down the toilet or sink instead of throwing them in the trash, according to a new study presented at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting and Exposition.

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