Ten Plastic Pollution Facts that Show Why We Should Do More

Ten Plastic Pollution Facts that Show Why We Should Do More

Plastic is bad for the environment. We hear it constantly and policy makers keep repeating it over and over. Although plastic is valuable in many ways, plastic pollution is an unsustainable and unnecessary waste of that resource.


  • Packaging accounts for over 40% of total plastic use.
  • Globally, around 500 billion plastic bags are used annually. Every minute, more than 1 million bags are used.
  • Plastic bags have a 15-minute average “working life”.
  • In the past ten years, we have produced more plastics than in the entire last century.
  • The Container Recycling Institute estimates that 100.7 billion plastic drink bottles were sold in America in 2014, which is 315 bottles per household.
  • Plastic water bottles accounted for 57% of these units: 57.3 billion were sold in 2014. This is an increase of 3.8 billion plastic water bottles, which were sold in 1996.
  • Bottled water is produced with 6 times the amount of water required to make it than what is contained in the container.
  • Beverage containers account for 14% of litter. The number rises when you add caps and labels.

Are you aware of the extent of plastic pollution?

Some countries and cities have implemented plastic bans around the globe, but more needs to be done.

Governments and other organisations are taking steps to reduce plastic usage and improve the environment. Some retailers also have taken responsibility for the environment and committed to reducing plastic production.

Iceland supermarket and Ikea furniture store have plans to eliminate single-use plastics and make way for more sustainable alternatives. Many retailers have started to target plastic straws and cutlery. In some countries, even a single plastic bag can land you in jail.

We, as consumers, must also be aware of the environmental impact of our plastic consumption. These are the facts you need to learn about plastic.

1. Only 9% are recycled from all plastics

A Guardian report estimates that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been manufactured since 1950s. That’s roughly equivalent to more than 800,000. Eiffel Towers.

The UNEP reports that only 9 percent of plastic is recycled, while only 12 percent are incinerated. Restricted plastic can be found in landfills or dumps, and has polluted our environment.

2. Worldwide, 2,000,000 plastic bags are used each minute

Although this may seem like an incredible number, Ecowatch estimates that between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are being used each year worldwide.

According to the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation, New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually. This is why the city banned plastic grocery bags.

Plastic bag bans have proven to be very effective in countries where they are implemented. For example, in Ireland, a plastic bag fee of 5p (7c) was introduced in 2015. This has resulted in an 83% decrease in plastic bag usage.

According to a government report, April 2017, 1.3 billion plastic bags are still produced annually. However, the decline in bag use is a significant improvement.

3. Some parts of the world have made single-use plastics illegal.

2017 saw Kenya adopt one of the most stringent laws against plastic bags in the world. Kenyans caught selling, producing, or using plastic bags in Kenya face imprisonment up to four years and fines up to $40,000 (PS31,000).

China, France and Italy are just a few of the countries that have taxed or banned single-use plastic bags.

Here are some other cities and countries that have implemented extraordinary plastic bans.

4. Every minute of every single day, a truckload full of plastic is dumped in the ocean.

The World Economic Forum found that 32% of all plastic packaging is sent to the oceans each year. This figure is equivalent to pouring one garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every second.

5. Plastic makes up 73% of all beach litter in the world.

National Geographic reports that 73% of all beach litter contains plastic. This includes bottles, caps, food wrappers and grocery bags.

6. Every minute, one million plastic bottles are purchased

According to the Guardian, 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute in the world. This number will rise by 20% by 2021 if nothing is done.

According to the same report, more than 480 million plastic bottles were bought in 2016, up from 300 billion a decade ago.

In 2016, less than half the bottles were recycled. Only 7% of them were turned into new bottles and the rest ended up in landfills or the ocean.

7. By 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish

In partnership with the World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a report that found that plastic pollution could continue at the same rate as fish.

According to the report, oceans will have at least 937 billion tons of plastic and only 895 million tonnes of fish by 2050.

8. Ten rivers carry up to 95% of the plastic pollution oceans

Researchers from the World Economic Forum found that only 10 rivers in Asia and Africa account for 88-95% of plastic waste washed into oceans around the globe by 1,350 large rivers.

According to the study, eight of these rivers can be found in Asia: Yellow, Indus Yellow, Hai He Ganges Ganges Ganges Pearl, Amur and Mekong. The Nile and Niger are two of these rivers that can be found in Africa.

The study does not include all the waste that is found in oceans and seas. It only includes plastic waste that has been transported through rivers around the world to the oceans.

According to the WEF, the two common characteristics of all rivers is their high population and poor waste management.

9. By 2050, 99% of seabirds are expected to be eating plastic.

The United Nations estimates that plastic ingestion kills approximately 1 million and 100,000 marine birds each year. Scientists believe that plastic pollution will continue at this pace and that by 2050, nearly all of the world’s seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Plastic particles are also believed to be present in the stomachs of more than 90% percent of birds and fish. Plastic breaks down into small pieces in the ocean, which is then eaten by fish and other sea creatures.

10. An average person consumes 70,000 microplastics annually

According to an Environmental Pollution study, that amounts to approximately 100 microplastic pieces per meal.

Researchers placed sticky petri dishes next to dinner plates in three homes. The dishes collected an average of 14 microplastics after just 20 minutes.

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