24 Preposterous Facts about Plastic Pollution


The problem is different, less visible, and less understood than believed.

  1. In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments—like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles—are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.
  2. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  3. 33 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
  4. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
  5. We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
  6. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  7. Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.
  8. The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production (bio-plastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops)
  9. Also, bio-plastics plastics are not a viable alternative as some insignificantly decrease the time of decomposition while others are destined to a landfill which is already a problem of its own…
  10. Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year (source: Brita)
  11. Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.
  12. Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  13. 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.
  14. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
  15. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.
  16. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one. This is one of the five most notable gyres. They are better described as plastic soups than plastic islands.
  17. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
  18. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
  19. When phytoplankton and marine life eat plastic they alter their genetic makeup as their stomaches fill and never empty space for real nutrition. Afterwards, future generations are smaller and less developed and consequently affect animals up the food chain.
  20. 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. Plastic negatively effects over 700 species.
  21. In samples collected in Lake Erie, 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 and 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.
  22. Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
  23. Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical). BPA is only one among many of these harmful chemicals leeching onto plastic. (DDT and PCB have been banned for decades but persist.)
  24. Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.

Is it possible to go plastic-free?

Listen to the Green Divas feature interview with Beth Terry, author of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too.

Ten Ways To “Rise Above Plastic.”

  • Choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. Cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles are available locally at great prices.
  • Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws and other “disposable” plastics. Carry reusable utensils in your purse, backpack or car to use at bbq’s, potlucks or take-out restaurants.
  • Reduce everyday plastics such as sandwich bags and juice cartons by replacing them with a reusable lunch bag/box that includes a thermos.
  • Bring your to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop or restaurants that let you use them, which is a great way to reduce lids, plastic cups and/or plastic-lined cups.
  • Go digital! No need for plastic CDs, DVDs and jewel cases when you can buy your music and videos online.
  • Seek out alternatives to the plastic items that you rely on.
  • 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.
  • Volunteer at a beach cleanup. There is certainly an organization in your area and if there isn’t, start one! The beach isn’t the only place these plastics accumulate.
  • Support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.
  • Ask yourself… Does it makes sense to use things only once when they almost never go away? See plastic a durable good, not a single use good.

Spread the word, SHINE A LIGHT on this mostly invisible problem. Talk to your family and friends about why it is important to reduce plastic in our lives and the unsustainable impacts of plastic pollution. Other countries are realizing and taking action. Let’s not be left behind.

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