Skip to content

12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you

    Plastics pollution is a real danger to our planet, and it is likely something you already know a little bit about. With McDonald’s replacing their plastic straws with paper, shops charging for carrier bags, and a new wave of reusable products (bottles, beeswax wraps to replace clingfilm and much more) it’s obvious how much of a big issue this is. Our planet is suffering, and there are definitely things we can do to try and rectify the problem. Here are 12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you, to show how serious this is!

    1. There are 12 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean each year

    That is a huge amount of plastic. Most of it makes its way there from the land, but some plastic is dumped directly into our beautiful oceans. This causes drastic levels of plastics pollution, and is really damaging to the water itself as well as to the creatures who call it home. According to Surfers Against Sewage, there are approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, in our oceans. This is a devastating amount, and really proves why reusable bottles and bags are a much better investment for our planet.

    2. 90% of plastic is made from fossil fuels

    12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you

    If you know anything about global warming and climate change, then you likely know how damaging fossil fuels are to our environment – hence the focus on finding other ways working to eliminate these nasty chemicals from industrial processes. 

    ‘Coal, crude oil, and natural gas are all considered fossil fuels because they were formed from the fossilized, buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Because of their origins, fossil fuels have a high carbon content’ say the NRDC. ‘When we burn oil, coal, and gas, we don’t just meet our energy needs—we drive the current global warming crisis as well. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to climate change. In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels, particularly for the power and transportation sectors, accounts for about three-quarters of our carbon emissions.

    The process of making plastic products requires so much fossil fuel, that the demand for them is having a clearly damaging impact on our environment.

    3. 50% of plastic is single use

    It is estimated that 50% of the plastic products we use are single-use; they are used once and simply discarded after that. This includes water bottles, food packaging, takeaway containers, straws, cigarette filters, carrier bags, disposable vapes and so much more. This means a huge amount of plastic is basically heading straight to landfill, where it takes millions of years to decompose and disappear from our planet. Until then it just sits, taking up space at best and emitting harmful chemicals at worst!

    If you want to be more sustainable, both as a tourist and in your day to day life, cutting out single use plastic is one of the easiest and best ways to do so! There are all sorts of other options available now, from bamboo cutlery for your next camping trip to cute canvas bags designed to replace plastic carrier bags when you do your weekly food shop. This really helps lower the level of plastics pollution.

    We cannot reduce the amount of plastics pollution unless we reduce the amount of plastic in circulation in the first place. The OECD says ‘reducing pollution from plastics will require action, and international co-operation, to reduce plastic production, including through innovation, better product design and developing environmentally friendly alternatives, as well as efforts to improve waste management and increase recycling

    Bans and taxes on single-use plastics exist in more than 120 countries but are not doing enough to reduce overall pollution. Most regulations are limited to items like plastic bags, which make up a tiny share of plastic waste, and are more effective at reducing littering than curbing plastics consumption. Landfill and incineration taxes that incentivise recycling only exist in a minority of countries.’

    4. Only 1% of plastics pollution in the sea floats

    12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you

    This is what makes it so difficult to get rid of all the plastic in our rivers, seas and oceans. 99% of the plastic (and much of it is microplastic) has already sunk to the bottom of the sea making it unreachable. This also makes it more of an invisible issue, so people are less likely to focus on this as something which needs solving. But plastics pollution is a really serious issue!

    5. 100% of mussels tested contained microplastics

    A big focus on the scary facts about plastics pollution seems to be on our seas and oceans – this is because that is where most of it sadly ends up. And it is scary to think that a lot of the seafood we consume contains plastic; microplastic is barely detectable, especially to the naked eye, but it can be dangerous when consumed. A lot of fish and shellfish consume plastic when it gets dumped into their habitat – this then stays within their stomachs, so that when they are caught and prepared to be eaten by us, it’s still there.

    6. Humans consume around 40 pounds of plastic in their lifetime

    Following on from that fact, each of us will consume around 40 pounds (a whopping 18 kg) of plastic in our lifetime. You might be thinking ‘surely not’, but this is the estimate! Most of these are, of course, microplastics. You won’t even know if and when you’re eating plastic, for the most part, because it’s in just about everything. But as mentioned, microplastics are mostly undetectable so there’s no real way of figuring out if your food has any in it!

    Dr Charlie Rosky says “In a few short decades, we’ve gone from seeing plastic as a wonderful benefit to considering it a threat. And for good reason. We now know that these plastic particles don’t just pass through our digestive system. Instead, they, along with known toxins attached to them, are indeed making their way into human tissue. What we don’t know definitively yet is the impact that these particles are having on our bodies. Are they just a nuisance or a health hazard? I’ll bet on the latter, but science must play out on that question.”

    7. The average American uses 156 plastic bottles every year

    12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you

    Studies show that 1000 people open a plastic bottle every second in America, which equates to each person using 156 per year. Again, these are single use so they end up chucked in the bin and making their way to landfill or the ocean. In total, estimates suggest there are 500 billion single use plastic bottles used every single year. This is a mindblowing number, and something we are all guilty of to some degree!

    8. Less than 9% of plastic gets recycled

    12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you

    According to the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development), less than 9% of plastic actually ends up being recycled. 15% of all plastic is collected to be recycled, but 40% of this is disposed of as ‘residues’. This is an issue with waste management companies, certainly, but if only 15% of plastic is actually collected for recycling then there is clearly an individual issue too. If you live somewhere where your waste is collected separately, make sure you are always doing your best to separate them correctly. Anything which can be recycled, should!

    9. Plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years

    Plastics pollution is getting worse because the amount of plastic we demand, use and discard has grown so much in the past 3 decades. This is largely because of industry growth and new emerging markets, like the rise in fast fashion which uses a lot of plastic during the process as well as technology and processed food industries.

    Things are so different now to how they were even 30 years ago; there has been a massive rise in convenience, people wanting things quickly and easily. This ultimately means that more and more plastic is used. And so much has changed in terms of material used for clothing, for childrens’ toys, for food packaging and much more.

    Of course, some plastic is simply unavoidable. The medical industry needs syringes, for example, and some disabled people are unable to use paper straws so do rely on plastic ones.

    10. 1 million marine mammals are killed by plastics pollution each year

    12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you

    There are many dangers when it comes to plastics pollution, but perhaps none more talked about than the impact it has on sea creatures. Everyone has seen the imagery of turtles with plastic can rings wrapped around their necks, for example, which is definitely a big issue. Animals can become trapped in plastic bags or other items, which can either injure them or leave them stuck and unable to fend for themselves against predators or in search of food.

    And of course, marine creatures also ingest plastic – and it can poison them, making them really poorly or even killing them. It can fill their stomachs, leaving them unable to eat and digest anything else so they ultimately die of starvation. This, in turn, means our seas and oceans are full of dead creatures which has a negative impact on the chemical levels of the water itself. Plastics pollution causes issues in waves, if you’ll pardon the pun…

    11. A plastic bag is only used for around 12 minutes

    Most people have a stash of plastic bags, used to transport goods home from the shops, in a cupboard under the sink or in the pantry. And a lot of us keep these bags for years, refusing to get rid of them, planning to reuse them. But do we? A lot of people have great intentions when it comes to reusing the same shopping bag time and time again, but more often than not we find ourselves at the checkout and realise the bags are still in the car – or worse, still in that cupboard!

    So even though we might own one particular plastic bag for a number of years, we actually only end up using it for its intended purpose for around 12 minutes during that time. And then they take around 1000 years to degrade in landfill. Worse still, they don’t completely break down; instead they become microplastics, working their way into our environment. You can read more about single use plastic bags here.

    12. There could be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050

    I’m finishing up this list of 12 plastics pollution facts that will scare you by heading back to the ocean, where plastics pollution is at its worst. When we think of the ocean, we should be seeing gorgeous blue water full of colourful fish, majestic dolphins, pretty boats and all that good stuff. Of course, a lot of the ocean is currently undiscovered – and we can let our imaginations run wild about that! But what we shouldn’t see when we picture the sea, is more plastic than fish. 

    However, if things carry on the way they are right now, that’s exactly the way things will end up by the time we reach 2050. That seems like it’s a way away, but in reality it’s less than 30 years; if plastic consumption has quadrupled in the past 30 years, what is going to happen in the next 3 decades?! This is why it is so important to find ways in which we can live without (especially single use) plastic, by researching alternatives.

    Key facts about plastic pollution

    So what are the most important takeaways about plastics pollution?

    1. Plastic pollution refers to the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment, including land, waterways, and oceans.
    2. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, meaning that plastic pollution can persist in the environment for a very long time.
    3. Plastic pollution harms wildlife by entangling animals and causing ingestion of plastic particles, leading to injury, illness, and death.
    4. Plastic pollution also harms human health by contaminating food and water sources with harmful chemicals from plastic.
    5. Single-use plastics, such as straws, bottles, and packaging, are a significant contributor to plastic pollution.
    6. Only a small percentage of plastic waste is recycled, with the majority of plastic waste ending up in landfills or the environment.
    7. The amount of plastic produced globally is increasing rapidly, with production expected to triple by 2050.
    8. Plastic pollution has a significant impact on the economy, including tourism and fishing industries, and the cost of cleaning up plastic waste.
    9. Plastic pollution in the ocean is a particular concern, with an estimated 8 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year.
    10. Plastic pollution is a global issue, affecting countries and communities worldwide, and requires action from individuals, governments, and businesses to reduce plastic waste and prevent further pollution.

    Plastics pollution- To conclude

    If you were interested in this article about plastics pollution, you might also be interested in these other articles around some similar topics-