Did you know, that a million plastic bottles are purchased every minute around the world? Did you know, the world uses over 500 billion plastic bags a year? And each bag is being used on average for only 12 minutes? Did you know that every minute one garbage truck of plastic is being thrown into the oceans resulting in a floating garbage island that weighs 150 million metric tons? And finally, did you, that if nothing is going to change by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish? Plastic pollution facts are terrifying.
Yes, plastic has truly dominated our lives. Everything you have and use contains plastic: phones, computers, clothes, cars, furniture, household appliances and houses themselves. Plastic is…wait for it…even in our food and water!
How did it happen? How has our world changed into Planet Plastic?
And most importantly: what can we do stop this plastic-mania?
When people learned how to produce plastic it was like magic: plastic is cheap, sterile and convenient. But this invention quickly got out of hand…
Invented in 1907, plastic is made from polymers – long, repeating chains of molecule groups. In nature, polymers exist everywhere: in the walls of cells, silk, hair, insect carapaces, DNA.
But it’s also possible to create them. By breaking down crude oil to its components and rearranging them, we can create new, synthetic polymers (PET) which are lightweight, durable and can be moulded into any shape. Not requiring a lot of manual work, plastic can be easily mass produced, which makes it cheap.
And so the golden era of plastic began: we use bakelite for mechanical parts, PVC for plumbing, acrylic for glass and nylon for clothes and so on and so on…
Why did plastic stop being fantastic?
After a few decades what was supposed to be a revolutionary material, simply became trash. Instead of producing essentials, we started using this super tough material for things that meant to be thrown away: plastic cups, plastic food containers, plastic bottles, straws… . Single-use plastic got out of hand.
We used to think of it as something that comes and goes away. Unfortunately it doesn’t! Since synthetic polymers are so durable, it takes between 500 and 1000 years to break down, meaning: nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today!
It’s actually surprising, that we are not just floating on plastic islands surrounded by…well, plastic.
Here are 9 facts about plastic pollution that will shock you!
1. We produce 330 million tonnes of plastic every year! That’s more than all the people in the world weigh.
2. On average, 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year.
3. Coco-cola, one of the biggest plastic polluters, produces 120 billion plastic bottles every year. If you put them all in a line, the line would be 700 times longer than Equator.
4. It takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to break down and we use 500 billion plastic bottles yearly. That’s 66 times as many bottles as there are people in the world.
5. It’s been 60 years since the plastic bag was invented. It only took this many years to destroy our planet. Nowadays a plastic bag is a symbol of all the environmental evil. The first ever country to ban plastic bags was Bangladesh. The authorities could not cope with the removal of the effects of floods and drain rainwater, because the plumbing was clogged with millions of plastic bags!
6. Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced was recycled.
7. The average person eats at least 50.000 Microplastics each year! Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic (smaller than 5mm), that are either released from, for example, your clothes, cosmetics or toothpaste (microbeads), or they’re fragments of a larger body of plastic such as a plastic bag or bottle that is gradually breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. 51 trillion of such particles float in the ocean. Microplastics are often mistaken by marine animals for plankton. Zooplankton eat microplastics, fish eat zooplankton, bigger fish eat smaller fish and then you eat bigger fish…and voilà! Plastic has found an easy way into your body. Microplastics have been found in tap water, sea salt, beer, honey…
8. 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomach. They die of starvation, caused by indigestible plastic.
9. 80% of plastic in the ocean originates on land. How do they end up in the ocean? Sea currents take plastic waste that is left on the shore by man or which is stored in landfills near the shore. Non-utilized waste goes to water networks – rivers, lakes and, as a consequence, to seas and oceans.
It’s all very overwhelming, isn’t it?
Plastic pollution facts are horrifying and you might think: well, we already lost the war with plastic, so what’s the point? Or: I’m just one person, I can’t change the world. Or: it’s impossible to fully eliminate plastic from our lives.
And…partially right, but…
“Every victory against plastic begins with a single person or small group of people deciding that the time to take action is now.”Will Mccallum, “How to give up plastic”
It’s never too late to start making changes! And where better to start if not with ourselves and our environment. Yes, reducing your plastic usage by a bottle here and a bag there, might not save the world instantly, but every good act spreads and sends a message. Maybe this salesperson who tries to push a plastic bag onto you, will come to certain conclusion when you say no for the 50th time. Or maybe someone will think your reusable coffee mug matches their hair colour and would like to get the same one.
And that’s true, we can’t totally eliminate plastic from our lives, but we can start reducing its usage.
If plastic pollution facts overwhelm you, find out what are easy ways to reduce plastic in your everyday life.
Pin for later!
McCallum, W. (2018), How to give up plastic, Penguin Life
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, (2018), Plastic Pollution – how Humans are turning the World into plastic, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhwc9V0fML4