10 Plastic Pollution Facts That Show Why We Need To Do More
Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California.
These areas of spinning debris are linked together by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, located a few hundred kilometers north of Hawaii. This convergence zone is where warm water from the South Pacific meets up with cooler water from the Arctic. The zone acts like a highway that moves debris from one patch to another.
The entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch is bounded by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. An ocean gyre is a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is created by the interaction of the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific currents. These four currents move in a clockwise direction around an area of 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles).
The area in the center of a gyre tends to be very calm and stable. The circular motion of the gyre draws debris into this stable center, where it becomes trapped. A plastic water bottle discarded off the coast of California, for instance, takes the California Current south toward Mexico. There, it may catch the North Equatorial Current, which crosses the vast Pacific. Near the coast of Japan, the bottle may travel north on the powerful Kuroshiro Current. Finally, the bottle travels westward on the North Pacific Current. The gently rolling vortexes of the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches gradually draw in the bottle.
The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.
We seriously need to do something about our plastic pollution
Plastic is terrible for the environment. David Attenborough and the Blue Planet II team really brought the issue home — and now, brilliantly, we hear about it all the time.
Countries and cities around the world are banning plastic use left, right, and centre, and the call for the end of single-use plastics is at an all-time high.
Stores such as Iceland and Ikea have introduced plastic bans that will go into effect within the next couple of years. Meanwhile, plastic straws and cutlery have been targeted by numerous retailers, including McDonald’s in and having a plastic bag is enough to land you in jail in some countries.
Some governments and organisations are doing their part to reduce plastic use and better the environment, but as everyday consumers, it’s important for you to know how and why the end of plastic use is so vital.
Read more: US and Japan Refuse to Sign G7 Pact Against Plastic Pollution
Here are some lesser-known facts about plastic you really need to know.
1. Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide.
According to a report from the Guardian, an estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s — that’s equivalent to the weight of more than 800,000 Eiffel Towers.
And only 9% of it has been recycled.
2. In some parts of the world, using plastic is already illegal.
Kenya introduced one of the world’s toughest laws against plastic bags in 2017. Now, Kenyans who are caught producing, selling, or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000).
Other countries that have banned, partially banned, or taxed single-use plastic bags include China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.
You can find about other countries and cities that have brought in extraordinaryplastic bans here.
Read More: Eight months on, is the world’s most drastic plastic bag ban working?
3. 73% of beach litter worldwide is plastic.
According to National Geographic, 73% of all beach litter is plastic.The litter includes filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, and polystyrene containers.
4. A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.
A report by the Guardian found that 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, and this number is set to increase by another 20% by 2021 if we don’t act.
The same report said more than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were purchased in 2016 across the world — up from 300 billion a decade ago.
Additionally, less than half of the bottles purchased in 2016 were recycled — with just 7% of those collected turned into new bottles, and the rest ending up in landfill sites or the ocean.
5. Worldwide, about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.
This might seem like an unbelievable number, but according to Ecowatch, between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually.
New Yorkers alone use 23 billion plastic bags every year, according to the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation (which is why it’s so great that the city is getting a ban on grocery bags).
Read more: The Is Set to Protect a Marine Area 8 Times the Size of Greater
Bans on plastic bags have already proved to be extremely effective in the countries that have them. In for example, the introduction of a 5p plastic bag charge introduced in 2015 has brought about an 83% reduction in plastic bag use.
While Britain still produces 1.3 billion plastic bags a year, according to a government report in April 2017, the fall in use marks significant progress.
6. 90% of plastic polluting our oceans is carried by just 10 rivers.
According to World Economic Forum researchers, just 10 rivers across Asia and Africa carry 90% of the plastic that ends up in the oceans.
The study states that eight of these rivers are in Asia: the Yangtze, Indus, Yellow, Hai He, Ganges, Pearl, Amur, and Mekong. Two of the rivers can be found in Africa: the Nile and the Niger.
The WEF added that the two things all the rivers named have in common is a high population living in the area, as well as a poor waste management system.
7. Plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year.
A study conducted by the University of Queensland in Australia, based on data collected since the late 1980s, found that Green sea turtles now ingest twice the plastic they did 25 years ago.
According to the United Nations, ingestion of plastic kills an estimated 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.
Additionally, more than 90%of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomach. It’s because plastic breaks up into tiny pieces in the sea, which are then consumed by fish and other sea animals.
Research from Plymouth University has found that close to 700 species of marine life are facing extinction due to the increase of plastic pollution.
8. The average person eats 70,000 microplastics each year.
That works out to about 100 bits of microplastic over the course of just one meal, according to a study published in Environmental Pollution.
A team of-based researchers put petri dishes with sticky surfaces next to dinner plates in three homes. After just 20 minutes, the dishes accumulated an average of 14 microplastics.
Read more: Hong Kong Looks to Install ‘Reverse Vending Machines’ to Help Curb Plastic Waste
9. The average time that a plastic bag is used for is … 12 minutes.
Yep, that’s right — they’re used for an average of 12 minutes and then take up to a thousand years to decompose.
10. Over the past 50 years, world plastic production has doubled.
While increasing numbers of organisations and countries are banning plastic use and production, the world’s leading plastic manufacturers are planning to increase production by almost a third over the next five years, according to the World Economic Forum.
In 1974, global plastic consumption per year was 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) per capita. Today, this has increased to 43 kilograms (about 95 pounds) — and this number is still set to increase.
If plastic consumption increases at its current rate, according to National Geographic, by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills.
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030. These goals include action on improving life on land and life below water, as well as creating communities and cities that are sustainable.