In our current “take-make-waste” economic structure, the waste that we are producing is simply staggering. For years people have been bringing to light the issues with producing so much single-use plastic, but it’s hard to get a grasp on how big the plastic pollution problem actually is. Roughly 40% of plastic produced today is for single-use items – so something that gets a few minutes of actual use has an environmental impact that lasts hundreds of years. In fact, the environmental impact is far outweighed by convenience. Keep in mind: Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years. This is not a problem that’s getting better from awareness – it is at critical mass.
So how bad is the plastic waste epidemic?
You can watch countless documentaries like Plastic Planet on Netflix but be warned: what you will see is disturbing. There are countless studies and research materials from sources like National Geographic that detail exactly how bad the plastic pollution problem is.
Here is a small collection of plastic pollution facts that give a glimpse into the epidemic of plastic:
- Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
- 3 BILLION Metric Tons (9.1 BILLION US Tons) of plastic has been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s.
- The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity
- If plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound-for-pound by 2050
- There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way
- In heavily polluted areas of the marine environment, like the North Pacific Central Gyre, the mass of plastic is up to six times greater than the mass of plankton
- Less than 20% of all plastics are recycled globally
- Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
- ONE MILLION plastic bottles are bought EVERY MINUTE around the world — and that number will top half a TRILLION by 2021. Less than half of those bottles end up getting recycled
- 8% of the world oil reserve is used to make plastics, it will increase to 20% by 2050
- Producing the plastic bottles for American consumption of bottled water in 2006 required 3 liters of water to produce each 1 liter of bottled water. Production of these water bottles also required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation
- Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide
- Several studies on plastic microfibers and Nano plastics have indicated that these particles are able to be ingested by marine animals and bioaccumulate up the food chain, carrying with them adhered chemicals and toxins, posing health impacts to both wildlife and human consumers of seafood
- In the United States, 94% of tap water samples contained plastic
Along with food waste, plastic pollution is the most pressing environmental issue. It’s time to re-think the way we package foods and consumer goods. With the increasing availability of bioplastics and other alternatives, the days of single-use plastic should be coming to an end. It’s up to the manufacturers to take the lead on ending the plastic epidemic.