22 Preposterous Facts about Plastic Pollution (and What We Can Do About It)

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Drowning in plastic...Enough plastic is-2 (640x640)

It seems nearly impossible to escape plastic in our every day lives, doesn’t it?

And we can’t escape plastic pollution, either.

Plastic is literally at my fingertips all day long. Plastic keyboard. Plastic framed computer monitor. Plastic mouse. The amount of plastic I encounter daily doesn’t end there. Chances are, you can relate. Plastic is an epidemic.

But where does all this plastic go? We ship some of it overseas to be recycled. Quite a bit ends up in landfills. And more than you can imagine ends up on the loose as plastic pollution, eventually making it’s way into our waterways.

Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes have even been found in our Great Lakes—the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world! Giant garbage patches (one twice the size of Texas) can be found floating around in the oceans. And all this plastic pollution is not only a problem for the earth, it’s bad for our health.

Green Diva Meg and I chatted about the plastic in our oceans on the recent Green Divas myEARTH360 Report podcast, which inspired me to uncover more facts about plastic in all of our lives and how it ends up in our precious water. Have a listen…

22 Preposterous Facts about Plastic Pollution.

  1. In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments—like grocery bags, straws and soda bottle—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. 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw it 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.plastic_world
  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 (bioplastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops).
  9. Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year (source: Brita)
  10. 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.
  11. Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  12. 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.
  13. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
  14. 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.


  15. 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.
  16. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.
    Preposterous #fact about #plastic: Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every… Click To Tweet
  17. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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).
  21. Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
  22. Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.

plastic oceans pollutionIs it possible to go plastic-free?

Click here to 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”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Reduce everyday plastics such as sandwich bags and juice cartons by replacing them with a reusable lunch bag/box that includes a thermos.
  4. Bring your to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop or restaurants that let you use them.  A great wat to reduce lids, plastic cups and/or plastic-lined cups.
  5. Go digital!  No need for plastic cds, dvds and jewel cases when you can buy your music and videos online.
  6. Seek out alternatives to the plastic items that you rely on.
  7. 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.
  8. Volunteer at a beach cleanup.  Surfrider Foundation Chapters often hold cleanups monthly or more frequently.
  9. Support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.
  10. Spread the word.  Talk to your family and friends about why it is important to reduce plastic in our lives and the nasty impacts of plastic pollution.

[Rise Above Plastics Source: Surfrider.org]

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 Photo used in graphic via shutterstock.
Plastic bag image via shutterstock.

About the author / 

Green Diva Lynn

Lynn Hasselberger is the former Managing Editor of The Green Divas blog and was a producer of the Green Divas Radio Show. She's also a mom, writer and award-winning cat-herder who lives in Chicagoland. Sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate and comedy are just a few of her fave things.

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  1. Anne@FlourSackMama.com'
    Anne April 4, 2014 at 11:56 am -  Reply

    Shocking! I thought everybody at least recycled! I find it hard to understand how only 5% of plastics are getting recycled since that’s the one item you can recycle anywhere.

    • Green Diva Lynn April 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm -  Reply

      That surprised me, too, Anne! If it wasn’t a stat I found on the 5 Gyres website, I wouldn’t have believed it! According to 5 gyres, here’s what happens to the rest of it: “Roughly 50% is buried in landfills, some is remade into durable goods, and much of it remains “unaccounted for”, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea.”

      • gregkamphuis@gmail.com'
        Gregory R Kamphuis July 20, 2015 at 12:56 pm -  Reply

        Hey Lynn,
        Just read “Plastic, A Toxic love Story” by Susan Freinkel, which is an easy and awesome read, and it said that recycling has been going down since the 1990s. This is largely because of the new way of picking up road side recycling, that isjust dumping everything in one box and leaving the recycling company to sort it. Since they cant easily sort the different types of plastics, a ton of it gets thrown out. Also, great list, I would like to see links to all of the sources though.

  2. toniat@itsmyb.com'
    Tonia Torrellas April 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm -  Reply

    “Say no more””!!! My passion and now business, is to reduce/eliminate all senseless “Pesky-Plastic”!
    As my reusable alternative solution works it’s way into peoples daily routines; we plan to tackle so many other traditionally disposable options as well!!
    Keep the faith! Portland Oregon is the first municipality to put a bill in place that will charge a “fee” for disposable dry cleaner bags…ugh! I wish people did not need legislation to “do the right thing”; but sadly…many do…

  3. toniat@itsmyb.com'
    Tonia Torrellas April 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm -  Reply

    Opps…alternative solution to dry cleaner disposable garment bags…

  4. bair.rachelk@gmail.com'
    Rachel Bair April 30, 2015 at 7:46 am -  Reply

    Hi Lynn!

    I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Georgia, and I want to use the facts in your article for a late Earth Day presentation on plastic pollution. I’ll be speaking to youth from some local civics clubs, and I’m hoping to encourage them to plan a local clean up along our river. I’m encouraging my student to find the source of information they get, so I wanted to be sure to do that in my presentation! I’m quoting your article as a source, but I was wondering, where did you get your facts from? I’d love to share that with my students, especially the ones who speak great English. Thanks for your help!

    All the best,

  5. sarah.alexander@water3.com.au'
    Sarah Alexander February 1, 2016 at 6:54 pm -  Reply

    Hi Lynn, thanks for such an interesting topic, we at water3 are in the process of developing an alternative for the need of plastic water bottles, I’d love to be able to contact you directly so we can share what we are up to.

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