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The ocean is said to be Earth’s life support, with 97% of the world’s water held by the ocean. We rely on it to regulate our climate, absorb CO2 and it is the number one source for protein for over a billion people.
However, at the rate we are polluting the ocean with around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic a year, the damage we are doing to marine life and our ecosystem is becoming irreparable. Our actions over the 10 years will determine the state of the ocean for the next 10,000 years to come.
The plastic waste statistics below tell you everything you need to know about how much damage we’re doing to the ocean’s ecosystem, marine life and how it impacts humanity.
More than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year.
100% of baby sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs.
There is now 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our ocean & 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic makes their way into our oceans.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is around 1.6 million square kilometers – bigger than Texas.
The world produces 381 million tonnes in plastic waste yearly – this is set to double by 2034.
50% of this is single-use plastic & only 9% has ever been recycled.
Over 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging are used in the UK each year.
88% of the sea's surface is polluted by plastic waste.
Between 8 to 14 million tonnes enters our ocean every year.
Britain contributes an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of plastic annually.
The US contributes 38 million tonnes of plastic every year.
Plastic packaging is the biggest culprit, resulting in 80 million tonnes of waste yearly from the US alone.
On UK beaches there are 5000 pieces of plastic & 150 plastic bottles for each mile.
More than 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute.
The world uses over 500 billion plastic bags a year – that’s 150 for each person on Earth.
8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches, but only 1% of straws end up as waste in the ocean.
By 2020 the number of plastics in the sea will be higher than the number of fish.
1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption contains plastic.
Plastic microbeads are estimated to be one million times more toxic than the seawater around it.
Products containing microbeads can release 100,000 tiny beads with just one squeeze.
8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our ocean daily.
79% of plastic waste is sent to landfills or the ocean, while only 9% is recycled, and 12% gets incinerated.
25 trillion macro & 51 trillion microplastics litter our oceans.
Of that, 269,000 tonnes float on the surface.
This is the equivalent of 1345 blue whales & 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy.
4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer clutter the sea.
Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic pieces are dumped into our oceans yearly.
One garbage truck of plastic is discarded into our oceans every minute.
Approximately 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach in the UK.
165 million tonnes of plastic currently circulates in Earth's marine environments.
Only 1% of marine litter floats, everything else sinks to the sea floor.
Plastic has been found as far as 11km deep, contaminating the most remote places on Earth.
Plastic in the sea is predicted to increase tenfold by 2020.
Yearly, up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans. It escapes from landfill sites, floats down our drains, ends up in rivers and makes its way into our oceans. A lot of plastic waste is invisible to the naked eye, it collects in ocean gyres, where marine life feeds. It’s not only the single-use plastic, such as plastic bottles and straws you use but the microbeads in your cosmetics, the fibres in your clothing and in your teabags. As only 1% of this plastic floats, everything else sinks to the floor polluting the most remote places on earth.
At the rate we’re still using plastic, the problem is set to increase tenfold. The impact this has on the ecosystem, marine life and humans are potentially irreversible.
The patch is 617,763 square miles (or 1.6 million square kilometers)
It’s bigger than Texas and around 3 times the size of France.
It contains 8 trillion bits of plastic, weighing more than 80,000 tonnes.
46% of the rubbish in the garbage patch is made up of fishing nets.
The Patch is floating between Hawaii & California.
This trash vortex is a collection of two distinct patches connected by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.
There are 5 major ocean gyres which accumulate millions of pieces of plastic; our wildlife feed in these grounds.
The Pacific Trash Vortex, ranges from the West Coast of North America to Japan and is around 617,763 square miles in size. Two patches are connected to create one large vortex comprised of 1.8 trillion bits of plastic. The patch is comprised of 705,000 tonnes of marine-based activities such as fishing nets and around 56% comes from land-based activities – the main culprits here being Asia and North America.
Along with large items of plastic being ingested and entangling wildlife, the plastic debris in the patch blocks plankton and algae from receiving any sunlight. Plankton and algae produce nutrients for other creatures from carbon and sunlight if their existence is threatened the entire food web may change.
Marine plastic pollution has affected 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabirds of those examined.
Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed by ocean plastic every year.
700 species of marine animals are in danger of extinction due to plastic.
The population of tuna has declined by 74% since 1970, and 1 in 4 shark species is threatened with extinction.
1 in 3 marine animals have been found tangled in plastic.
Over 90% of all seabirds have plastic in their stomachs.
Sea turtles by-caught in fisheries operating within and around the patch can have up to 74% (by dry weight) of their diets composed of ocean plastics.
705,000 tonnes of discarded fishing nets drown mammals including seals – this is known as ‘ghost fishing’.
More than two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are suffering from plastic ingestion.
If coral encounters plastic the likelihood of it becoming diseased increases from 4% to 89%; a disastrous effect as coral is home to more than 25% of marine life.
How many animals die from ocean plastic pollution? While the true figure may not be known, we can estimate over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds are killed by ocean plastic every year. Along with this, 100% of baby sea turtles have plastics in their stomachs. With so many animals mistaking plastic items and particles for food, or becoming entangled, the impact of plastic waste on marine life has become a global crisis.
Animals consuming plastic can starve to death as the plastic fills their stomach preventing them from eating proper food, rupturing their organs or blocking food from traveling to the intestine. In one case in the Philippines a curvier beaker whale was found vomiting blood with over 88 pounds of plastic in its belly. Its body started to destroy itself from the inside due to the plastic waste.
Plastic pollution facts show it is ridding the world of marine species, with over 700 on the edge of extinction, including Hawaiian monk seals and loggerhead sea turtles. Along with larger mammals even the tiniest organisms can be impacted by toxic microplastics which in turn make their way up the food chain.
Plastics consistently make up 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied.
20% of all plastic waste in the sea comes from marine sources such as nets, ropes, and lines.
32% of plastic waste found was cigarette filters, 9% was food packaging, 8% bottle caps, and 6% tableware.
60% of the materials that form clothing are forms of plastic (Nylon, acrylic, polyester, etc). Your typical clothes wash will produce around 700,000 microplastic fibers.
138 billion plastic stirrers are tossed out in America on an annual basis.
The US discards 2 billion razors and 1 billion plastic toothbrushes a year.
In the UK we use around 8 billion cotton buds, which were in the top 10 items found during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean.
There are numerous reasons for ocean pollution, including toxic chemicals, nuclear waste and oil spillages, but plastic waste is high on that list. Out of the 381 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, only 9% of single-use plastics are recycled, with the remainder ending up in landfill & the sea.
Plastics come from both land and marine sources with marine contributing to 20% of plastic waste in the ocean; this comes from fishing fleets leaving ropes, lines and nets behind, which entangles and traps marine life.
Land contributes to around 80% of plastic waste, with one of the biggest contributors being single-use plastics such as bags and packaging. Sewer overflows, beach visitors leaving rubbish, insufficient waste management, construction, and illegal dumping all contribute to the vast sum of plastics entering our oceans.
More than 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute.
100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags.
Up to one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year – that’s 160,000 a second.
If you linked them end to end they would circle the globe 4,200 times.
Around 10% of those will end up in our oceans.
Less than 1 in 7 plastic bags are recycled.
The US is responsible for around 327 billion bags that end up in the seas.
A plastic bag is used on average for 15 minutes.
It can take anything between 20-1000 years for a plastic bag to break up.
How many plastic bags are in our oceans? Plastic bags are one of the most controversial forms of plastic pollution today. We use them for only 12-15 minutes on average and bin over 1 million of them every minute. The US is responsible for around 327 billion bags ending up in the sea every year.
Single use plastic is responsible for killing over 100,000 marine animals a year. Plastic bags contribute to these deaths by entangling wildlife and being mistaken for food by larger animals such as whales and turtles. They take between 20-1000 years to degrade, and each bag can kill numerous animals as it makes its way around our oceans for years and years to come.
50 million straws are used in the US per day.
At least 4.4 billion straws are thrown away every year in the UK.
Scientists estimate 7.5 million straws pollute US coastlines & between 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on coastlines around the world.
Plastic straws only make up about 1% of the plastic waste in the sea.
These single-use plastic statistics show plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup and they have been a huge topic for debate in recent years. The heart-breaking video of the sea turtle with a straw stuck in his nose went viral and helped launch the anti-plastic-straw movement.
Huge corporates such as McDonald’s banned plastic straws in its UK and Ireland restaurants, whilst American Airlines have banned straws on their flights and airport lounges. While this is great news in helping to reduce the billions of plastic straws we use every year, plastic straws only make up around 1% of plastic ocean waste.
500 billion plastic bottles are used every year – Meaning there are 66 times as many bottles as there are humans on the planet.
Recent estimates suggest there are 150 plastic bottles every mile of the UK coastline.
Americans use an estimated 50 billion plastic water bottles a year.
A plastic bottle can last for 450 years in the marine environment.
More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from around 300 billion a decade ago.
14% of all litter is from drinks containers.
Less than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were recycled.
7% of the ones collected were used to create new bottles.
The full number of plastic bottles in the sea may never be known, but out of the 500 billion, we’re using a year, at least less than half of those were recycled, leaving the rest to fill our waters and landfill sites.
Many plastic bottles used around the world are for drinking water, with China being the most responsible for the surge in demand over recent years. Along with this, major drinks companies such as Coca Cola produce the highest numbers of plastic bottles; analysis from Greenpeace estimates they produce over 100 billion plastic bottles a year.
The sheer volume of plastic bottles we’re using combined with poor waste management & recycling only adds to the ocean pollution problem. Bottles can last for 450 years, they will be ingested by marine life and as these plastics break down they will create thousands of floating microplastics, which are life-threatening to fish and mammals.
The biggest polluting country in the world is China.
The Top 10 worst offenders include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka & Egypt.
The top 5 countries contribute to 60% of all ocean plastic pollution.
The US was ranked in the Top 20.
18 billion pounds of plastic pollution flows into the sea from coastal regions yearly.
Only 10 river systems contribute to 90% of the plastic that flows into the sea.
Eight of these rivers are in Asia, the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Hai He, Ganges, Mekong, Amur, and Pearl.
The Nile and the Niger in Africa are the other two.
Two-thirds of plastic pollution comes from litter being washed down rivers and drains, left on beaches, or being dropped in towns or cities.
Industry spills, waste being flushed down toilets & badly managed landfill sites near the coast contribute to the problem.
Plastic enters our oceans by poor management at landfills, illegal dumping, being washed down rivers and drains and litter being left on beaches, in towns and cities.
Where we are all contributing to the plastic problem, the country contributing the most to plastic in our oceans is China, producing 8.8 million metric tonnes of mismanaged waste and around 3.53 million metric tonnes of ocean plastic. Other top offenders include Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka & Egypt. Along with 8 of Asia’s rivers and 2 rivers in Africa.
We have produced over 320 million tonnes of plastic – this is set to double by 2034.
Excessive marine pollution has helped create 500 dead zones (the size of the United Kingdom’s surface (245,000 km²) in the ocean – this number will double every decade.
The lack of oxygen in dead zones causes marine life to migrate to new areas – disrupting the balance of marine life in other parts.
70% of Earth’s oxygen is produced by marine plants.
30% of our CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans.
We’ve produced over 320 million tonnes of plastic to date, which is destroying parts of the environment; this is set to double by 2034. The impact of this plastic waste on the environment is set to become irreparable if we continue at the current rate.
Marine environments are becoming dead zones due to toxin pollution. In these areas, the oxygen is depleting, killing aquatic plants in these zones. This, in turn, causes marine life to migrate to new parts of the ocean, which disrupts the entire ecosystem.
70% of our oxygen is produced by marine plants and 30% of CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans. Combine this with the chemicals released from producing plastic, means we are vastly influencing the toxicity of our air and ecosystem, which inevitably leads to health issues of wildlife and humans.
1 in 3 fish for human consumption contains plastic.
It’s estimated seafood lovers eat 11,000 pieces of toxic plastic every year.
Microplastic can be found in tap water, beer and salt.
Numerous chemicals used to produce plastic are known to be carcinogenic and to interfere with the body’s hormone system causing reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders in both humans and wildlife.
95% of US adults have levels of BPA in their urine.
How does ocean plastic affect humans? At the rate our seafood is ingesting plastic, it’s highly likely we, at some stage, have consumed microplastics from the fish we eat.
Although the full extent of the impact is not yet known, what we do know is that these microplastics are full of toxic chemicals, which are bad for our health. Chemicals found in plastics such as BPA and phthalates have been found in humans and these affect hormones and cause issues with fertility and reproduction.