Just The Facts

From Land to Sea: Plastic Trash as Far as the Eye Can See

Millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year.

Credit: Rich Carey Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • In the United States, only 9% of post-consumer plastic (2.8 million tons) was recycled in 2012.
  • The United States was the 20th largest contributor to ocean waste plastic in 2010.
  • The bulk of the waste plastic that made its way into the Pacific Ocean in 2010 came from China.

1. In Europe, 26%, or 6.6 million tons, of the post-consumer plastic produced in 2012 was recycled, while 36% was incinerated for energy generation.

2. The remaining 38% of post-consumer plastics in Europe went to landfills.

3. In the United States, only 9% of post-consumer plastic (2.8 million tons) was recycled in 2012. The remaining 32 million tons were discarded.

4. Up to 20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, imposing an estimated $13 billion a year in damages to marine ecosystems.

5. The bulk of the waste plastic that made its way into the Pacific Ocean in 2010 came from China as well as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.

6. The United States was the 20th largest contributor to ocean waste plastic in 2010.

7. Animals such as seabirds, whales and dolphins can become entangled in plastic matter.

8. Smaller pieces can be ingested and transferred up the food chain, carrying chemical pollutants from prey to predator.

9. Many challenges associated with plastics could be addressed by improving management of the material across its life cycle.

10. This includes reducing unnecessary plastic consumption, finding more environmentally friendly packaging alternatives and improving product and packaging design to use less plastic.

11. The Environment Ministers of the G-20 nations have set a global governance goal among their leading economies of reducing and removing marine litter.

Sources: Worldwatch Institute, University of Georgia, The Globalist Research Center.

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