Fast Facts About Plastic Pollution

Versatile, pliable, durable, cheap to produce—and ubiquitous. Plastic is all of that. It is also both a life-saving miracle product and the scourge of the Earth. Here are eight essential facts to keep in mind.

This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge.

Some 18 billion pounds

of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year

from coastal regions.

That’s the equivalent of

five grocery bags of

plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline

around the world.

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: Jenna R. Jambeck,

University of Georgia

Some 18 billion pounds of plastic

waste flows into the oceans

every year from coastal regions.

That’s the equivalent of

five grocery bags of plastic trash

sitting on every foot of coastline

around the world.

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: Jenna R. Jambeck, University of Georgia

40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded.

Global plastic production by industry

in millions of tons

72

Building and

construction

161

Packaging

52

Other

65

Textiles

46

Consumer

products

3

Industrial

machinery

19

Electrical

30

Transportation

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: ROLAND GEYER,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

40 percent of plastic produced is packaging,

used just once and then discarded.

Global plastic

production

by industry

in millions of tons

72

Building and

construction

161

Packaging

52

Other

65

Textiles

46

Consumer

products

3

Industrial

machinery

19

Electrical

30

Transportation

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: ROLAND GEYER,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

Shoppers in the United States use

almost one per resident per day.

Shoppers in Denmark use an average of four plastic bags a year.

Average annual plastic-bag usage per resident

United States ~365

Denmark 4

NGM STAFF. SOURCES: TRAVIS WAGNER, University

of Southern Maine; BIO INTELLIGENCE SERVICE

Average annual plastic-

bag usage per resident

United

States

~365

Shoppers in the United States use almost one per resident per day.

Shoppers in Denmark use an average of four plastic bags a year.

Denmark

4

NGM STAFF. SOURCES: TRAVIS WAGNER, University of Southern Maine;

BIO INTELLIGENCE SERVICE

448

Nearly half of

all plastic ever manufactured

has been made

since 2000.

250

44%

of all

plastic ever

manufactured

Global plastic

production

in millions of tons

2.3

1950

2000

2015

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: ROLAND GEYER,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

448

Nearly half of all plastic

ever manufactured

has been made

since 2000.

250

44%

of all

plastic ever

manufactured

Global plastic production

in millions of tons

2.3

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

2010

2015

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: ROLAND GEYER,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

Half the world’s plastics

are made in Asia.

The lion’s share of that—

29 percent—is made in China, home

to 18 percent of the world’s population.

China

29%

Rest

of Asia

21%

Distribution

of global

plastic

production

Other 2%

Latin America

4%

Middle

East/

Africa

7%

Europe

19%

NAFTA

countries

18%

NGM STAFF. SOURCES: PLASTICSEUROPE;

POPULATION REFERENCE BUREAU

China

29%

Rest of Asia

21%

Half the world’s plastics are made in Asia.

The lion’s share of that—

29 percent—is made in China, home to 18 percent of the world’s population.

Other 2%

Latin America

4%

Distribution

of global

plastic production

Middle East/

Africa

7%

Europe

19%

NAFTA

countries

18%

NGM STAFF.

SOURCES: PLASTICSEUROPE;

POPULATION REFERENCE BUREAU

Less

than a fifth

of all plastic is

recycled globally.

Plastic recycling rates are highest

in Europe at 30 percent. China’s rate is 25 percent. The United States recycles just 9 percent of its plastic trash.

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: ROLAND GEYER,

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

Less

than a fifth

of all plastic is recycled globally.

Plastic recycling rates are highest in Europe at 30 percent.

China’s rate is 25 percent.

The United States recycles just 9 percent of its plastic trash.

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: ROLAND GEYER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles

are sold every minute

around the world. In 2015,

Americans purchased about 346 bottles per person—

111 billion plastic

beverage bottles in all.

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: EUROMONITOR INTERNATIONAL;

CONTAINER RECYLCING INSTITUTE

Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles

are sold every minute around the world. In 2015,

Americans purchased about 346 bottles

per person—

111 billion plastic

beverage bottles in all.

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: EUROMONITOR INTERNATIONAL; CONTAINER RECYLCING INSTITUTE

About 8 percent of the

world’s oil production is

used to make plastic

and power the

manufacturing of it.

That figure is projected to

rise to 20 percent by 2050.

2050: 20%

2012: 8%

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: World Economic forum

About 8 percent of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic

and power the manufacturing of it.

That figure is projected to rise to 20 percent by 2050.

2050: 20%

2012: 8%

NGM STAFF. SOURCE: World Economic forum