Plastics pollute at every stage of their life cycle. Let’s show the world that we can be plastic-free!
8.3 billion metric tons, or the weight equivalent of one billion elephants, of plastic mass produced over the past six decades. Most of it in disposable products that end up as trash.
6.3 billion is the amount, in metric tons, of the total amount of plastic produced that has become plastic waste.
Just 9% of all the plastic waste in the world that has been recycled.
400 years is how long it takes plastic to degrade.
4-12 million metric tons of plastic that enter the ocean each year— enough to cover every foot of coastline on the planet! Sad news is that it’s set to double in the next 10 years.
What is happening?
We live in a world surrounded by plastics. Stop and take a look around you right now! How many pieces of plastic can you count? For many of us, even with the best environmental intentions, we still don’t live completely plastic-free.
Plastics have only really been around since 1950. So not that long ago, we really COULD live without these polluters! The “benefits” of plastic fall in the category of ease, durability and low cost. However the cons far outweigh any of these benefits. Plastics are literally MADE from fossil fuels, emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave, and take more than 400 years to break down. In just over six decades, plastics production has accelerated so quickly that it has created 8.3 billion metric tons of waste — that’s the weight equivalent of one billion elephants! — and most of it in disposable products that end up as trash.
Simply put, plastics exist because of our reliance on them. The largest market for plastics today is for packaging materials like single use plastic bags. That trash now accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste generated globally, and most of it never gets recycled or incinerated.
What are the effects?
Plastics pollute at every stage of their life cycle, here’s how:
1. The beginning of plastics’ life cycle begins with oil and gas development for extraction and transportation. Oil, gas, and coal are the fossil-fuel building blocks of plastics, and extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels is a carbon-intensive activity. It’s estimated that 12.5 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are emitted per year while extracting and transporting natural gas to create feedstocks for plastics in the United States.
2. Refining and manufacturing cranks up emissions. Plastics refining (turning oils into different petroleum products) is also greenhouse-gas intensive. In 2015, emissions from manufacturing ethylene, the building block for many plastics, were 184.3 to 213 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, which is about as much as 45 million cars emit during one year!
3. Then we get to waste management. Globally, about 40% of plastics are used as packaging. This packaging when we’re through with it can be processed in three different ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling. Waste incineration has the largest climate impact of the three options. Based on projections from the World Energy Council, if plastics production and incineration increase as expected, greenhouse gas emissions will increase to 49 million metric tons by 2030 and 91 million metric tons by 2050. The climate impact isn’t the only concern. Incineration facilities are disproportionately built near communities of color and low-income populations who then have to experience the impacts of plastics pollution firsthand.
4. Finally, plastics have severe impacts as they break down and stick around forever. Plastics over time turn into even smaller pieces known as microplastics. These super tiny pieces of plastic are being found in our oceans, in our water, in our food and in our bodies and their severe impact on us and our environment is still being figured out. Ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it.