Hard-hitting Plastic pollution facts: Useful for kids and adults alike!
Here at CLEAR Community, our aim is to help communities in Indonesia manage their waste through initiatives like waste banks and educational programmes. So we know a lot about plastic waste – read on to find out where it all comes from, how big a problem it is and why it’s such a big issue….
How much single-use plastic is produced every year?
Over 300 million tons of plastic is produced annually. (Source: UNEP) It’s hard to imagine how big this is – but 300 million tons is an equivalent weight to:
- the entire human population, or
- 2,700,000 blue whales
- 681 million footballs!
In the UK, the Big Plastic Count found that each household threw away 66 pieces of plastic packaging in one week, which amounts to an estimated 3,432 pieces a year. This indicates that UK households are throwing away an estimated 1.85 billion pieces of plastic waste a year.
Which countries produce the most plastic waste?
The USA produces the most plastic waste, followed by the UK. The top countries that produce the most plastic waste are:
- USA, with 105.3 plastic waste per capita kgs per year
- UK: 98.66
- South Korea: 88.09
- Germany: 81.16
- Thailand: 69.54
- Malaysia: 67.04
- Argentina: 60.95
How much plastic is recycled every year?
Only around 9% of plastic gets recycled every year. The bulk of plastic around the world is sent to landfill (40%), 25% is incinerated and 15% is dumped. (Source: BBC)
The Big Plastic Count estimated that only 12% of plastic waste is recycled, with more waste being shipped abroad (17%) tan being recycled in the UK. They estimate that almost half is incinerated, with the the remaining 25% going to landfill.
How long does it take for plastic to decompose?
It takes anywhere from 20 to 500 years for plastic to decompose. How long it takes depends on a range of factors such as the type of plastic. So it’s not great for the planet to be sending so much of it to landfill, is it?
Which countries are best at recycling?
Recycling rates vary around the world – the top 5 countries for recycling are:
- Germany – they recycle 56% of their waste
- Austria – 53.8%%
- South Korea – 53.7%
- Wales – 52.5%
- Switzerland – 49.7%
(Source: NS Packaging)
Which are the worst countries for recycling?
Turkey and Chile are the worst countries for recycling – they both recycle less than 1% of their waste and their recycling rates have been decreasing. (Source: Global citizen)
You might not know that the UK exports 60% of its plastic waste to be recycled. This might come as a bit of a shock if you’re someone who pops all your plastic bottles into your recycling bin – you probably wouldn’t expect it to get shipped around the world to be burnt or dumped into the environment or our oceans.
So you can start seeing the scale of the problem, and why CLEAR Community are trying to help tackle the issue.
How much plastic pollution is in the oceans?
It’s estimated that there’s over 150 million tons of plastic in the oceans. Nobody’s been able to confirm an exact figure, but a study in 2015 estimated it to be 150 million tons, and if this was to continue to grow, then we’d expect 600 million tons of plastic to be in the oceans by 2040.
The Ellen MacArthur foundation predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by the year 2050.
The impact of ocean waste
Millions of people in the UK had their eyes opened to the impact of ocean waste when watching BBC’s Blue Planet 2 in 2018 which featured scenes like seabirds feeding plastic to their young, and a whale calf dying from swallowing so much plastic.
An incredible 88% of people said they changed their behaviour as a result of watching the programme, and the same study found that 60% of people use reusable water bottles – which increases to 70% in the 17-24 age group.
Nonetheless, we still have a huge issue trying to tackle the 150 million tons of plastic that are in the ocean which can harms marine wildlife in many ways eg:
- getting tangled in plastic waste like discarded fishing nets and other plastic waste which can lead to suffocation
- getting trapped in plastic waste like bags and bottles – again leading to suffocation
- swallowing plastic (and feeding it to their young) because they think it’s food – a belly full of plastic will ultimately lead to death
It’s estimated that 56% of whales, dolphins and porpoises have consumed plastic – imagine how difficult it is for them to differentiate between a jellyfish or a squid and a plastic bag.
How many sea animals die from plastic?
It’s estimated that plastic kills over 1 million marine creatures every year. Just imagine all those beautiful creatures – birds, dolphins, fish, crabs, turtles and more; it’s a horrific statistic.
What’s the most common plastic found in the ocean?
It might surprise you but the most common plastic in the ocean is fishing nets.
A report by Greenpeace found that 10% of plastic ocean waste was discarded fishing nets (also known as ‘ghost gear’) but in terms of weight, these large pieces make up 70% of plastic waste in the oceans.
This was also confirmed by a study of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ in the Pacific ocean which found that 86% of plastic waste in the patch was fishing nets.
What are the other types of plastic waste in the oceans?
Once you’ve got over your surprise that fishing nets are the main culprit of plastic waste in the oceans, you can probably imagine some of the other types of plastic waste hitting the sea:
- Plastic bottles
- Plastic bags
- Plastic straws, cutlery and food packaging
- Cotton buds
- Wet wipes
Plastic bags are often used only once before being binned – 1 million plastic bags are binned every minute and the US is responsible for around 327 billion plastic bags ending up in the sea every year.
A whopping 500 billion plastic bottles are made every year, and as we said earlier – only about 9% are recycled. The soft drink giant Coca Cola alone as said to be responsible for about a fifth of these – producing around 100 billion plastic bottles every year – a huge amount – and most of these bottles are made from new, virgin plastic instead of recycled plastic.
And of course it isn’t just plastic waste that’s an issue – other materials like glass bottles, aluminium and steel cans are all found as ocean waste too.
How much microplastic is in the ocean?
There are over 24 trillion pieces of microplastics in the ocean. (Source: Science Daily). When we think of plastic waste in the sea we tend to think of those plastic bags and bottles but a hidden and increasing hazard is microplastics.
Microplastics are plastic that are smaller than 5 millimetres in size. They can either be classed as ‘primary’ which means they were made to be ingredients e.g. a plastic abrasive in a cleaning product or fibres in clothes; or ‘secondary’ which means it’s plastic that’s been broken down e.g. from a plastic bag.
Microplastics are eaten by marine life in huge amounts, for example it’s reported that fish larvae are 4 times more likely to eat microplastics than eat actual food. Humans are now ingesting microplastics, through the water we drink and the food we eat – microplastics are now found all the way through the food chain and as yet we’re not sure of the full impact of ingesting them.
How can we reduce plastic waste getting into the ocean?
There are a number of initiatives around the world try and stem the waste hitting our seas eg:
- 60% of people are now using reusable water bottles
- Plastic straws have been replaced by paper straws in many food outlets
- In the UK we now have to pay for plastic bags
- France has now banned plastic food packaging
- Improving recycling in developing countries such as our waste bank programme in Indonesia
Knowing that fishing nets are the main culprit of plastic pollution in the sea, then giving up ro at least cutting down on the amount of seafood we eat could have a major positive effect on marine life. There are other things we can all do like:
- Using reusable water bottles and coffee cups
- Reusing shopping bags
- Refilling household items – zero waste shops offer a refill service on everything from herbs to pasta to shampoo and cleaning products
Why is plastic pollution so bad in Indonesia?
Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter, after China. (Source: Plos One). There are many reasons we, CLEAR Community, decided to focus our attention on the waste issue in Indonesia:
- They don’t have the waste and/or recycling infrastructure that we take for granted here in the UK
- Likewise, they haven’t received the public service education that we’ve had over the years about littering and recycling
- As an island nation heavily reliant on fishing, fishing causes a huge amount of plastic waste
- there ‘s been an increase in single-use plastic availability over the last few years, for example, food sachets
- Seasonal monsoons drive plastic waste towards Indonesia
- Indonesia accepts recycling waste from other parts of the world e.g. the UK
Over the last few years, we’ve expanded our waste bank programme in Indonesia and have created an educational centre called Bale Tau where we educate local communities and engage with them through events like beach cleans and arts and crafts.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful, if you’d like to help reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean then please consider donating to help us carry out our work in Indonesia – just a couple of pounds can make a huge difference to our work out there.