10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Plastic Pollution’

While it’s common knowledge that plastic pollution is a pervasive and urgent problem, there are some aspects of this issue that are not widely known. Let us uncover ten facts about plastic pollution that might surprise you.

1. The most common plastic pollutants vary by region

It might seem obvious that plastic bags and bottles would be the most common types of plastic pollution worldwide, but this is not the case. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, the most common plastic pollutants can vary significantly by region.

In Europe and America, cigarette butts and food packaging make the list, whereas in East Asia, straws and stir sticks are more common. Understanding the variations in plastic waste production can help devise region-specific strategies to combat plastic pollution.

2. It’s not just oceans that are affected

While ocean pollution tends to take center stage in discussions about plastic pollution, it’s not only marine environments that suffer. Freshwater environments like lakes and rivers can be just as, if not more, affected.

A study in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal found that rivers are a major contributor to ocean plastic pollution, with the top 10 rivers carrying 90% of all river-generated plastic into the sea. This supports a call for more focus on plastic pollution solutions in freshwater environments.

3. Plastic pollution affects human health

Plastic pollution isn’t simply an environmental issue; it’s a human health concern too. When plastic degrades, it releases potentially toxic chemicals. Some of these, like phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), can interfere with hormones in the body.

Microplastics, tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters in length, can also be ingested by humans and accumulate in the body. A study in the journal Environment International reports potential health risks associated with the ingestion of microplastics, stressing the urgency of further research in this area.

4. Recycling alone won’t solve the problem

Many believe that if we recycle enough plastic, we can significantly curb plastic pollution. But the truth is, recycling is not a cure-all solution. According to Our World in Data, only about 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.

Most plastic waste is either landfilled, incinerated, or discarded directly into the environment. This underscores the need for reducing plastic production and consumption, in addition to improving recycling rates.

5. The COVID-19 era has worsened plastic pollution

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the problem of plastic pollution. With the increase in demand for single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, there’s been a surge in plastic waste. Meanwhile, plastic reduction efforts have taken a backseat, as concerns over hygiene and contamination have grown.

Estimations by the Science of the Total Environment journal indicate that around 1.6 million tons of PPE could have already entered our oceans since the start of the pandemic, underscoring the environmental cost of our response to the pandemic.

6. Invisible plastic pollution is a growing concern

When we think of plastic pollution, we might envision plastic bottles or bags. But plastic pollution isn’t always visible to the naked eye. Invisible plastic pollution, made up of microplastics, is a growing concern.

Microplastics can come from larger pieces of plastic that have eroded over time, but they can also be released directly into the environment through the washing of synthetic clothes or the use of certain cosmetics. With its ability to enter water, soil, and the air, invisible plastic pollution poses a serious, and often overlooked, environmental threat.

7. Biodegradable is not always better

Biodegradable plastics are often touted as an eco-friendly alternative to regular plastic. However, they might not be as green as you think. Indeed, these materials can break down into natural components over time, but the conditions necessary for such degradation (high temperatures and humidity) aren’t always met in the environment.

In many cases, so-called biodegradable plastics can still linger in the environment for years, posing equally harmful effects on ecosystems as traditional plastics.

8. Plastic production is set to increase

Despite increasing awareness about the risks of plastic pollution, plastic production is not slowing down. On the contrary, it’s set to skyrocket. According to a report from the World Wildlife Fund, plastic production and pollution are expected to double over the next two decades.

This prediction is mainly due to the growing demand for plastic in rapidly developing countries and underscores the urgency of tackling the plastic pollution crisis on a global scale.

9. Not all countries are equal contributors to plastic pollution

When it comes to plastic pollution, not all countries contribute equally. According to a study in the journal Science, the majority of the world’s plastic waste comes from just a handful of countries, mostly in Asia.

This highlights the importance of tailored solutions for different countries and regions and the need for international cooperation in tackling the plastic pollution problem.

10. Plastic can be found in the deepest parts of the ocean

You may think of the ocean’s depths as some of the last untouched areas on the planet, but plastic pollution has even reached these remote places. In fact, 2018 marked the discovery of a plastic bag at the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans.

These surprising finds suggest just how pervasive plastic pollution has become, penetrating even the most remote corners of our planet.

In conclusion, plastic pollution is a complex problem with unexpected layers of impact. Understanding the facts about plastic pollution can help us make informed decisions and foster sustainable habits. Together, we can contribute to a solution and help safeguard our planet for future generations.

For more information visit Plastic Pollution Coalition or The Plastic Pollution Project.