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10 Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution

Help keep our marine life from eating and swimming in garbage.

Bits of plastic waste float underwater

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While soaking up the relaxing cadence of crashing waves on the beach, no one wants to think about how the ocean has basically become garbage soup . But here’s the buzz-killing reality: There are millions of tons of debris floating around in that water—and most of it is plastic.

This constant barrage (the equivalent of 136 billion milk jugs each year, estimates a study published in the journal Science) poses a serious danger to marine life. Animals can get tangled up in this trash or ingest it—either because they mistake it as prey or because the plastic has been broken down into tiny particles by seawater.

Plastic, of course, is uniquely problematic because it’s nonbiodegradable and therefore sticks around for a lot longer (like up to 1,000 years longer) than other forms of trash. And we're not just talking about people dumping their garbage overboard. Around 80 percent of marine litter actually originates on land—either swept in from the coastline or carried to rivers from the streets during heavy rain via storm drains and sewer overflows.

So the best thing we can do to protect our waterways is try to keep as much plastic as possible out of the waste stream in the first place. The good news? There are many small ways you can have a big impact.

1. Wean yourself off disposable plastics.

Ninety percent of the plastic items in our daily lives are used once and then chucked: grocery bags, plastic wrap, disposable cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids. Take note of how often you rely on these products and replace them with reusable versions. It only takes a few times of bringing your own bags to the store, silverware to the office, or travel mug to Starbucks before it becomes habit.

2. Stop buying water.

Each year, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash. Carry a reusable bottle in your bag, and you’ll never be caught having to resort to a Poland Spring or Evian again. If you’re nervous about the quality of your local tap water, look for a model with a built-in filter.

3. Boycott microbeads.

Those little plastic scrubbers found in so many beauty products—facial scrubs, toothpaste, body washes—might look harmless, but their tiny size allows them to slip through water-treatment plants. Unfortunately, they also look just like food to some marine animals. Opt for products with natural exfoliants, like oatmeal or salt, instead.

4. Cook more.

Not only is it healthier, but making your own meals doesn’t involve takeout containers or doggy bags. For those times when you do order in or eat out, tell the establishment you don’t need any plastic cutlery or, for some serious extra credit, bring your own food-storage containers to restaurants for leftovers.

5. Purchase items secondhand.

New toys and electronic gadgets, especially, come with all kinds of plastic packaging—from those frustrating hard-to-crack shells to twisty ties. Search the shelves of thrift stores, neighborhood garage sales, or online postings for items that are just as good when previously used. You’ll save yourself a few bucks, too.

6. Recycle (duh).

It seems obvious, but we’re not doing a great job of it. For example, less than 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. Confused about what can and can’t go in the bin? Check out the number on the bottom of the container. Most beverage and liquid cleaner bottles will be #1 (PET), which is commonly accepted by most curbside recycling companies. Containers marked #2 (HDPE; typically slightly heavier-duty bottles for milk, juice, and laundry detergent) and #5 (PP; plastic cutlery, yogurt and margarine tubs, ketchup bottles) are also recyclable in some areas. For the specifics on your area, check out Earth911.org’s recycling directory .

7. Support a bag tax or ban.

Urge your elected officials to follow the lead of those in San Francisco, Chicago, and close to 150 other cities and counties by introducing or supporting legislation that would make plastic-bag use less desirable .

8. Buy in bulk.

Single-serving yogurts, travel-size toiletries, tiny packages of nuts—consider the product-to-packaging ratio of items you tend to buy often and select the bigger container instead of buying several smaller ones over time.

9. Bring your own garment bag to the dry cleaner.

Invest in a zippered fabric bag and request that your cleaned items be returned in it instead of sheathed in plastic. (And while you’re at it, make sure you’re frequenting a dry cleaner that skips the perc, a toxic chemical found in some cleaning solvents.)

10. Put pressure on manufacturers.

Though we can make a difference through our own habits, corporations obviously have a much bigger footprint. If you believe a company could be smarter about its packaging, make your voice heard. Write a letter, send a tweet, or hit them where it really hurts: Give your money to a more sustainable competitor.

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Plastic pollution has been linked to everything from cancer in humans to death in wildlife.

A strong Global Plastics Treaty could help rid the world of harmful plastics—and as one of the world’s largest producers, the U.S. has a critical role to play.

A dead decomposed bird with plastic in its stomach area

Urge the Biden administration to enact a strong Global Plastics Treaty

Plastic pollution has been linked to everything from cancer in humans to death in wildlife. A strong Global Plastics Treaty could help rid the world of harmful plastics—and as one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of plastic, the United States has a critical role to play.

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15 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Waste

15 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Waste

Plastics have become a huge part of our daily lives. While it’s undeniable that plastics are convenient, efficient and makes all our lives a little easier, it has led to a severe global plastic pollution that the world has no concrete solution for. Its omnipresence may make it difficult for us to give it up; it requires not only a change in habits, but also a change of mindset. Thankfully, organisations and governments around the world are proposing measures to reduce their impact on the environment. In fact, this year, the EU will ban the sale of single-use plastics such as drinking straws, cutlery or cotton buds within its borders. But there are things that we can do in our personal capacity to curb the rise of the plastic tsunami. Here are 15 ways that you can reduce your plastic waste.

Facts About Plastic Waste

  • Every year, 500 billion plastic bottles are produced globally
  • There is more than 150 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean
  • By 2050, ocean plastics will likely overtake the amount of fish
  • In 2020, we generated more than 500 million tons of of plastic waste, 900% more than in 1980
  • Single-use plastics have an average useful life of 12- 15 minutes and can take up to 500 years to disintegrate

How to Reduce Plastic Waste

  • Avoid single-use plastics – plastic straws, plates and cutlery make our lives easier, but they have a serious impact on the planet. Instead, use metal and bamboo alternatives, or biodegradable plastics if possible
  • Buy in bulk – disposable containers are ubiquitous (polystyrene trays, PET bottles, tetra paks, plastic containers, etc) but more and more stores are offering the possibility to buy foods like cereals and rice in bulk.
  • Rethink your food storage – instead of using plastic baggies, plastic wrap and plastic storage containers, try opting for a bento box or tiffin. Instead of using plastic zipper bags or wrapping things in Saran wrap, use jars or glass containers. 
  • Take a cloth bag when you go shopping
  • Shop at a local farmers market – farmers markets are a great way to buy fresh, local produce without plastic, as long as you remember to bring your own bags. 
  • Replace plastic Tupperware for glass or steel containers
  • If you do happen to use any plastics, put your plastic waste in the correct recycling container and in accordance to your local recycling services
  •  Avoid using cosmetics that use microplastics
  • Buy less clothing, and wash them only when necessary- a single wash can cause 700 000 bits of microplastics to be released into the environment
  • Buy “natural” fabrics like cotton, hemp and linen. Processing these materials is far less water – intensive than synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon and they will last longer
  • Use a refillable water bottle
  • DIY your cleaning products- use a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water as an all-purpose spray cleaner (storing it in a reused spray bottle) and produce wash.
  • Try natural beeswax coated cloth wraps instead of plastic cling film
  • Buy necessary plastic items used instead of new
  • Compost food waste to avoid plastic garbage bags

You might also like: 15 Most Polluted Cities in the World

Whether you’re participating in Plastic Free July or simply making a change in your life, these are just some of the small, but effective ways to reduce your plastic waste impact on the planet. If everyone were more mindful of the plastic waste crisis plaguing the planet, we could start to undo some of the damage we’ve done in the name of convenience. 

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Protect Our Planet from Plastic Pollution: 5 Things to Know

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

By Dynahlee Padilla-Vasquez on May 1, 2024

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Female workers sort out plastic bottles for recycling in a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. If plastic production stays on its current trajectory, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach 1.34 billion tons per year. Photo: Abir Abdullah/Climate Visuals

Plastics are polluting our planet and choking our ocean, harming human health, and damaging ecosystems vital to our livelihoods. The UN Environment Programme is raising the alarm on the severity of the global plastics crisis and highlighting the networks of everyday people, coastal workers, and communities who are spearheading solutions to beat plastic pollution.

More than 430 million tons of plastic are produced each year, two-thirds of which is cast aside as waste after just one use. If trends continue, plastic waste will triple by 2060, with dire consequences for both ecosystems and human health.

Eleven million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean alone each year, in addition to the estimated 200 million metric tons that already flow through our marine environments, per data from the Ocean Conservatory .

At the current rate of production, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by mid-century, according to Nikola Simpson, Head of the United Nations Development Programme’s Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Blue Economy Accelerator Lab.

“We just keep producing, producing, producing plastic,” she says. The UN Environment Programme is determined to help the world avert such a catastrophic future. UNEP’s 2023 report , “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy,” maps out a plan to reduce global plastic waste by 80% within two decades.

Here are five reasons why the world needs to beat plastic pollution — and how everyone can step up to protect our planet for generations to come.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Microplastic pellets, shown here on a fingertip, are extremely small pieces of plastic debris found nearly everywhere in the environment, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. Photo: Chayanuphol

1. Plastic is Everywhere.

From the Philippines to the Arctic , plastic is everywhere. It takes a variety of forms, from synthetic fishing nets to single-use items like water bottles and trash bags.

If all plastic waste in the ocean were collected, it would fill 5 million shipping containers. Put another way, there is enough plastic in the ocean to stretch 30,000 kilometers (18,640 miles) if placed end to end. That’s the equivalent of a trip from New York City to Sydney, Australia.

And because plastic is not at all biodegradable, it simply breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces over time, creating what’s known as micro- or nanoplastics.

“It’s completely indestructible,” says Agustina Besada, co-founder and CEO of Unplastify, an organization based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, committed to ending plastic pollution. “To me, that’s a problem of systemic design.”

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

A man works to clean up marine waste from the beaches and waters of Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Data from remote beach cleans is recorded, tracked and used to create public-facing programs and campaigns to create systemic change for pollution from plastics and debris. Photo: Nicole Holman/Climate Visuals

2. Plastics Harm Our Health and Our Ecosystems.

Despite being tiny in size, microplastics and nanoplastics pose a massive threat to human health and the health of vital ecosystems.

“These microplastics act as little sponges and come with a lot of different chemicals that get absorbed,” Besada explains. “All these [affect] our health system [and can cause] endocrine alterations.”

They also infiltrate and contaminate every part of the planet, from everyday things like our clothing and laundry to remarkable places like the summit of Mount Everest or the depths of the ocean.

When disposing of plastic, “there’s no such thing as ‘away,’ because everything must go somewhere,” Simpson says. “It’s in your phone, in your credit card, in your clothes. … It’s now in your blood.”

When you look at “the human health impacts of plastics,” she adds, “some of them have been linked to possibly being cancerous.”

More than 900 health professionals and medical associations agree: They recently signed an open letter asserting that “plastic poses an ongoing crisis for human and planetary health” that demands urgent global action.

And it’s not just humans who are being negatively impacted; ocean ecosystems are harmed as well. Besada notes that plastics have been shown to affect reproduction abilities in animals, which has serious implications not only for our food chain but also for communities that rely on those ecosystems for their livelihoods.

As a fast-growing source of greenhouse gas emi ss io ns, UNEP estimates that plastic production, use, and disposal could account for 19 % of the total global carbon budget by 2040.    

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

A female student of Nikuao Primary School in Kiribati refills her water bottle from reusable containers sponsored by UNICEF. Photo: Vlad Sokhin / UNICEF

3. To Beat Plastic Pollution: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reorient.

It’s entirely possible to meet UNEP’s ambitious goal of reducing plastic waste by 80% in the next two decades. The changes we need to make as consumers are necessary, affordable, and achievable by implementing three market shifts.

Eliminating unnecessary common plastics such as excessive packaging is the first step, according to UNEP’s “Turning off the Tap” report. Reusing refillable bottles for example, in addition to enhancing recycling and turning to greener alternatives, are among the report’s recommendations.

“If we can reduce production that would significantly help. And then hopefully, as behavioral change increases, we then use alternatives, or we go back to what we used in the past,” says Simpson.

Besada adds, “We need to identify which are the plastics that we still need, and we need to improve infrastructure to recycle. … We cannot rely [solely] on recycling to fix the problem.”

Not all plastics are made the same either. So, identifying what type of materials can be recycled — and where — is key. A variety of economic, social, and cultural reasons, including infrastructure, are part of why recycling isn’t always ideal, Besada explains.

However, if consumers and corporations transition to plastic alternatives that are less harmful to the environment that would help, a process the report describes as reorientation and diversification.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Two men harvest jute crops and stack them for drying in India. Jute, which is one of the best alternatives to plastic products, has become an increasingly popular crop to grow in West Bengal. Photo: Dipayan Bose/Climate Visuals

4. Transitioning Away from Plastics Saves Money and Creates Jobs.

With an estimated annual financial risk of $100 billion for businesses dealing with waste management, circularity in plastics — or put simply, using plastics more efficiently — could save $4.5 trillion in environmental and social costs in the next 17 years, as underscored in UNEP’s report.

The transition would also create opportunities for jobs, income, and innovation by 2040. That’s an estimated 700,000 additional jobs and improved livelihoods for millions of workers in developing countries directly associated with short-lived plastics, according to the report.

Still, a lot of work will be needed to manage 100 million metric tons of plastics from short-lived products yearly by 2040. If government policies fail to support shifting away from plastic production and overconsumption, countries will be left in the lurch with 227 million tons of plastic management versus 40 million tons, per the report.

With plastic packaging virtually everywhere, “every person on average uses 45 kilograms, which I think is 90 [to a 100] pounds of plastic per year,” says Besada.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Negotiations commence at the UN Environment Programme's second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting on plastic pollution at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo: Twitter / Inger Andersen .

5. Global Momentum to End Plastic Pollution is Growing.

2022 marked a historic decision at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, where all 193 UN Member States agreed to end plastic pollution through a legally binding international agreement.

Besada notes that all voices and stakeholders need to have balanced representation and work toward bipartisanship throughout the negotiating process, which is ongoing. The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee was held in Ottawa, Canada, in April 2024. This latest round of negotiations marks the second-to-last session before delegates gather in November in Busan, Republic of Korea, where the agreement is set to be finalized.

In the latest session, “countries zeroed in on the all-important, yet divisive, issue of absolute reductions in plastic production,” according to Ryan Hobert, Managing Director of Climate and Environment at the UN Foundation. Rwanda and Peru led the way in pushing for cuts to plastic production. The proposal they put forward would slash production globally by 40% by 2040, from a 2025 baseline.

“Ultimately, negotiators failed to chart a clear path forward,” notes Hobert. “They need to redouble their efforts in the months ahead so a meaningful and robust agreement can be reached at the final negotiating session later this year,” he adds.

Indeed, “agreeing to a global agreement on plastic pollution by the end of 2024 would mark one of the most significant environmental decisions,” says Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change. “[It] would be a first-of-its-kind agreement to unite the world around a shared goal to end plastic pollution,” he explains.

Hobert agrees, stating unequivocally that, “The health of our planet and its inhabitants depend on it.”

In addition to government action, UNEP highlights the importance of efforts to raise advocacy and awareness. Individuals and communities must continue to use their voices to talk about the need to end plastic pollution and put their values into practice by supporting businesses striving to reduce single-use plastic products in their supply chains.

“I always try to encourage everyone to try to create systemic change,” says Besada. For example, if a school can partner with a bakery to stop packaging cookies with plastic and instead sell cookies in bulk, she says, then the possibilities are endless.

Anyone can participate. Anyone can make a difference locally. Anyone can take their advocacy efforts to the next level.

“If you want to advocate and pursue regulation, do it,” Besada urges. “There are many, many levels of action, it just depends on how involved you want to get.”

This blog post was originally published on May 31, 2023.

Join the Movement

Help protect our planet and save our ocean by joining the global movement to #BeatPlasticPollution.

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Plastic bottles fill the famous Cibeles Fountain in Madrid during an exhibit that called attention to the environmental impact of disposable plastics.


A running list of action on plastic pollution

The world is waking up to a crisis of ocean plastic—and we're tracking the developments and solutions as they happen.

The world has a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action. National Geographic magazine devoted a special cover package to plastic in June 2018 . Here, we continue to track some of the developments around this important issue. We will update this article periodically as news develops.

Canada aims to ban single-use plastics by 2021

June 10, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that in addition to banning single-use plastics, his government would take other, unspecified steps to reduce plastic pollution.

Trudeau did not specify the products to be banned, but said likely candidates include plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates and stir sticks “where supported by scientific evidence and warranted.”

“You’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos,” he said . “To be honest, as a dad it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam packed with plastic bags?

"How do I tell them that against all odds, you will find plastic at the very deepest point in the Pacific Ocean ?”

Canada, which has 151,019 miles of coastline –the world’s longest–and a quarter of the world’s fresh water, joins a growing list of nations taking steps to reduce the use of disposable plastics. More than 60 nations have taken steps to reduce single-use plastics by imposing bans or taxes, according to a United Nations report published last year. In March the European Union’s parliament voted to ban the top 10 single-use plastic items found on European beaches by 2021. The EU measure also calls for 90 percent of plastic bottles to be recycled by 2025. Member states must work out the details of bans before the 2021 deadline.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was overwhelmingly reelected last month to a second five-year term, declared in 2018 that India would eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022, an ambitious plan for the world’s second most populated country.

Trudeau made his announcement at the Gault Nature Reserve outside Montreal. He noted that Canada recycles less than 10 percent of its disposable plastics, and is on track to throw away $11 billion worth of disposable plastic by 2030 unless things change.

He said the federal government will work with provinces and territories to introduce standards and targets for plastics manufacturers and retailers so they become more responsible for their plastic waste. Trudeau said he also supports efforts by Canada’s minister of environment to create a nationwide strategy for zero plastic waste.

“This will be a big step but we know we can do this for 2021,” Trudeau said.

Peru restricts single-use plastic

Visitors will no longer be allowed to carry in single-use plastics into Peru's 76 natural and cultural protected area s, from Machu Picchu to Manu to Huascarán , or national museums. This ban is now going into affect and was announced as a Supreme Decree by Peru’s Environment Minister, Fabiola Muñoz, and signed by President Martín Vizcarra, back in November.

The decree says the goal is replacing single-use plastics with "reusable, biodegradable plastic or others whose degradation does not generate contamination by micro-plastics or dangerous substances.”

At world-famous Machu Picchu, tourists produce an average of 14 tons of solid waste per day, much of it plastic bottles and other single-use packaging.

In December, Peru's Congress had also passed a law to phase out single-use plastic bags across the country over the next three years. According to Peru's Environment Ministry, the country uses 947,000 tons of plastic each year, while 75 percent is thrown out and only 0.3 percent is recycled.

San Diego Bans Styrofoam Food and Drink Containers

San Diego has joined a growing number of cities to ban containers made of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam—the Dow Chemical trademark name for extruded polystyrene. The ban includes food and drink containers, egg cartons, ice chest coolers, aquatic toys for swimming pools, and mooring buoys and navigation markers. The ocean-side city is the largest in California to ban polystyrene.

Polystyrene’s popularity as a container stems from its low cost, strength, insulation, and feather-weight buoyancy. Those properties also made it a scourge of plastic waste because it easily breaks into tiny, often airborne particles that are difficult to clean up and is generally rejected by recycling centers as too much trouble to recyclable.

The San Diego City Council voted 6-to-3 on January 8 to approve the ban, despite objections from owners of small restaurants who complained that the costs of using environmentally degradable containers, such as cardboard or compostable paper, could be double. The council first approved the ban last October for a trial period. This week’s vote made the ban permanent.

D.C. Plastic Straw Ban Begins

One New Year's resolution, to use less plastic, is no longer optional for restaurants and other service businesses in Washington, D.C., as of January 1. By July, businesses in the district will begin receiving fines if they continue to offer plastic straws.

A number of local businesses have already started switching to reusable, washable straws or disposable ones made from paper or hay.

The law follows Seattle's ban earlier in 2018 and aims to reduce the impact of plastic straws as litter. More than 4,000 of the disposed items were found in a recent cleanup of the Anacostia River in D.C. Straws are known to hurt wildlife and are difficult to recycle, often ending up as litter. They make up only a tiny fraction of the total marine plastic pollution problem, leading some critics to say they are a distraction, while others say they are an easy place to start.

(Learn about the travel industry's war on straws and where plastic straws came from in the first place .)

Plastic Fact Named Stat of the Year

This week, Great Britain's Royal Statistical Society announced its statistic of the year . It's 90.5%, the estimated amount of plastic waste ever made that has never been recycled. Estimated at 6,300 million metric tonnes, scientists calculated that around 12 percent of all plastic waste has been incinerated, while roughly 79 percent has found its way into landfills or become litter.

That fact comes from a study published in Science Advances , " Production, Use, and Fate of all plastics ever made ," by scientists Roland Geyer, Jenna Jambeck (a National Geographic Society fellow on plastic pollution) and Kara Lavender Law.

“We all knew there was a rapid and extreme increase in plastic production from 1950 until now, but actually quantifying the cumulative number for all plastic ever made was quite shocking,” Jambeck, a University of Georgia environmental engineer who specializes in studying plastic waste in the oceans, previously told National Geographic .

“I am grateful to the Royal Statistical Society for the acknowledgement of the impact of this statistic, and while sobering, I am glad that it helps to spread awareness about the plastic waste management issues I see on the ground around the globe," Jambeck said in December.

"It’s very concerning that such a large proportion of plastic waste has never been recycled," Royal Statistical Society President Sir David Spiegelhalter said in a statement announcing the winning fact. "This statistic helps to show the scale of the challenge we all face."

"Single-Use" Named Word of the Year

Collins Dictionary named "single-use" their word of the year in 2018, citing a four-fold increase in usage since 2013. The term means "made to be used once only" and refers to "items whose unchecked proliferation are blamed for damaging the environment and affecting the food chain," according to a press release from the dictionary's publisher.

Single-use is most often associated with the plastic pollution crisis. Some 40 percent of all plastic produced is used for packaging , much of it used only once and thrown away.

Many efforts to curb the plastic litter crisis are taking aim at single-use plastics, with the goal of encouraging more durable, reusable items.

Aquariums band together for “No Straw November”

November is the month of not shaving facial hair , and now thanks to a new conservation campaign, the month of not using straws. Branded as “No Straw November,” the campaign is a push to eliminate single-use plastic. The effort is led by the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), comprising 22 aquariums in 17 different states. They're pushing 500 businesses to commit to only serving plastic straws upon request. Already, the ACP has worked with large businesses like United Airlines, the Chicago White Sox, and Dignity Health hospitals. They hope to commit the additional 500 by Earth Day, April 20, 2019. The No Straw November campaign is also lobbying cities and regional governments to pass ordinances that encourage businesses to use fewer straws. Individuals are also being asked to sign an online pledge to limit their own personal single-use plastic. The efforts are part of what ACP is labeling a joint “#FirstStep” to plastic-free waterways. Images of marine animals wrapped in plastic or caught with items like straws in their noses have been widely shared, raising awareness of the public. Aquariums have been leaders in phasing out plastic items at their own facilities. In an interview discussing plastic straws with National Geographic earlier this year, David Rhodes, the global business director for paper straw manufacturer Aardvark Straws, said some of Aardvark's earliest clients were zoos, aquariums, and cruise ships looking to promote an eco-friendly image to their customers. The ACP says their efforts to reduce dependence on plastic have already eliminated the need for five million straws over the past year. Earlier this week, the ACP, partnering with the U.N. and European Commission, announced plans to create a global coalition of 200 aquariums that will campaign against plastic.

250 groups launch massive global plastic partnership

Two hundred and fifty organizations responsible for 20 percent of the plastic packaging produced around the world have committed to reducing waste and pollution . The initiative is called the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment , and it includes a diverse group of members including the city of Austin, clothing company H&M, Unilever, PespsiCo, L'Oreal, Nestle, and Coca-Cola. The Global Commitment touts a number of high-profile partnerships. It's a collaboration with the United Nations and is being led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Other partners include the World Wide Fund for Nature, the World Economic Forum, the Consumer Goods Forum, and 40 academic institutions. Ultimately, it's working to promote a circular economy for plastic, a concept that entails reusing or repurposing plastic instead of letting it sit in a landfill. The shift would require building or improving collection and processing facilities, and five venture capital firms have pledged $200 million toward the initiative. Recycling used items into new products is one of the three targets set by the commitment. Corporations joining the commitment must also phase out single-use plastic packaging and ensure it can either be reused, recycled, or composted by 2025. “While elements of the EMF Global Commitment are moving in the right direction, the problem is that companies are given the flexibility to continue prioritizing recycling over reduction and reuse,” said Ahmad Ashov from Greenpeace Indonesia in a press release. “Corporations are not required to set actual targets to reduce the total amount of single-use plastics they are churning out.” Every 18 months, the targets will be reviewed, and participating businesses must publish data on their progress each year. Governments that join the commitment are pledging to create policies that help support a circular economy.

EU Parliament approves single-use plastic ban

The European Parliament voted 571-53 this week to approve a measure to slash single-use plastic across the continent. The bill still needs to pass additional procedural measures before it can go into effect, but observers say its chances look good and could begin enforcement as early as 2021.

Citing a need to protect the ocean from a deluge of plastic pollution , the bill calls for a European ban on plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers, and balloon sticks, as well as reductions in other types of single-use plastics like food and beverage containers.

The bill was first proposed in May (see below). Great Britain has a similar effort underway (also see below).

The list of plastic items targeted was carefully selected to include items that already have ready alternatives, supporters say. Items with less available alternatives, such as cigarette filters, are being targeted for a more gradual reduction.

Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, who proposed the bill, called it "a victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations," according to the BBC .

Consumer companies invest in waste collection

To keep plastic pollution from entering waterways, manufacturers either have to stop making it or make sure it's collected at the end of its life. But in some developing nations, that waste collection infrastructure is insufficient or nonexistent. Circulate Capital , a New York City-based investment firm started in 2018, says they have raised $90 million to invest in this issue in Southeast Asia, a move endorsed by conservation group the Ocean Conservancy . CEO of Circulate Capital Rob Kaplan says this investment will go toward improving plastic waste collection on the ground and creating markets for collected material. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Danone, Unilever, and Dow are committed to funding the $90 million investment, and Circulate Capital says a deal will be inked by early 2019. The firm says they are also working on ways for medium and small companies to invest. “While we are working hard to ensure our packaging is designed to be circular, the reality is that it cannot be reused, recycled or composted without effective waste management systems in place,” said Danone's Katharina Stenholm in a press release. She was referring to the concept of a circular economy, in which any waste materials in an industry, such as packaging, are reincorporated into new products. The majority of the world's ocean plastic comes from 10 rivers, eight of which are in Asia, and Circulate Capital is working with scientific advisors, including National Geographic explorer Jenna Jambeck , to pinpoint where their investments can be the most effective. Plastic bottles, for example, can be collected by small local companies and sold to manufacturers to make new products. Though discarded plastic is often of lower quality, some projects already underway have proved the model can function, and Circulate Capital hopes its investment can lead to new innovations. ( Read about an effort to recycle stranded fishing nets into carpet .) “There's no silver bullet to stop plastic pollution,” says Kaplan. “We're not going to be able to recycle our way out of the problem, and we're not going to be able to reduce our way out of the problem.” But, he hopes Circulate Capital's investments can serve as one piece of the puzzle. He estimates more than a billion dollars would be needed to really build out more efficient waste infrastructure in Southeast Asia. Circulate Capital hopes to bump their commitments to at least $100 million over the next few year as a move in that direction.

Redirecting plastic streams away from the sea

Major companies have been taking steps to eliminate the amount of plastic waste they produce, but what about plastic already in rivers or on beaches that could easily enter the ocean?

That's where NextWave , a coalition founded by companies including Dell and an environmental group called the Lonely Whale, comes in. By employing people living in coastal regions, the group collects discarded plastic within 30 miles of waterways to prevent it from making its way to the sea. So far, NextWave has focused on two types of plastic commonly found in marine environments: Nylon 6 and polypropylene.

This reclaimed plastic is then shipped to manufacturers who reuse it in lieu of producing new plastic. Plastic collection sites are chosen based on where cleanup could have the biggest impact and where the plastic could more easily be taken to an existing recycling facility. These location decisions are informed by science from chemists Jason Lochlin and Jenna Jambeck , a National Geographic explorer.

Today, computer company HP announced it would be joining the NextWave coalition. Since 2016, HP has been working with locals in Haiti to collect a total of 550,000 pounds of plastic that the company has since used to create ink cartridges. According to a press release, HP partnered with a non-profit called the First Mile Coalition, aimed at improving Haitian labor conditions, to create up to 600 jobs collecting plastic bottles.

Along with HP, Ikea has announced that it, too, will partner with NextWave. In addition, the furniture company has committed to phasing out single-use plastics from its stores by 2020, and to designing more sustainably sourced products, including more items made with recycled plastics, by 2030.

Ten companies are now members of NextWave, and they plan to source reclaimed plastics from Indonesia, Chile, the Philippines, Cameroon, and Denmark. NextWave does not yet have numbers for how much plastic they could potentially keep out of the oceans in total, but their website highlights that their partnership with Dell alone kept a total of 3 million pounds of plastic from entering the ocean over the past five years.

Correction: This story has been updated to note that HP worked with the First Mile Coalition in Haiti and to clarify the types of plastic NextWave works with.

American Airlines cuts plastic from lounges

After announcing this summer that they would ban plastic straws and stirrers on their flights (see below), American Airlines now says they will phase out single-use plastic in their lounges. The airline has lounges in the U.S. and around the world. A representative from the company says the lounges won't serve drinks with straws, and plastic won't be used for flatware. Plastic water bottles will no longer be served, and reusable bags will be given to customers taking food to-go. Changes to the airlines' lounges are currently going into effect, and onboard straws will be eliminated by November 1. Straws will be available for those who request one, and drink stirrers will be replaced by bamboo sticks. Cumulatively, the company says their changes will eliminate 71,000 pounds of plastic waste annually.

Foodservice companies phase out single-use plastic

Some 13,000 schools, workplaces, and venues will be plastic bag and stirrer free by 2019, thanks to a new sustainability push by foodservice company Sodexo. The company provides cafeteria-style meals and concessions to many such clients. Among them is National Geographic's Washington, D.C. headquarters, where compostable utensils and plant-based menus are offered. Sodexo follows in the footsteps of other foodservice giants, Aramark and Bon Appétit Management, which announced similar sustainability measures this past summer (see below). In addition to bags and stirrers, Sodexo plans to phase out polystyrene foam (colloquially called Styrofoam) containers by 2025. Plastic straws, a controversial item , will now only be available by request, which the company hopes will cut down on customer usage. The move, says a representative from the company, will eliminate 245 million single use items that would have otherwise been used at its locations. The decision is being applauded by environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, who say that reducing consumption is a key step toward preventing plastic from entering landfills and marine environments. These non-profit groups are increasingly imploring food servers to cut back on the single-use plastic items they buy and sell to customers. “As a company serving consumers in universities, workplaces, hospitals, schools, stadiums, and so many other venues, we understand both the potential impact we can make through a commitment to reduction and the real benefit that some of these products bring to people every day,” Sodexo's vice president for corporate responsibility, Ted Monk, said in a press release .

President Trump Signs Bill to Clean Up Ocean Plastics

President Trump called out other nations, including China and Japan, for “making our oceans into their landfills” when he signed legislation last week to improve efforts to clean up plastic trash from the world’s oceans .

“As president, I will continue to do everything I can to stop other nations from making our oceans into their landfills,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony. “That’s why I’m please—very pleased, I must say—to put my signature on this important legislation.”

The law, passed with bipartisan support, amends the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Act and funds the program through 2022. The law fosters efforts to clean up plastic trash from the world’s oceans and encourages federal trade negotiators to prod “leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris” to improve management of waste that ends up in the oceans.

Trump agreed with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, that trade talks with the Philippines should include plastic waste. “We’re okay with that,” he said. “I understand. A lot comes from there.”

Trump also blamed other unnamed countries that “abuse the oceans” and whose trash floats to the West Coast of the United States,” creating, he said, “a very unfair situation.”

“It’s incredible. It’s incredible when you look at it,” Trump said. “People don’t realize it, but all the time we’re being inundated by debris from other countries.”

Comparatively, the beaches of the United States are among the world’s cleanest. Kamilo Beach in Hawaii, which faces the Pacific gyre, where ocean trash collects, is the exception. But most of the world’s plastic trash collects in coastal regions and on beaches in developing nations that lack adequate municipal waste collection systems.

Japan has had for years one of the world’s highest recycling rates and earlier this year, China stopped buying the world’s trash. The United States was one of the top sellers of recycled plastic to China.

The president’s full remarks are here, and the text of the Save Our Seas Act is here.

Red Lobster Phasing Out Plastic Straws

The world's largest seafood restaurant company, Red Lobster, announced Monday that it will begin only offering plastic straws upon customer request starting this November in its 700 restaurants. By 2020, the company plans to only offer a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic straws.

The company says the shift should eliminate more than 150 million plastic straws per year, with the goal of reducing the marine plastic pollution problem .

“We are proud to be the first large casual dining restaurant company to make a commitment to eliminate plastic straws from our restaurants,” Kim Lopdrup, CEO of Red Lobster, said in a statement. “This is a meaningful step in our long-standing commitment to protect and preserve the world’s oceans and marine life. We hope our work helps raise awareness around the issue of plastic straws and encourages other businesses to make similar changes.”

Red Lobster says it is looking into alternatives to plastic straws that will still meet the needs of customers with disabilities. (Learn more about plastic straw bans and how the travel industry is cutting back on plastic straws .)

California Approves Bill to Limit Straw Use in Restaurants

California has become the first state to implement a partial ban on plastic straws . Dine-in restaurants will no longer be allowed to automatically provide customers with straws. Instead, customers who need plastic straws will have to request them.

Restaurants that violate the ban will receive warnings first, and repeat offenders will be fined at a maximum of $300.

“Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences. Plastics, in all forms—straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc.—are choking the planet,” California's governor Jerry Brown said in a statement .

The new ban comes on the heels of previous plastic straw bans from companies and cities. Earlier this year, Seattle become the first large municipality to ban plastic straws in restaurants. Large corporations like United Airlines and Disney have also announced this year that they intend to phase plastic straws out of their offerings to customers. Many of these businesses and cities have said they will retain a stock of plastic straws available to customers upon request.

While some environmentalists applaud the move to reduce single-use plastic—plastic that's used once and then thrown away—bans on plastic straws have been met with some controversy.

Republican lawmakers in California opposed the ban, saying it would burden small business and do little to fight the larger plastic pollution crisis. Plastic straws make up less than one percent of the plastic found at sea.

Disability advocates also say straw bans place an unfair burden on people who have conditions that don't allow them to easily drink without straws. Some alternatives like paper fall apart and metal harm the inside of a person's mouth, they say.

Although California isn't the only region moving to limit single use plastic, the state has often tried to lead the nation in environmental legislation, particularly after what Gov. Brown says is a vacuum left by the Trump administration's decision to leave the U.N. Paris Climate Agreement.

Read the brief history of how plastic straws took over the world.

Giant Trash Collector Heads to Pacific Garbage Patch

The campaign to rid the world’s oceans of plastic trash marks a turning point on Saturday as a giant, floating trash collector steams out of San Francisco on a mission to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch .

Over the course of the next year, the device will undergo the ultimate tests and face some tough questions: Can technology prevail over nature? Did the engineers at The Ocean Cleanup in the Netherlands invent the first feasible method for extracting large amounts of plastic debris from the sea? Or will the wilds of the open Pacific tear it to shreds, turning the cleaner itself into plastic trash? Alternately, even if a Pacific storm does not devour the device, will it attract marine animals such as dolphins and turtles and fatally entangle them?

“I don’t think it’s going to work, but I hope it does,” says George Leonard , the Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist. “The ocean needs all the help it can get.” Read More

United Airlines Bans Plastic Straws from Flights

United Airlines today joined others in the travel industry by banning plastic straws and cocktail picks on their flights.

The airline will instead use a biodegradable bamboo alternative, starting in November.

Alaska and American airlines moved to ban plastic straws earlier this year, and some cities, like Seattle, have outlawed their use entirely.

As one of the reasons for switching to a more sustainable form of straw, United cited this alarming fact: “Because straws don’t biodegrade and are nearly impossible to recycle, it’s likely that every straw ever used still exists on our planet.”

“It's a small, but meaningful step to help minimize the impact plastic products have on our environment,” the company said in a press release .

Carlsberg Beer Dumps Plastic Can Rings

Danish brewer Carlsberg will become the first beer producer to ditch those evil plastic multipack rings that hold beer and other cans together for holders made of recyclable glue, according to a company press release .

Carlsberg also says it will cut the amount of plastic used in its traditional can holders by 76 percent.

Here’s how the glue-packs work: A drop of super-strong, temperature-tolerant glue is stuck on the side of a can, connecting it to the can next to it. If you want a beer , snap off a can. The glue will be recycled along with the can when it’s recycled.

Carlsberg described the move as a "world first for the beer industry."

Disney Announces Ban on Plastic Straws

The Walt Disney Company announced a ban on single-use plastic straws and stirrers at nearly all its theme parks and resorts. The policy, which is set to be in place by mid-2019, will cut down on the upwards of 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers that are used at these locations each year.

Paper straws will be available upon request and, for guests with disabilities, the company is developing alternative options for traditional plastic straws. Disney will also eliminate polystyrene cups at its parks and cut down its reliance on single-use plastic bags. Instead of disposable bags, guests will have the option to buy reusable shopping bags.

Additionally, the company will reduce the amount of plastic in guest rooms by 80 percent. Over the next few years, Disney will transition to refillable amenities in hotels and on cruise ships. When single-use plastics cannot be reduced, Disney will continue to recycle and properly dispose of waste, the company says.

Disney has other conservation measures in place. In Orlando at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, plastic straws and cup lids have been banned since the park opened in 1998.

Other theme parks, including SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Sesame Place, have announced initiatives to phase out straws and other single-use plastics. Earlier this month, Seattle banned plastic straws, and San Francisco is working to ban straws and other plastic items starting July 1, 2019.

In July 2018, Disney was approved to purchase 21 st Century Fox, the parent company of National Geographic.

National Geographic Travel Partner Bans Single-Use Plastics

On July 25, Lindblad Expeditions , an adventure cruise company that has teamed up with National Geographic Expeditions, announced it had become 100 percent free of single-use plastics. Now, disposable plastic bottles, cups, straws, and stirrers are entirely banned from the fleet’s 13 ships.

“The ocean is under major assault on so many fronts, and its protection is both a business mission and a personal passion,” Lindblad Expeditions CEO Sven Lindblad says in a press release. “The health of our planet is dependent on our oceans, and it is essential that we change our behavior with regard to plastics.”

Lindblad is known for its trips all over the world, particularly to places like Alaska and the Galápagos Islands. The company began working toward this plastic-free goal in 2007 when it banned single-use water bottles from its ships. Instead, it gave guests stainless steel bottles that could be refilled at filtered water stations on the ships. According to a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association and the nonprofit Travelers Against Plastic , the average adventure travel operator uses nearly 30,000 single-use plastic bottles each year.

About 80 percent of tourism takes place near coastal areas , putting our oceans at a higher risk of plastic pollution. When packing for air travel , consider using three-ounce reusable containers for your toiletries and load them into a durable transparent washbag instead of a plastic bag. On flights , bring your own earphones and turn down “comfort bag” items wrapped in plastic. Bring your reusable water bottle with you and fill it up when you can.

For more tips, read how one of our writers attempted to explore Belize plastic-free .

Big Companies Take Aim at Plastic Straws

Retail, restaurant, and consumer-facing companies could potentially make a big impact in the fight to reduce plastic straw use. They drive much of the demand for straws from plastic manufacturers. But these businesses are increasingly responding to consumer pressure. Starbucks is among the most recent companies to announce they'll ditch plastic straws —in this case by the end of 2020. Instead of getting sucked up through a straw, their cold drinks will be served in containers with special plastic lids. Those lids are less likely to get stuck up a turtle's nose and should prove more recyclable than straws, but the company has still received some pushback because the lids are still made of plastic. McDonald's is also planning to phase out plastic straws at their UK and Ireland locations, coinciding with UK and EU proposals to cut down single-use plastic. Among the other companies that have moved to reduce how much they use plastic: Bacardi Rum plans to cut their straw usage over the next two years by a billion, food service management giants Bon Appétit Management and Aramark plan to reduce their single-use plastics by 2019 and 2022, respectively, Alaska Airlines will begin phasing out plastic straws this summer, and American Airlines will begin phasing out plastic straws this summer. It remains to be seen if companies follow through on their goals, and it's clear that banning plastic straws is not going to solve the whole pollution problem. Supporters say reducing our use of straws is an easy first step, while detractors say it could distract from more important issues. In either case, taking aim at plastic straws has become rather fashionable this summer.

Chile’s Ban on Retail Plastic Bags Stands

Chile’s Constitutional Court ratified a bill that bans retail use of plastic bags across the country on July 6, ruling against an appeal that had been filed by the plastics industry. In June, Chile’s Congress had unanimously approved the new ban, citing concerns of plastic pollution in the ocean and on land.

The country’s Association of Industrial Plastics had sued to block the new law on constitutional grounds. But the court rejected their arguments.

Large retailers will have six months to phase out single-use plastic bags, while small businesses will have up to two years. The ban builds on a law passed under the previous president that had called for a prohibition on plastic bags along the country’s 4,000-mile coastline.

In announcing the new ban, Marcela Cubillos, Chile’s environment minister, told the New York Times , “We are convinced that our coast imposes an obligation to be leaders in cleaning up our oceans.”

Chile’s ban is the first country-wide one in the Americas. Similar bans have been passed in China, Kenya, France, and elsewhere. Many regional and local areas have bans or other restrictions, including taxes or fees aimed at discouraging the use of single-use plastic bags.

Seattle Becomes First U.S. City to Ban Plastic Straws and Utensils

In an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic waste polluting the land and water, Seattle banned the use of plastic straws and utensils in bars and restaurants starting July 1.

The roughly 5,000 eateries in the city are being encouraged to eschew providing straws or disposable utensils, or at least to switch to paper alternatives. A less green but still legal option, according to the city, is compostable plastic straws or utensils.

"Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world's oceans, and I'm proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban," Seattle Public Utilities General Manager Mami Hara said in a statement.

A similar ban that was proposed for Hawaii was defeated by opposition from industry. Other proposed bans are being debated in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., among other places.

Some advocates for the disabled have warned that straw bans need to take into account special needs. ( Learn more about the history of plastic straws and other efforts to remove them .)

Photos of Animals and Plastic

a whale shark swimming beside a plastic bag in the Gulf of Aden

EU, UK, and India Propose Plastic Bans

In draft rules released May 28 , the European Commission proposed a ban on 10 common items that it says make up about 70 percent of the litter in EU waters. This includes plastic straws, drink stirrers, plates, and more.

The rules would still need approval from member states and the European Parliament to move forward. They would likely not go into effect for several years.

The proposed law would also mandate that EU countries collect and recycle 90 percent of plastic bottles by 2025. Plastic producers would be on the hook for most of the expense of waste management and cleanup efforts.

In April, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her intent to establish a ban in her country on sales of single-use plastics , including straws and cotton swab handles.

Calling plastic waste “one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world,” May said she would work with industry to develop alternatives. An estimated 8.5 billion plastic straws are tossed out in the U.K. every year.

On June 5, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his intent to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022 . With a fast-growing economy and population of 1.3 billion, India struggles to manage its vast waste stream, and is a significant contributor to global ocean plastic.

“Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live,” Modi said.

Experts caution that Modi’s goal is far from being realized, and would likely take significant changes and investment from industry and the public. Already, industry lobbyists have taken aim at the efforts. The state of Maharashtra, home to megacity Mumbai, eased a ban on single-use plastic just a week after it unveiled the plan this summer. The state is working on a number of exemptions, for plastic of a certain thickness, products of a certain size, medical equipment, and other uses.

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  • 16 November 2022

How to make plastic less of an environmental burden

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Sarah DeWeerdt is a science writer based in Seattle, Washington.

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There’s a soap dish for sale at a beauty products shop in São Paulo, Brazil. An off-white disc with a smooth, rounded shape like a river stone, it is just one of millions of plastic soap dishes on offer in shops around the world. But, although most plastics are made from petroleum, some of the plastic in this dish started out as methane generated by a water-treatment facility in California.

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Bardow, A. et al. Preprint at Research Square https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-1788256/v1 (2022).

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The World's Plastic Pollution Crisis Explained

Much of the planet is swimming in discarded plastic, which is harming animal and possibly human health. Can it be cleaned up?


Children Play among Plastic

While plastic pollution is a worldwide problem it is most obvious in less-wealthy African and Asian nations, like the Philippines. Here, children play among plastic waste on the shore of Manila Bay.

Photograph by Randy Olson

While plastic pollution is a worldwide problem it is most obvious in less-wealthy African and Asian nations, like the Philippines. Here, children play among plastic waste on the shore of Manila Bay.

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Plastic pollution is most visible in less-wealthy Asian and African nations, where garbage collection systems are often inefficient or nonexistent. But wealthy nations, especially those with low recycling rates, also have trouble properly collecting discarded plastics. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous it has prompted efforts to write a global treaty negotiated by the United Nations. How Did this Happen? Plastics made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. Production and development of thousands of new plastic products accelerated after World War II to the extent that life without plastics would be unimaginable today. Plastics revolutionized medicine with life-saving devices, made space travel possible, lightened cars and jets—saving fuel and lessening pollution —and saved lives with helmets, incubators , and equipment for clean drinking water. The conveniences plastics offer, however, led to a throw-away culture that reveals the material’s dark side: Today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, are used for mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Plastics by the Numbers Some key facts:

  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
  • Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
  • Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down.

How Plastics Move around the World Most of the plastic trash in the oceans, Earth’s last sink, flows from land. Trash is also carried to sea by major rivers, which act as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they move downstream . Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world. On Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Group isolated halfway between Chile and New Zealand, scientists found plastic items from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China. They were carried to the South Pacific by the South Pacific gyre , a circular ocean current. Microplastics Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than half a centimer (one-fifth of an inch) across. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough . Microplastics are breaking down further into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic microfibers (or the even smaller nanofibers), meanwhile, have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air. Harm to Wildlife Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics. Most of the deaths to animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by  abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels destined for our dinner plates. In many cases, these tiny bits pass through the digestive system and are expelled without consequence. But plastics have also been found to have blocked digestive tracts or pierced organs, causing death. Stomachs so packed with plastics reduce the urge to eat, causing starvation. Plastics have been consumed by land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death. Tests have also confirmed liver and cell damage and disruptions to  reproductive systems , prompting some species, such as oysters, to produce fewer eggs. New research shows that larval fish are eating nanofibers in the first days of life, raising new questions about the effects of plastics on fish populations. Stemming the Plastic Tide Once in the ocean, it is difficult—if not impossible—to retrieve plastic waste. Mechanical systems, such as Mr. Trash Wheel, a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, can be effective at picking up large pieces of plastic, such as foam cups and food containers, from inland waters. But once plastics break down into microplastics and drift throughout the water column in the open ocean, they are virtually impossible to recover. The solution is to prevent plastic waste from entering rivers and seas in the first place, many scientists and conservationists—including the National Geographic Society—say. This could be accomplished with improved waste management systems and recycling, better product design that takes into account the short life of disposable packaging, and reduction in manufacturing of unnecessary single-use plastics.

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how to stop plastic pollution in nature

9 Things We Can do to Stop Plastic Pollution

4 9 Things That We Can Do To Stop Plastic Pollution

Pollution isn’t slowing down. In fact, it’s getting worse every single day, and it’s getting harder to combat the overwhelming effects on our planet.

Stopping pollution begins on an individual level , which in turn will rise to a collective level , provided enough of us change our habits for the better .

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown on how to stop plastic pollution, we got you covered:

Stop Plastic Pollution

  • 0.1 Share This Image On Your Site
  • 1.1 1. Use Biodegradable Items
  • 1.2 2. Go Reusable
  • 1.3 3. Start Cloth Diapering
  • 1.4 4. Get a Stainless Steel Straw
  • 1.5 5. Ditch Grocery Store Plastic Bags
  • 1.6 6. Start Cooking at Home
  • 1.7 7. Pay Attention to Your Skincare Products
  • 1.8 8. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
  • 1.9 9. Support Ocean Cleanup Companies

Share This Image On Your Site

Stop Plastic Pollution

How Can We Stop Plastic Pollution?

Let’s discuss some of the biggest ways that we’re polluting the earth every single day, and ways to prevent further damage.

1. Use Biodegradable Items

Biodegradability of Coton

Not to be confused with eco-friendly items.

Eco-friendly products are better for the environment, but biodegradable products are great for the environment.

And you can see you Google biodegradable definition :

Biodegradable means that it’s made with enough organic compounds and botanicals that the item in question will degrade in a short period of time, and imbue into nature without causing devastating harm.

Switching to biodegradable products can be a little bit more expensive than the products we use now, but that’s the catch—big companies have mastered cheap manufacturing, they just also happen to be the worst things you can imagine for our environment.

Find some green companies that can replace most of the single-use items in your home.

2. Go Reusable

Reusable Bag

While we’re on subject of single-use items, stop using them altogether.

Single-use plastic items are literally killing the ocean , creating dead zones as BPA and lead bleed into the waters, and blocking sunlight from creating algae and assisting marine life.

It’s estimated that there are more than five trillion pieces of garbage in the ocean right now, and that number is rapidly expanding as plastics (and styrofoam for that matter) dominate the marketplace in the form of single-use items.

You can either purchase reusable steel, ceramic, and porcelain containers instead of using plastic, or you can even reuse glass bottles my giving them a clean on a constant basis to replace water bottles.

Anything you can do to reduce will help, and getting reusable items is the best way to do that.

It’s a long-term solution, but with short-term benefits as well, such as saving money on purchasing single-use plastics, and minimizing your waste (cost of bags, trash removal, etc.).

3. Start Cloth Diapering

Cloth Diaper

Diapers are one of the worst things for the environment.

In case you were wondering, they’re mostly made up of plastics, but they’re just designed for more comfort than most.

There might be some cotton included for support and extra cushioning, but most diapers are made up of a ton of plastics.

Even though you might not be using diapers for a longer period of time, the average three-year range that it takes for a child to become potty trained means that you’ll be tossing nearly 10,000 diapers into landfills (and oceans).

If you tried to picture 10,000 diapers around you right now, it would make your head spin. It’s a lot of waste for one single person.

Cloth diapers don’t contribute nearly as much to the environmental dread as synthetics do, and can even save your up to 85% of your toddler’s would-be single-use diaper cost.

You’re still washing waste down the drain, but it’s something that we can at least process, whereas these plastic diapers are just ending up in landfills to rot for the next millennium.

One final note on diapers is that they contain SAP.

No, not tree sap, super absorbent polymer, which is poisonous to wildlife, marine life, and even humans. It’s petroleum that consumes liquid and expands, but it doesn’t stay together.

If you’ve ever accidentally had a diaper go through the wash, you’ll know exactly how much of a mess SAP can make.

4. Get a Stainless Steel Straw

Stainless Steel Straws

In a sense, the 2018 straw bans that went into effect were ridiculous, but showed us something: cutting down on disposable straws is a good thing.

Companies and restaurant chains tried to help the issue by making built-in straws in the lids of their drink cups, but that actually meant they were using more plastic than the straws were made with, and raising the prices of their drinks based on the cup costs.

Who really wins here? Nobody.

However, bringing your own stainless steel straw does make a difference.

If you get a coffee or smoothie during your lunch break five days a week, that’s 260 straws that you’re using per year when you could be using reusable coffee filters instead.

That’s 260 different bits of plastic that could be floating in the ocean right now.

Stainless steel straws are non-toxic, transmit heat and cold better than plastic (and without releasing BPA or other harmful chemicals into your beverage), and can be cleaned extremely easily.

500 million straws are used and discarded each year around the globe; let’s bring that number down.

5. Ditch Grocery Store Plastic Bags

Grocery Store Bag

One trillion plastic bags are manufactured every single year, and there’s more than one good reason to switch to reusable grocery store bags , and skip plastic.

First and foremost, those are one trillion bits of plastic that could be in our oceans (and there are currently five trillion pieces of plastic in there already).

That’s a pretty good reason to stop using plastic bags, but it goes beyond just grabbing them at the store and throwing them in the trash barrel at home.

The manufacturing costs of creating these bags are astronomical. It’s difficult to even process the amount of fuel that has to be burned every single year to produce that many bags.

We’re using more plastic than ever before, and the way that it’s created is sending carcinogens and toxins into the atmosphere at an alarming rate.

That’s before the bags get put in trucks to be driven hundreds of miles to distribution centers, which major brands like Walmart and Giant Foods use their own internal distribution services to then transport them to individual stores.

It’s a long chain of damage to the environment that ends with… more damage to the environment. It’s such a backwards concept.

Cloth bags also hold more weight, last for up to a decade with proper care, and don’t tear on you when you’re trying to bring things in the house.

Virtually everything about reusable cloth grocery bags are fantastic, and they don’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire.

No more bringing fifteen bags in on one arm—grab two stuffed cloth bags in, one in each hand, and minimize the trips out to the car.

6. Start Cooking at Home

home cooking saves resources

The food industry in America is massive, yet they’re all still poised with the harsh numbers that a vast majority of restaurants and food shops don’t make it past their first year.

In order to cut costs, they stick with styrofoam and plastic containers since they’re cheap to make. Each time you get delivery or go to a drive-thru, you’re adding plastic and styrofoam to the environment.

Cook at home more often.

Use stainless steel cookware and utensils, porcelain bowls and plates, and metal silverware that you will wash afterwards with a conservative amount of water.

While most people stick to the mentality of, “If I don’t order food in plastic containers, someone else will,” that’s not a helpful mindset for the environment and cutting down on plastic use.

Regardless of what the rest of the world is doing, you didn’t eat out of a styrofoam container today, so you didn’t put more garbage in the landfill.

Get enough people together that think and act this way, and that’s when you start seeing change.

7. Pay Attention to Your Skincare Products

Skincare Product

There’s a lot of plastic in skincare and personal hygiene products.

Microbeads, toothpaste, as well as conditioner. If you’re wondering how they slipped plastic into shampoos and conditioners, just look at the bottle for anything that begins with poly.

Poly means polymer, and there are two types: naturally occuring polymers, and synthetics.

As you might have imagined, synthetic polymers are plastics, which are what you don’t want to find in anything remotely used for personal care.

They wash down the drain, and are very difficult to pick up when that sewage passes through water processing facilities.

To clarify things, not every polymer in the world is bad.

Naturally occuring polymers are biodegradable, more or less, such as what you would see in cotton, silk, wood, leather, and wool.

It turns out that you have a ton of polymer products in your home, but it’s the synthetic ones that are bad.

The reason for this is that polymers are extremely difficult to break down.

Even in the perfect environment of ample sunlight, proper moisture and intense heat, synthetic polymers can still take a century to break down.

During that time, the process of breaking down begins, slowly bleeding these polymers into the soil and poisoning it.

The same effect happens in the ocean, where the process may be slightly shorter, but even more harmful.

8. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Coca Cola Bottles

Stop investing in companies that produce massive amounts of plastic waste .

You may not think of it as that, but when you buy Solo cups, you’re investing in Solo: they’re getting profits to create more factories, produce more pollution, and make more plastic cups to meet the demands of their customers.

Any profitable business won’t over produce their primary products if they aren’t selling.

Buy from companies like Seventh Generation, where even the containers are biodegradable.

Buy from Hello Boo, who makes biodegradable toothbrushes (bristles, handles, all of it).

There’s an alternative to single-use plastic giants, you just have to do a bit of research to find the right ones that fit into your lifestyle.

When you invest in those companies, the earth-friendly and eco-conscious brands, they get to grow and in turn reduce plastic waste by introducing more biodegradable alternatives to the market.

9. Support Ocean Cleanup Companies

Ocean Cleanup Company

These are people who are shouldering the burden of society, even though nobody asked them to.

Some of them do turn a profit, but that’s merely to expand on their operations to make a larger impact.

One such company is The Ocean Cleanup, which is constantly developing new technology to deal with the increase in plastic pollution in our ocean.

They estimate that there are five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, but have the ability to clean up half of the great pacific garbage patch on a rigorously scheduled basis.

You can support them, or companies like 4Ocean, who sell bracelets made out of actual plastic from the ocean.

Proceeds from each of the bracelet sales work to clean up a pound of plastic from the ocean.

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how to stop plastic pollution in nature

© 2020. All rights reserved. NatureCode.org

Oceanic Society

A sea turtle mistakes a plastic bag for food. © Ben J. Hicks / benjhicks.com

One of the reasons that plastic pollution is such a problem is that it doesn’t go away: “plastics are forever.” Instead, plastic debris simply breaks down into ever-smaller particles, known as microplastics , whose environmental impacts are still being determined.

Plastic Pollution Solutions: 7 Things You Can Do Today

Everyone can do something to help solve the plastic pollution problem, and millions of people worldwide are already taking action to reduce their plastic use . Here are seven ways you can make a difference, starting today.

1. Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics

Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can get started is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded.

The best way to do this is by a) refusing any single-use plastics that you do not need (e.g. straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils, takeout containers), and b) purchasing, and carrying with you, reusable versions of those products, including reusable grocery bags , produce bags , bottles , utensils , coffee cups , and dry cleaning garment bags . And when you refuse single-use plastic items, help businesses by letting them know that you would like them to offer alternatives.

2. Support Legislation to Curb Plastic Production and Waste

As important as it is to change our individual behaviors, such changes alone are insufficient to stop ocean plastic pollution. We also need legislation that reduces plastic production, improves waste management, and makes plastic producers responsible for the waste they generate. There are a variety of ways that you can support local, national, and international legislation that provide critical solutions to reduce plastic pollution. One such effort in the United States is the 2021 Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act , a comprehensive federal bill that aims to address the plastic pollution crisis, and there are a number of state level initiatives to introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation that makes plastic producers and distributors responsible for their products and packaging at the end of life.

At the international level, hundreds of organizations and businesses successfully worked together with United Nations member states to enact a global plastics treaty , signed by 175 member states, that will set global rules and regulations to reduce plastic pollution. And legislation that limits, taxes, or bans unnecessary single use plastic items, such as plastic bags, takeout containers, and bottles, has been successfully enacted in many places globally, and you can support the adoption of such policies in your community too. Here is a comprehensive resource and toolkit on legislative approaches to limiting plastic bags, foodware, microplastics, and more.

3. Recycle Properly

This should go without saying, but when you use single-use (and other) plastics that can be recycled, always be sure to recycle them. At present, just 9% of plastic is recycled worldwide . Recycling helps keep plastics out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation. If you need help finding a place to recycle plastic waste near you, check Earth911’s recycling directory . It’s also important to check with your local recycling center about the types of plastic they accept.

4. Participate In (or Organize) a Beach or River Cleanup

Help remove plastics from the ocean and prevent them from getting there in the first place by participating in, or organizing a cleanup of your local beach or waterway . This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution. You can simply go to the beach or waterway and collect plastic waste on your own or with friends or family, or you can join a local organization’s cleanup or an international event like our Global Ocean Cleanup  or the International Coastal Cleanup .

  Take Our 7-Day Fight Plastic Waste Challenge Join the global movement to fight plastic waste with our 7-day challenge. With just a few minutes a day, you’ll be on your way to reducing ocean plastic pollution from home. Take the Challenge

5. Avoid Products Containing Microbeads

Tiny plastic particles, called “ microbeads ,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products (find a list of products containing microbeads here ).

6. Spread the Word

Stay informed on issues related to plastic pollution and help make others aware of the problem. Tell your friends and family about how they can be part of the solution, or host a viewing party for one of the many plastic pollution focused documentaries, like A Plastic Ocean , Garbage Island: An Ocean Full of Plastic , Bag It , Addicted to Plastic , Plasticized , or Garbage Island .

7. Support Organizations Addressing Plastic Pollution

There are many non-profit organizations working to reduce and eliminate ocean plastic pollution in a variety of different ways, including Oceanic Society , Plastic Pollution Coalition , 5 Gyres , Algalita , Plastic Soup Foundation , and others. These organizations rely on donations from people like you to continue their important work. Even small donations can make a big difference!

These seven ideas only scratch the surface for ways you can help address the growing problem of plastic pollution in the oceans. The important thing is that we all do something, no matter how small. For more ideas and resources, sign up to join our Blue Habits community of people worldwide committed to joyful daily actions that improve ocean health.

  Reduce Plastic Pollution From Home with Our 7-Day Challenge Join the global movement to fight plastic waste by participating in our 7-day challenge. Take the Challenge

Oceanic Society community members clean up San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

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How Do We Clean Up All That Ocean Plastic?

ocean plastic washed up on a beach

There are currently 75 to 199 million tons of plastic polluting our oceans, according to the World Economic Forum . This is a result of humans recycling only nine percent of plastic waste and dumping 10 million tons of it into the seas each year.

If we continue on this path, the annual flow of plastic into the ocean could triple by 2040 as plastic production continues to increase . Marine plastic pollution may be costing the world economy trillions of dollars every year because it affects fisheries, coastlines, tourism, marine life, and the food we eat.

Some ocean plastic ends up in one of five major gyres , systems of ocean currents that corral marine garbage into their vortexes.

diagram shows where ocean plastic collects in gyres

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest gyre, located between Hawaii and California, covers 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice as big as Texas. It’s estimated that it contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing almost 90,000 tons. While there are many identifiable floating items in the gyre—macroplastics such as cigarette butts, plastic bags, food containers, laundry baskets, plastic bottles, medical waste, fishing gear, and more—most of the plastic is the size of pepper flakes or smaller, broken down by the sun and waves over the years.

Despite the fact that the majority of large plastic pieces are spread out across the vastness of the oceans and the rest may be too small to collect, there are a number of organizations attempting to clean up the oceans.

Collecting plastic from the oceans

The most high-profile effort to clean up ocean plastic is being conducted by Ocean Cleanup , a Dutch nonprofit whose goal is to get rid of 90 percent of floating plastic pollution in the ocean. Its first collection system proved ineffective when plastic garbage was able to escape its barriers and a part broke off due to the winds and waves. Its more successful current iteration has removed 220,000 pounds of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Ocean Cleanup’s system  consists of a large floating net-like barrier three meters deep that forms a large U shape which is slowly towed by two ships. The natural flow caused by the movement directs plastic to the central retention zone. Once a week, the two vessels come together to close the barriers, pick up the retention zone, and empty the plastic out onto one of their decks. There it’s separated into different recycling streams, packaged, and sent to recycling facilities onshore. The organization’s System 03 is in the works; it’s three times bigger and will reduce the cost per kilogram of plastic collected.

While Ocean Cleanup has received a lot of attention for its efforts, some marine biologists believe its methods could actually do more harm than good. They point to the fossil fuel-powered ships towing the barriers that emit 660 tons of carbon dioxide per month of cleanup. Ocean Cleanup says it offsets its emissions and that it is experimenting with biofuels.

Several ocean plastic experts are also worried that Ocean Cleanup’s system will harm marine life and could kill creatures even if they are returned to the ocean. Ocean Cleanup counters that fish can escape its system. In addition, there are breathing ports for mammals, birds, or turtles that get caught in the retention zone, underwater cameras to ensure that marine life doesn’t get entangled, and a remote-controlled trigger release which opens one end of the retention zone if a creature is trapped. Protected species observers are always onboard to monitor and document all animals.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Another concern is that Ocean Cleanup’s system could harm a little understood ecosystem called neuston—comprising insects, worms, snails, nudibranchs, crabs, sea anemones and more that float on the ocean surface much like the plastic—before scientists have even had sufficient time to study it.

Other critics say that Ocean Cleanup’s technique cannot get rid of the microplastics, and some believe lower tech strategies like beach cleanups are more effective because they prevent plastics from reaching the ocean in the first place.

Plastic on the beaches

While much of the plastic floating around in the gyres has been found to be decades old, it turns out that more of the recently produced plastic stays near shorelines. One study found that, for the first five years after entering the ocean from land, 77 percent of plastic remained on beaches or floated in coastal waters. According to Utrecht University oceanographer Erik van Sebille, most plastic in the ocean remains within 100 miles of the shore between the coastline and ocean, washing back and forth and scraping on the sand—a process that eventually breaks it down into microplastics.This means that beach cleanups may be one of the most effective ways of dealing with ocean plastics and microplastics.

A number of organizations regularly arrange beach cleanups for volunteers: The Ocean Conservancy , Surfrider Foundation , American Littoral Society , and Ocean Blue Project , to name a few.

Cleaning up rivers

Most plastic enters the ocean from rivers.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Scientists have found that 1,000 rivers around the world are responsible for 80 percent of the plastic in rivers that ends up in the ocean.

Ocean Cleanup also has river cleanup technology called Interceptors , solar-powered catamaran-like vessels that are put into the mouth of polluted rivers. As the water flows, trash is guided by a barrier onto the Interceptor’s conveyor belt which dumps it into a shuttle; the shuttle carries the trash to dumpsters on a barge that are brought to the riverside and emptied. The trash is sent to a waste management facility. So far, eight Interceptors have removed over 2.2 million pounds of trash from rivers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

In Baltimore Harbor, Mr. Trash Wheel catches plastic pollution from a local river. Its containment booms direct trash flowing down the river into its mouth where a rake lifts it onto a conveyor belt. The trash is dropped into a dumpster on a separate barge at the top of the belt, and eventually incinerated for electricity. A giant water wheel powers the rake and conveyor belt, but if the current isn’t strong enough, solar power is used to pump water onto the wheel to keep it going. Four trash wheels currently working in Baltimore have picked up 2,000 tons of trash including 1.5 million plastic bottles, 1.4 million foam containers, and 12.6 million cigarette butts. Trash wheels are being planned for Texas, California, and Panama.

AlphaMERS, an Indian company, makes stainless steel mesh fences that block river trash. They are strong enough to withstand fast currents that might overwhelm barriers. The angle of the barriers directs trash towards the shore where it is collected. Thirty-four fences are currently installed in eight Indian cities.

This year, a Dutch startup installed its first Bubble Barrier in an Amsterdam canal. A perforated tube placed diagonally at the bottom of a river pumps out air, generating a bubble curtain. The pump is powered by renewable energy if possible.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

When the river current meets the bubble barrier, plastic waste is pushed to the side and into a catchment system. The technology enables ships and migrating fish to easily pass through the bubbles. A Bubble Barrier in Katwijk, Netherlands prevents plastics from reaching the North Sea, and others are being planned for Portugal and Southeast Asia.

Where is the rest of the ocean plastic?

Van Sebille’s research estimated that there are 276,000 tons of small floating plastic on the surface of the ocean. But scientists believe that between 5.3 to 14 million tons of plastic entered the oceans in 2010 alone. If what is found floating on the ocean surface represents only one percent of the plastic that ends up in the ocean each year, where is the rest of it?


Scientists think that the ocean contains 24.4 trillion pieces of microplastics — fragments of plastic less than five millimeters in length, or about the size of a sesame seed — weighing between 82,000 and 578,000 tons. There is likely more. Most microplastics come from synthetic clothing, personal care products, tires, city dust, and from the breakdown of plastic debris. Current technology is not able to filter them out at sewage treatment plants, so most of it washes out to sea and ends up in the ocean or in the sediment.

A sediment sample taken off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA showed the contents of the sediment from 1870 to 2009. In the layers representing 1945 to 2009, researchers found plastic fibers one millimeter or smaller in size. As the years went on, the amount doubled every 15 years—an increase that reflects the actual rate of global plastic production. Australian researchers analyzing ocean sediments estimated that almost 15.5 million tons of microplastics now exist on the ocean floor.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Marine animals eat microplastics, which means they also ingest the toxic chemicals that were added to make the original plastic product flexible, colorful, waterproof, or flame resistant. Microplastics can also absorb other toxic chemicals and carry harmful bacteria. They have been shown to harm marine life by disrupting reproductive systems, stunting growth, and causing tissue inflammation and liver damage.

Because microplastics have been found in all marine life—even in the guts of tiny crustaceans in the ocean’s deepest trenches—they are part of the food chain and are also consumed by humans. Microplastics have already been found in human blood, feces, and in the placentas of unborn babies, but so far there have been no large definitive studies on how microplastics harm human health.

Beizhan Yan is a Lamont Associate Research Professor at Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory,  where he specializes in plastic pollution. He is collaborating with researchers from the Columbia Chemistry Department and the Mailman School of Public Health to examine the presence of microplastics and nanoplastics (tiny pieces less than one micron in size) in humans—what exposure levels people have, how the plastic particles get into the blood, whether microplastics are transported to the organs, and whether they are able to cause adverse health effects.

Yan is also working with Riverkeeper, Philip Orton from Stevens Institute of Technology, and his colleague Joaquim Goes at Lamont to study the sources and environmental fate of microplastics in NYC waterways . Cleaning up microplastics while also protecting ecosystems will not be easy.

Yan said, “Those tiny microplastics coexist with many other minerals and fine particles, like silt, clay, plant debris, and black carbon—all sorts of other particles, whether natural or anthropogenic. They have a similar size and density, so it’s difficult to efficiently separate microplastics from other particles. In terms of concentration or mass, the microplastics are probably less than 0.1 percent of the total mass of these particles.” He believes that in the future, researchers may develop technology to separate the elements out efficiently, but today it does not exist.

ocean plastic washed up on a beach

There are, however, ongoing efforts to deal with microplastics. NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System can help track microplastics as they move by analyzing where the ocean surface is smoother and thus likely to have more microplastics. This enables organizations attempting to clean up microplastics to identify the areas of greatest density.

Numerous experiments are being conducted to capture microplastics. Wasser 3.0 , a German company, uses a special non-toxic compound which, when circulated in a vortex, pulls microplastics into popcorn-like clumps that can then be collected. The technique could be used in sewage treatment plants or industrial processes. It is already being used in a paper processing plant and a wastewater treatment plant in Landau-Mörlheim where it has removed 600 pounds of microplastics.

Some scientists discovered enzymes that can break down polyester. Researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University devised a sticky biofilm from a bacterium that can incorporate microplastics. At the University of Adelaide, scientists created spring-shaped carbon nanotube magnets that grab microplastics and break them down into harmless water-soluble pieces. And a chemistry student in the Netherlands invented a device where microplastics attach themselves to a magnetic liquid; the contents can then be removed with a magnet, leaving only water behind.

Yan contends that the most cost-effective way to deal with plastic pollution, however, is to control its sources. For example, sewage is one of the primary sources of microplastics, though microplastics originate from the products people use. Studies show that most of the microplastics in sewage effluent are microfibers that come from laundry —washing machines and driers. Yan’s study of New York City waters found that more than 90 percent of the microplastics greater than 0.2 millimeters were microfibers shed from clothing, transported by the wastewater of washing machines. With more and more people dressing in clothes made from synthetics that shed microfibers, it’s unlikely that the fashion business will stop using these materials, so microfibers must somehow be prevented from getting into the sewage system to begin with. Yan and researchers from SUNY Stony Brook and North Carolina State University are proposing a study to NOAA to develop advanced filtration techniques that can capture microplastics and fibers from the laundry and repurpose them into new fibers for use in the fashion industry.

Plastic on the seafloor

In addition to the microplastics accumulating in sediments, larger plastic also sinks to the seafloor. One study found that 50 percent of the plastic in landfills is denser than seawater, which means these objects may sink on their own. The other 50 percent can be colonized by barnacles and other organisms over time, making them heavier than seawater, so eventually they sink as well.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

An image that has become iconic is that of the plastic bag found in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, 36,000 feet below sea level in the Pacific Ocean. Other single-use plastics have also been found on the ocean floor and while there have been a few limited estimates of how much plastic resides in certain areas, there is no data for most areas of the overall seafloor.

According to Yan, the two fundamental questions about plastics on the ocean floor are: where are the macroplastics, and are they causing trouble?

“The scientific community can use models to figure out where most of these plastics are, because we don’t know right now,” he said. But cleaning up the plastics on the ocean floor is challenging because they settle so deep, and a cleanup would be very costly. Another concern is that plastics on the ocean bottom become part of the ecosystem. “Some of the animals use the plastics and live with them,” Yan said. “How do you do a cleanup without interfering with the ecosystems of those animals?”

Yan believes that scientists may eventually develop an underwater drone that can identify macroplastics and gather them from the ocean bottom. However, this would be expensive because of the need to lower the drones, pick up the macroplastics and bring them to shore, and possibly the need for trained pilots to operate the drones.

Reducing ocean plastic

While cleanup technologies have a role to play in cleaning up ocean plastic, no single solution can effectively reduce ocean plastic. What is required is fundamental and systemic change that includes the banning of single-use plastics in favor of products designed to be recycled or repaired, and more recycling infrastructure. Breaking the Plastic Wave, a Pew Report, identified the measures which, if implemented, could cut annual dumping of plastic into the ocean by 80 percent in 20 years. These include reducing plastic consumption, substituting plastic with compostable materials, designing products and packaging with recycling in mind, increasing recycling, proper disposal of plastics that can’t be recycled, and reducing the export of waste.

“To me, plastic is still a good thing,” said Yan. “With it, you use less steel, wood, and other resources. But the only way to correctly use it is to recycle it, reuse it, and repurpose it, rather than discard it in the environment. Pathetically, less than 10 percent of plastics are recycled right now. We should actively research affordable solutions to prevent plastics from getting into the environment.”

Towards that end, Yan is the director of the Plastic Pollution Analysis and Sustainable Solutions Network recently funded by the Columbia Climate School, bringing together more than 30 researchers working in environmental law, engineering, life cycle analysis, environmental health, and more.

“I think that for human beings, plastic pollution is the biggest pollution issue right now in terms of the total amount of the pollutants being generated, and how challenging it is to deal with,” said Yan. “But if we work together, we can solve these issues in the future.”

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The best article I’ve read about plastic in the ocean. It’s a depressing situation, but heartening to see what advances are being researched and worked on for the health of future generations.

Frank Mancuso

I likely was the first to address this over 30 years ago in a series of lawsuits that lasted over 20 years. Marine micro plastic is a sponge for PCBs and has killed or displaced phytoplankton as the beginning of the oceans food chain. We eat it it’s in our air, rain, and unborn children. Industry and government spent millions defending it in court. Consiquently, phytoplankton is half gone in my lifetime. As it goes all life will soon follow. It’s fixable and as a bonus can halt global warming.

Neal Parry

Very interesting article, and pleased to see the Columbia Climate School addressing plastic pollution. After graduating SIPA (MPA-ESP, 2006), I went to work for the NOAA Marine Debris Division to promote policy and science-based solutions. Progress has been made, but still challenged by behavior change – keep up the good work at Columbia!


It’s good that somebody is helping clean up the ocean. It hearts my heart when see animals die especially sea turtles.

Gurly Gurl

You guys are doing a great job cleaning up the ocean!!!


The best article I’ve read about plastic in the ocean. It’s a depressing situation, but heartening to see what advances are being researched and worked on for the health of future generations.


indeed we need to help the ocean from plastic and i’m glad that there’s article’s to give tips on how to help the plant


At least someone is trying to help clean the ocean. I love dolphins and it hurts to see them die from all the plastic


I love this article it is one of the best. it really shows how much pollution affects our planet and the sea creatures on this earth. it is sad how people are causing to our planet and ecosystem.

Luis Torres

what solutions can i use to prevent plastic from being in the ocean?

Carrie Wang

The challenge of ocean plastic pollution is immense, with millions of tons of plastic contaminating our seas. While cleanup efforts are commendable, they are not a panacea. The real solution lies in systemic change—reducing single-use plastics, promoting recycling, and fostering sustainable practices.


This was VERY helpful (not being sarcastic)

Jesus Saves

This is a really nice article.


Wow, this is such an important topic! Thanks for sharing this insightful blog post on how we can clean up all that ocean plastic. It’s crucial that we come together to find sustainable solutions and take action to protect our oceans. I appreciate you shedding light on this pressing issue!


Impressive article highlighting the urgent and complex challenge of ocean plastic pollution. Thank you for shedding light on the innovative efforts and ongoing debates in this crucial environmental issue. How effective do you think these cleanup initiatives will be in the long run?


Thank you for this enlightening article on the critical issue of ocean plastic pollution and its cleanup. Could you delve deeper into how individual and community actions, such as reducing plastic use and participating in local cleanup efforts, can effectively complement these larger-scale initiatives?

Bob Dabuilder

How does 14M tons of plastic affect sea levels?


So I wanna say that you should tell us how does giving jobs of cleaning the ocean affect the ocean and what are the differences.

Stuart Pearlman

I like the information but is there any way you could shorten it for a younger audience?


yes, I think the same. If you made the text shorter and summarized it would be easier for students to read and not as long. I was shocked when I read that there was so much plastic in the ocean. I wish more people would realize that so much trash ends up in the ocean. In my opinion we should stop throwing the plastic on the floor. People should pay more attention to their waste and take care of it properly. It makes me angry that the animals are almost extinct because of our garbage.what do you think about it?

Daniel McFraffman

Nice article, BUT maybe touch on how we can prevent the ocean pollution (not being sarcastic)

Lea Beer

Wow that is such an important topic! I wish this would be thaught more in schools!


thank you for these ways to help! ill def be trying lol


it,s sad to see all the plastic in the ocean

Steven cheng

I work in injection molding, but recently, our industry has adopted naturally decomposing plastics – PLA, which breaks down naturally in a short period of time with little or no pollution.


What a great article! I feel like we need to pay more attention about the garbage in the ocean. If we was more careful, the sea woulda been way more beautiful.

Aro la 2

I don’t think that’s great for the animals. What I think is great is that there are people who clean the ocean. Unfortunately there are still too few people doing it. If I could then I would like to help. I once saw someone making useful things out of the plastic.

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Microplastics are everywhere. Here's how to curb plastic pollution

Stock image of trash, plastic bag, bottle on the beach. Plastics and other waste that pollute the ocean environment

Plastic is in our environment and entering our bodies. Image:  Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Margaux deguerre.

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Stay up to date:, climate and nature.

  • Microplastics are found all over the world – including in the human body.
  • The international plastics agenda can be ambitious by adhering to three simple principles: reduction, honesty and transparency.
  • The Natural Polymers Group, a global coalition of packaging companies, is calling on the UN Global Plastics Treaty to recognize natural polymer materials as a key tool in the fight against plastic.

Each one of us may be ingesting 5 grams of plastic a week – the equivalent of a credit card – through common foods and beverages. The statistics are harrowing. By 2050 our ocean could contain more plastic than fish by weight. And, just because you can’t see microplastics doesn’t mean they’re not harmful. They can cause cancers, asthma, infertility, diabetes and other diseases . Microplastics are even in our blood .

With plastic waste projected to triple by 2060 , how many more credit cards will we be eating soon?

The UN Global Plastics Treaty is a historic opportunity to address this global crisis and create a more sustainable future for all. As world leaders head to the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) in Nairobi , it is important to drop outdated concepts and redefine what sustainable really means for plastic and its true alternatives.

As researchers and innovators in sustainability, we believe that the international plastics agenda can be ambitious but straightforward by adhering to three simple principles: reduction, honesty and transparency.

Have you read?

How to defeat the plastic tide threatening the asean region’s green growth, how nigerian women are leading national action against plastic pollution, majority of people support global rules to end plastic pollution, prioritize plastic reduction.

First, we must resist the recycling myth and instead remain laser-focused on plastic reduction.

Only 9% of plastics are recycled . Despite that little recycling symbol on the bottom of most plastic products, many are simply not recyclable and, even when they are recycled, up to 13% of them end up in the environment as microplastics. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency declared the symbol “ deceptive and misleading ” and the US Government is considering prohibiting its broad use. Governments worldwide must take this first step to ensure consumers are properly informed.

Similarly, we must stop using the term " circular economy for plastics, " which is the theme of the pending UN Plastics Treaty. It is synonymous with recycling for many. A 'low plastic economy' is a better goal. While recycled and upcycled products have a role, items recyclable mostly in theory should no longer be celebrated.

Of course, systematic change requires more than altering symbols and words. To avoid a massive build-up of plastic in the environment, plastic agendas should have one key metric: eliminate plastics wherever possible. All other plastic-related targets should be secondary. This summer, New York City prohibited single-use plastics in food deliveries, and from October 2023, a similar ban in the UK took effect. Even though 120 countries have issued some bans, their effect is minimal because banned items, such as plastic bags, constitute a tiny portion of plastics . Both governments and companies should target the reduction of plastics well beyond plastic bags and forks.

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more about our impact .

We must be honest about what is sustainable

Second, we must implement plastic reduction honestly.

The market is flooded with plastics and bioplastics claiming to be sustainable, biodegradable or compostable. In reality, many require commercial facilities and, just like theoretically recyclable items, do not reach them; others create microplastics. Often products that are designed to look sustainable in reality are not. For example, not many realize that cardboard takeout containers are often lined with wax or plastic to prevent leakage. Governments should penalize these misleading practices and we call on companies to shift to truly sustainable alternatives.

Nature’s example of a single-use item is fruit. Governments and businesses need to incentivize innovation in materials that biodegrade quickly without requiring commercial facilities or creating microplastics. For example, the $1.2 million Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize recently announced its three winners who are all using seaweed to design sustainable, biologically degradable alternatives to thin-film plastic. One of the winners of the award, Notpla, has established the Natural Polymers Group , a network of innovators who are creating nature-based substitutes to plastic to address the global issue of plastic pollution. Ahead of the upcoming UN plastic treaty negotiation, the group is calling for UN Treaty makers to recognize natural polymer materials as a key tool in the fight against plastic and to be included in its definition for non-plastic substitutes.

Let's be transparent

And, finally, we must dramatically increase transparency in measuring results.

We need to be acutely aware of 'green inflation' - the cost of delay in addressing environmental issues. The UN Environment Programme determined that the cost of inaction is double the cost of combating plastic waste ($113 v. $65 billion per year). Governments’ and companies’ delaying tactics need to stop.

Imagine a race where each runner sets their own starting time and distance and does not report their speed. Even under the long-awaited Sustainability Standards , adopted in the summer of 2023, companies establish their own metrics. Instead, a comparison to a benchmark from a common starting point to a common finish line would make the reported information more meaningful to the markets. Let’s start the race and make it transparent.

In conclusion, we propose that the international community, governments and companies focus on reducing plastic production, rather than relying on recycling. We can do this by creating and investing in true, natural alternatives to plastics and maintaining transparent measurements of our progress.

Plastic in the ocean and the human blood is already emerging as our new reality. Our urgent action will help prevent the plastic nightmare from coming true.

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Impacts of Plastic Pollution

This is a picture of a beach with plastics waste strewn upon it and waves nearing the waste.

Plastic pollution has become ubiquitous in natural and built environments, raising concerns about potential harm to humans and nature alike. Once in the environment, research shows that plastic pollution is persistent and may take between 100 to 1,000 years or more to decompose, depending on environmental conditions. 

Once in the environment, plastic pollution can fragment into smaller pieces of plastic. Microplastics are plastic particles ranging in size from five millimeters to one nanometer; nanoplastics are plastic particles smaller than one micrometer. Both are found in every ecosystem on the planet from the Antarctic tundra to tropical coral reefs.  

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Environmental Impacts

Human health impacts.

This is a photo of a penguin standing next to an empty plastic bottle

Plastic pollution poses a threat to the marine environment. It puts marine species at higher risk of ingesting plastic, suffocating, or becoming entangled in plastic pollution. Research indicates that more than 1,500 species in marine and terrestrial environments are known to ingest plastics.  

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that in 2019, plastic products were responsible for 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions throughout their life cycles, with 90% of these emissions coming from the production and conversion of fossil fuels into new plastic products. OECD also reports that, unless human behavior changes, greenhouse gas emissions associated with the life cycle of plastic products are expected to double by 2060. The World Economic Forum projects that without intervention, the global plastics industry will account for 20% of total oil consumption and up to 15% of global carbon emissions by 2050.   

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, microplastics have also been found in human livers, kidneys, and placentas. Additionally, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (pdf) (291 KB)  finds that carcinogenic chemicals found in plastic products can leach into tap water, which may cause developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune disorders. Some animal studies have raised similar concerns about endocrine-disrupting effects. More research is needed to better understand the potential human health impact of microplastics. 

  • Sustainable Management of Plastics Homepage
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how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Sue Kemp was a long time supporter and advisor for the Plastic Tides team before joining the board in an official status. Sue is a respected interior designer by profession, but her skills and insight support her prolific civic engagement. As a Bermudian, Sue is well connected in the local community and has provided valuable advice and direction to the organization.

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26-year-old Environmental engineer bachelor from Peru. Researcher and passionate about the environment. Trying to solve the plastic pollution problem through new inventions and engineering. Languages, music and horror movies fanatic.

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Wishka Tilakaratne is a B.A. student at the University of Colombo where she is interested in majoring in English. She is also studying Law at the University of London. She is keen about social issues including gender inequality, environmental pollution and poverty. She aspires to pursue a career in the legal field and focus on human rights. Wishka lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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My name is Katy Wicks! I live in Moscow, Idaho and attend to the University of Idaho. I love spending time outdoors, but when I am not I can usually be found doing graphic design projects, listening to podcasts, or making vegan snacks. I have always loved the ocean and been obsessed with everything about it, I see the ocean as a whole world outside of our own. I am super passionate about saving the ocean and all the creatures in it so many generations can experience the feeling of putting a dive mask on and discovering another world.

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Hi there! I’m Rhe and I am a junior organizational communications major at the University of Portland. Besides sustainability, I also love creating delicious vegan recipes and messing around on my yoga mat.


Emily is a student at the University of Richmond, in Richmond, VA (not directly on a coast, but not far!), focusing on Environmental Studies and Business Administration. She is passionate about raising awareness of the need to protect our waterways and encouraging a sustainable environment for all. Emily always has a reusable water bottle with her, as well as reusable bamboo cutlery and does her best to avoid single use plastic! Emily lives just north of Chicago, three miles west of Lake Michigan. In the summer, when not working (or traveling), she is at the beach, sailing, SUPing, kayaking, or swimming, and also loves to hike whenever she can find some mountains

13 ways to save the Earth from pollution

You might use plastic water bottles, yogurt cups, and straws for just a day, but they can remain in the environment for years. And that pollution can harm habitats and the animals that live there. Cut down Earth’s trash with these tips. 

Bust the balloons

Balloons eventually fall back down to Earth … and can end up in the ocean, entangling animals or being mistaken for food. Skip the balloons at your next party, and ask friends to do the same. Make pom-pom decorations instead!

Bin for the win

Always throw trash in the can. Garbage left outside might harm wildlife and end up in the ocean. Trash that’s properly brought to a landfill is kept out of the sea.

Fish responsibly

If you go fishing, don’t leave nets or lines in the water. Animals can become entangled in the trash.

Scientists estimate that about half the world’s sea turtles accidentally eat plastic and other trash. Keep the ocean clean by never leaving toys or trash at the beach.

Dump plastic

According to one study, over eight million tons of plastic pollution end up in the ocean each year. Drink from a refillable water bottle, place your sandwich in cloth or a reusable container, and use bar soap instead of bottled.

Garbage club

Form a club in your classroom to reduce your waste at school . Monitor what’s thrown away each week, and think about ways to cut down on those items.

Trash trooper

Participate in a community cleanup . The groups that host the events sometimes weigh the collected trash, which helps leaders make decisions about laws that encourage people to waste less.

Recycle right

People in the United States recycle only about 35 percent of their waste, so recycle what you can. Ask for help to create a paper and plastic recycling program in your classroom.

Business talk

Does your favorite ice-cream shop use plastic spoons? Ask an adult to help you talk to the owner about switching to a non-plastic option. Some kinds of spoons are even edible!

Do-good goodie bag

Don’t fill your birthday goodie bags with plastic yo-yos and other trinkets for your friends. Instead, give them homemade treats or coupons to a local bakery.

Straw sense

Experts estimate that Americans use about 500 million plastic straws a day, and they’re one of the top 10 trash items found during ocean cleanups. If you must use a straw, find a reusable metal straw or a paper version or make your own.

Pest Friends

Ask your parents to buy food and clothes that are made without pesticides—chemicals sprayed on crops to kill bad bugs. The problem? Pesticides also can kill critters like bees that are eco-friendly.

Stuffed with stuff

Items shipped to your home often come wrapped in plastic packaging; toys bought at the store are covered in it. Think about what can be bought secondhand, what can be shared, and what doesn’t need to be purchased at all.

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Learn about plastic and how to reduce your use., save the earth, save the earth tips, endangered species act.

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You deserve to decide what goes into your environment and your body.

Last updated April 26, 2024

A Closer Look: It’s time to tackle Microfiber Pollution

Microplastics are largely invisible to the naked eye, but they pose a major threat to people and the planet. These tiny fragments of plastic are less than five millimeters in diameter but collectively, they make up about a third of the plastic in our oceans. Microplastics have been found from the heights of Mt. Everest to the deepest ocean trenches. They are also in our bodies. Today, nearly every human on earth consumes microplastics through food, water and air, raising serious concerns about long-term impacts on human health.

Clothing is a big part of the problem

Our clothes release microplastics (called microfibers) into the environment during manufacturing and later when they’re washed. Estimates show that for every 500 t-shirts manufactured, the equivalent of one t-shirt is lost as microfiber pollution during production alone. Every wash cycle can then generate as many as 18 million microfibers.

Brands can change this.

TNC is joining forces with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) to engage cutting edge, globally-recognized apparel companies to implement cost-effective solutions that can nearly eliminate textile microfiber pollution from the manufacturing process.

The Plastic Problem

Our plastic problem is bigger than you think, and many of us can’t go a single hour without touching plastic. Plastics are used in almost every industry now—from construction and electronics to agriculture and textiles—and lurk in our bottled water. About 11 million tons of plastic even enter the ocean every year. But plastic isn’t just in the ocean, it’s everywhere. It’s in our drinking water, it falls in our rain and studies show that harmful plastic pollution disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities. No matter who you are or where you live, plastic is in your body. And as the fifth largest economy in the world, California is a big part of the problem.

Plastic Pollution by the Numbers

of plastic produced today is "single use"

Million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year

Million lbs of plastic microfibers contaminate CA every year

Million tons of greenhouse gases emitted yearly

In California, you are eating and breathing plastic every day.

  • How We Got Here

A person carrying a surfboard walks along a beach that is strewn with trash and plastic.

Who's Behind This?

Big plastic is big oil.  Most plastic is made from fossil fuel, and the pace of plastic production is skyrocketing. 

Solutions That Fall Short

The plastic industry wants to make the problem our responsibility as Californians, and so far, they’ve done a pretty good job. They’ve made it our job to clean up our beaches and recycle, all while they ramp up plastic production every year. California can’t keep pace with plastic’s exponential growth and our environment and communities are paying the price.

We can’t solve this problem by cleaning up the plastic industry’s mess for them, we have to work together to clean up the plastic industry.

Our Approach

We are thoughtfully implementing solutions that match the scale and pace of the plastic pollution crisis, from reducing plastic production and consumption of plastic to improving management of plastic waste. We are making tremendous progress on reducing the threat of plastics to people and nature by advancing collaborative research to improve scientific understanding of the issue, positioning California as a policy leader in advancing tangible solutions and proving out the next generation of high-impact innovations and collaborative business models.

A Landmark Victory

In 2022 TNC helped pass the country’s most comprehensive legislation to date to curb plastic pollution, California’s Senate Bill 54. This legislation:

  • Mandates a 25% reduction in single-use plastic production. 
  • Protects and restores lands, waters and communities most impacted by plastic pollution by requiring producers to pay $5 billion into an environmental mitigation fund. 
  • Holds producers financially responsible for improving California’s recycling and composting infrastructure.

Applying the lessons learned from this process, we will continue to pursue comprehensive policies across other major sectors of plastic use in California and work to incentivize plastic-heavy industries to advance innovative solutions to reduce plastic use at the source .

A bin overflows with trash.

Recycling isn’t enough

California can’t recycle most of the plastic that goes in your bin. Our state’s facilities can’t keep pace with plastic’s exponential growth, and they can’t handle many types of plastics produced today. 

Going Global: UN Environmental Programme  

The UN Environmental Assembly passed a historic resolution in March 2022 calling for an international, legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution. Now people from across the globe are working to make that a reality— including the TNC’s Plastics Strategy team . 

TNC is working alongside leaders in California and beyond to influence the scope and text of the world’s first treaty on plastic pollution. They offer a critical perspective based on principles negotiated within California’s landmark single-use plastics legislation, Senate Bill 54.

With policies like SB 54 serving as a blueprint, the UN’s goal is to complete the treaty by the end of 2024, which would make it the fastest international treaty ever negotiated. Over 175 countries are looking to sign on. 

Corporate Engagement

TNC is working with partners to drive change, leveraging new technologies and business models to prove out and implement innovative solutions across the plastic lifecycle. As part of this, we are generating foundational research and partnering with forward-thinking global clothing brands to keep plastic microfibers from leaching into the environment when clothes are produced and washed.

Aerial view looking down on rows of crops covered with arching plastic covers.

Decreasing the Harm of Plastics Used Agriculture

The use of plastics in agriculture across the state of California, and even the globe, is now ubiquitous. Plastics like irrigation tape, plastic mulch and greenhouse film provide a cheap and versatile means to effectively increase productivity and efficiency in food systems. The plastics used to water crops in California alone could encircle the Earth more than 588 times each year. However, these plastics are largely single-use, making them a major source of plastic waste and, when degraded or discarded, agricultural plastic pollution can pose a serious threat to human and ecosystem health. There is growing concern about the impacts of these plastics accumulating in our soil, leaching into nearby communities and embedding into the food that makes it to our shelves. TNC is exploring solutions that can decrease the harm of plastics on both people and planet and ensure that we have a healthy food system to support us in the future.

Science and Research

TNC is advancing actionable science and research, and leveraging new technologies to better understand the dynamics, drivers and impacts of plastic pollution.

  • TNC has conducted a statewide agricultural plastic waste analysis to quantify the amount of plastics used in agriculture in California and inform potential interventions.  
  • We’re partnering with industry experts to analyze the full lifecycle of California’s plastics for the first time. Now that many of our policies have gone into effect, TNC is working with partners to identify cost effective approaches to monitor plastic waste.
  • TNC is leveraging cutting edge remote sensing and machine learning approaches to map plastic use across the state.  
  • TNC has evaluated the amount of microfibers entering California’s lands and waters from our washing machines , and explored the footprint of microfiber shedding from clothing during manufacturing , to determine the best solutions to address the problem. 

Looking for a deeper dive into the health effects of microplastics? Read this article from the Annals of Global Health .

A graphic showing where microfibers are entering our environment.

Quote : Alexis Jackson, Ph.D.

Alexis Jackson, Ph.D. headshot.

The future is in our hands. It’s time to tackle plastic pollution at the source and protect our environment, our communities and our bodies.

It's Now or Forever

While accomplishments like Senate Bill 54 mark significant milestones, the work doesn’t stop there. TNC is leveraging the momentum of this victory to further transform California into a global leader on effective and impactful plastic waste reduction, from single-use packaging to agriculture-derived plastics and the small synthetic fibers shed from your clothing. We are learning from each intervention, and prioritizing those solutions which can deliver the greatest impact on the shortest timeline!

It’s up to us to continue to ensure that future generations do not inherit a world choked with plastic. Together, we can make it a reality.

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Countries start to streamline fight against plastic pollution

Since November 2022, four meetings have been held to negotiate for a global plastics treaty

May 8, 2024

Mound of plastic bottles

Since November 2022, four meetings have been held to negotiate the provisions for a future global plastics treaty.

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Principal Technical Advisor and Global Lead on Plastics Offer, UNDP

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Mirja Neumann

Policy and Technical Specialist, Plastics, UNDP

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Murat Okumah

Policy and Technical Specialist, UNDP

Confucius said: “The virtuous are friendly to each other though they hold different opinions (君子和而不同)”

This reflects the overall spirit of the fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) held recently in Canada. As anyone who has ever organized a dinner with a large group of friends will know: bringing everyone under one roof is difficult, even for something as trivial as a dinner. Now imagine trying to find convergence of views on plastic pollution, as a result of the mismanagement of a material used in everything from toothbrushes, to electronics, to food packaging – in 170 countries all with their distinct national circumstances, economies, and traditions.

Plastic pollution is seen and felt everywhere. In Ottawa, regardless of the different opinions and positions, delegates were guided by the common goal - to end plastic pollution to protect human health and ecosystems. With this goal in mind, Member States tried to find common ground. Together, they have advanced the streamlining of some parts of the revised zero draft and to secure the mandate for the work necessary to make greater progress ahead of INC-5

Since November 2022, four meetings have been held to negotiate the provisions for the future global plastics treaty. As the negotiation process evolves, there are various pairs and blocks of different negotiation positions emerging from the debates: 

Plastics sorting

The environment and socio-economic cost of plastic pollution is not internalized into the price.

  • Production and consumption . A number of Member States especially represented by the High Ambition Coalition argue that there is a need to set a target to reduce the production of primary plastic polymers. They consider that with current level of production and predicted trajectory to increase, it is unsustainable and impossible to tackle plastic pollution without reducing the production of primary plastic polymers. Some countries have even put a target on it: reducing plastic production by 40 percent by 2040. However, other Member States argue that the goal of the treaty is to fight against plastic pollution, not fight against plastics, as they play an essential role in their economy and human well-being including healthcare. Furthermore, increased cost of living as a result of reduced production could potentially harm the economy and poor people and communities. They think that plastic pollution can be stopped without imposing a target of plastic production reduction, but with better product design to design out toxins, sustainable alternatives, and improved collection and recycling and other waste management measures. As there is no consensus in sight, countries could not mandate inter-sessional work to explore this highly contentious issue.
  • Public and private sector responsibilities . The environment and socio-economic cost of plastic pollution is not internalized into the  price, and the cost of collection and management is mainly borne by governments with public financing. While governments have responsibility to enhance waste management systems, the private sector especially industries must also step up their efforts to enhance better product design, use more recycled plastics, and pay for collection and waste management fees of their post-consumer products. One way to internalize plastic pollution costs is through a plastic pollution fee. A global plastic pollution fee was proposed by some, however, many delegates opposed it outrightly and pointed out that the challenges on how to decide and implement such fees seem to be daunting.
  • Developing and developed countries . Some developed countries believe that every country has the responsibility to fight against plastic pollution and argue that both developed and developing countries can align domestic financial flows, catalyze financing and enhance transparency for financing to end plastic pollution. Developing countries argue for common but differentiated responsibilities, and request for financing, technical assistance and technology transfer to implement the future global plastics treaty. They argue that though all member states have the responsibility to tackle plastic pollution, there are substantial variations in national capacities and circumstances, and these differences should be reflected in responsibilities of the two groups. 

Despite diverging views in this meeting, Member States have progressed to streamlining the draft texts and reducing some of the options proposed in the previous meeting. Some provisions have emerged with a general sense of support from member states in principle. We are highlighting three of key topics among many others that member states have advanced in their discussion:

  • Extended producers’ responsibility (EPR). There is a general consensus that producers should pay for the cost of ending plastic pollution and ensure circularity of products they produce. However, there is still disagreement on whether EPR measures should be globally determined, or countries should be allowed flexibility to determine what works best depending on national circumstances. It is also recognized that ending plastic pollution is the responsibility of the whole of society with coordinated actions from the governments, private sectors, research/academia, and civil society.  
  • Call for greater transparency in plastics. Today, we have little to no information on the composition, additives and chemicals in plastic products. Countries generally agree that there is a need to enhance transparency, labelling and categorization to ensure safe and environmentally sound waste management and recycling.
  • Just transition.  Many Member States have stressed the importance of ensuring a just transition for the most vulnerable groups of society. Informal waste workers, women, children and indigenous people have been mentioned as the marginalized groups which deserve more attention and support. However, there were divided views on whether to explicitly mention these groups in the provisions or leave it open to all stakeholders. 

With diverging views on key issues, INC-4 established two open-ended expert groups to explore issues such as means of implementation and chemicals of concern in plastic products to inform and advance the next round of discussion. We left Ottawa feeling optimistic and hopeful for a global plastics treaty to be finalized by the end of the year. 

“ I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it, ” was a quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall to describe Voltaire’s atitude to the importance of exchange of opinions and freedom of speech. In this turbulent era of global politics, such multilateral spirit and commitment to find common ground are more important than ever. It is our hope that regardless of national and regional differences, delegates will remain united by our common goal: to develop a treaty that can help us address plastic pollution and its associated socio-ecological impacts. 

We look forward to a united global effort to tackle a global problem entirely created by ourselves. We have reasons to believe that humanity can solve this problem collectively.

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The circular economy is a system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated. In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, and composting. The circular economy tackles climate change and other global challenges, like biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution, by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources.

The circular economy is based on three principles, driven by design:

Eliminate waste and pollution.

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Regenerate nature

In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place.

We must transform every element of our take-make-waste system: how we manage resources, how we make and use products, and what we do with the materials afterwards. Only then can we create a thriving circular economy that can benefit everyone within the limits of our planet.

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Home » Link » High-level European politicians polluted by PFAS

High-level European politicians polluted by PFAS

Advocacy , Bans , Chemical pollution , Corporate Accountability , Corporate Responsibility , Health , human rights , Policy , Pollutants , Toxic Chemicals

Activists , Consumers , Educators , Health Professionals , Journalists and media , NGO Professionals , Policy Makers , Researchers , Scientists , Students , Teachers

Investigation , Research

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The European Environment Bureau (EEB) and ChemSec published the results of an initiative showcasing Europeans leaders testing positive for ‘Forever chemicals’ in their bodies. The detected levels of PFAS in the leaders’ bodies do not significantly differ from the average European, illustrating that no one is immune to PFAS—not even key European Officials. 

Leaders across EU nations, including Vice-Presidents, members of European Parliament, and others tested positive for at least 13 PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) “forever chemicals.” PFAS chemicals are linked to a wide range of severe health issues such as cancer, infertility, birth defects, and immune system disruptions. These results highlight failing chemical control measures and emphasize the pressing necessity of regulating hazardous materials to which people are exposed, in Europe and beyond.

Although Europe has some of the strictest chemical control policies in the world, it has not yet fully banned PFAS—a chemical category including more than 10,000 substances.


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  19. 13 ways to save the Earth from pollution

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  20. TNC's Fight Against Plastic Pollution in California

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