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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

Rich Carey/Shutterstock

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

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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’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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how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Protect Our Planet from Plastic Pollution: 5 Things to Know

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

By Dynahlee Padilla-Vasquez on May 31, 2023

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.

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 new 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 to the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch , 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.”

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.

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: 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, transitioning to plastic alternatives that are less harmful to the environment would help, which 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 hundreds of thousands of opportunities, income, and innovation by 2024. That’s 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, according to 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.

March 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 binding legal agreement for the end of next year, says Simpson, who contributed to the treaty’s text.

Besada notes that all voices and stakeholders need to have balanced representation and work toward bipartisanship throughout the negotiating process, which is ongoing. The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee just took place in Paris.

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.”

Join the Movement

Help protect our planet and save our ocean by joining global efforts to #BeatPlasticPollution this World Environment Day — and every day of the year.

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Plastic waits for recycling landfill in the Philippines.

4 Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution

  • circular economy
  • coronavirus

A whopping 8 million tons of plastic winds up in the ocean each year, endangering wildlife and polluting ecosystems. This number is expected to grow — a recent report from Pew Charitable Trust suggests that without improvements to waste management, 90 million tons of plastic could enter the world's aquatic ecosystems by 2030. Plastics have even been found in people's bodies and in the air .

The problem has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the necessary increase of single-use plastics for personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and shields, some governments and businesses have delayed or scrapped plastic bags and packaging bans. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, WRI and UNEP found that more than 100 countries regulated single-use plastic bags.

Since the pandemic, 50 U.S. cities moved away from plastic regulation. In December, the city of Vancouver, Canada postponed fees for disposable cups and its ban on plastic shopping bags for more than one year. Starbucks and Dunkin' put on hold the use of reusable containers. And some recycling programs were shelved in the United States and European Union because of budget cuts due to the pandemic.

While the increased use of plastic is necessary to fight the pandemic, particularly for PPE, countries need to ensure these emergency changes do not derail long-term progress on the passage of laws aimed at reducing plastic pollution. If countries want to build back better after COVID-19, legislative reform on curbing plastic waste is an essential part of the agenda.

A new legislative guide launched today by UNEP and WRI digs deep into how the law can be used to tackle plastic pollution and support a circular plastics economy.

Policy shifts can reduce plastic pollution by incentivizing changes in both business and consumer behavior, as well as in plastic design, alternatives and recycling. Here are four policy and legal approaches from UNEP and WRI's guide that countries can use to reduce their plastic waste permanently:

1. Single-use Plastic Bans

Bans and restrictions on single-use plastic products (that directly prohibit their production, distribution or use) are some of the most widely used and successful legal mechanisms by governments. Some of their success has been due to the flexibility of ban legislation in allowing for exemptions for medical products and other necessary use while promoting the use of alternative products like cloth or paper bags.

  • The Marshall Islands, for instance, in 2016 instituted a ban on the importation, manufacture, sale or distribution of Styrofoam cups and plates; disposable plastic cups and plates; and plastic shopping bags while promoting recycled paper bags and reusable bags. It has been promoted as one of the models to follow around the world.
  • Panama created a ban on plastic bags in 2018, which came into effect in 2020, but exempted lightweight or thin plastic bags for food handling and safety.

The guide also outlines potential unintended consequences that lawmakers must be aware of when enacting and enforcing bans.

  • In the Northern Territory of Australia, a ban on thin plastic bags in 2011 was linked to an increase in the sales of thicker bags, as well as increased littering of those thicker plastic bags.
  • Plastic bag alternatives may also have higher carbon footprints, be difficult to compost or release microplastics into the environment.

2. Taxes and Economic Incentives

Governments can also impose taxes to deter the production or use of single-use plastics, or offer tax breaks, subsidies and other fiscal incentives to encourage alternatives to single-use plastic products.

  • In 2015 Portugal included a tax on producers of €0.10 (around $0.12) per bag for certain sizes of plastic bags. Four months later, the consumption of these bags decreased by 74%.
  • Similarly, Denmark introduced weight-based packaging tax charges in 1999 (amended more recently). Different rates apply to different plastic packaging materials, with the lowest rate for recycled plastics and the highest rate for primary plastics. After the introduction of the tax on carrier bags Denmark's reduction in paper and plastic used is estimated to be around 70% .

Portugal and Denmark have used these economic instruments effectively to increase the use of reusable and recycled products, respectively. Taxes and incentives can apply to particular businesses (such as supermarkets or plastic producers) or particular products (like plastic coffee cup lids or soda bottles).

Governments can also use economic incentives to encourage manufacturers to adopt alternatives to plastic (such as using sugar cane to create plastic bags) or to create revenue that can fund plastic waste clean-up efforts.

3. Product Standards

Product standards, certifications and labeling requirements can be designed to educate the public on the environmental impacts of plastic, and on the health and safety hazards involved in their production and use. Legislation on single-use plastic products can set standards on material composition, reusability, recoverability (to ensure the product can be recycled), biodegradability and ensuring products can be composted. This approach can support consumer choice of sustainable products.

  • In the United States, manufacturers and suppliers of the packaging must give their purchasers a certificate of compliance, stating that their packaging does not exceed permissible concentrations of regulated heavy metals due to recycled content.
  • The European Union has rules on the manufacture and composition of packaging to ensure it is "limited to the minimum adequate amount needed to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene, and acceptance." Requiring that packaging must be designed and produced in safe, thoughtful and sustainable ways can limit the production and use of harmful plastics.

4. Extended Producer Responsibility

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs can ensure that manufacturers maintain responsibility for single-use plastic products throughout the whole life cycles of those products. These legislative tools can guarantee more sustainable designs by holding manufacturers responsible for single-use plastics throughout the collection, recovery, recycling or reuse of their products.

  • In Germany, for example, an EPR system adopted in 1991 required that a license fee is paid based upon the amount and type of packaging introduced into the marketplace by producers annually. Between 1991 and 1998 the ordinance resulted in an estimated waste reduction of 1 million tonnes . New packaging legislation passed in 2019 in Germany also supporting EPR includes a Central Packaging Registry, increased recycling targets for all plastics, and monetary incentives to be paid for ecological packaging.
  • In Finland, under the EPR scheme all packagers of products, or importers of packaged products regarded as producers, are legally responsible for organizing a collection and recycling system for the plastic packaging waste entering the markets. In 2016, the return rate for PET was 92% .

There Is No Silver Bullet to Curbing Plastic Pollution

There is no silver bullet to solving the world's plastic problem. It will require governments at both the national and sub-national levels to tackle the regulation of single-use plastic products, determining what policy approaches they want to use and what type of legislation will support their objectives.

There are challenges ahead: a lack of investment and support for the recycling industry to make it competitive, increased production of virgin single-use plastic , and minimal producer responsibility in many countries outside of the EU . There is also no global legal framework to facilitate collective action from multiple countries, no common agreement on which plastics should be phased out , and pressure from plastic manufacturers on lawmakers not to advance on legislation. But to advance action, we need to be deliberate in adopting multi-pronged solutions.

Legislators must consider and adopt different, complementary approaches to be most effective, including bans and restrictions, economic instruments, information standards and labeling, and extended producer responsibility including reuse, recycling and deposit-refund schemes. Supplementary efforts that support these approaches are also essential, like consumer education programs, public procurement requirements, investment in waste management infrastructure and public-private partnerships.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the importance of the short-term use of plastic to curb outbreaks and help people feel safe. But there is no time to have a slow reckoning on the long-term issue of plastic waste. We need increased ambition and innovation by governments, companies and civil society, as well as the thoughtful adoption of a variety of preventative policy and legislative measures to address the scale of the problem.

Relevant Work

127 countries now regulate plastic bags. why aren't we seeing less pollution, how to build a circular economy, banning straws and bags won’t solve our plastic problem, barriers to a circular economy: 5 reasons the world wastes so much stuff (and why it's not just the consumer's fault), how you can help.

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Plastic pollution is a huge problem—and it’s not too late to fix it

Correcting our plastic waste problem requires a fundamental change in thinking about how plastics are made, used, and discarded, two new studies say.

The global campaign to gain control of plastic waste is one of the fastest-growing environmental causes ever mounted. Yet it hasn’t been enough to make a dent in the growing tonnage of discarded plastic that ends up in the seas.

In the next 10 years, the waste that slides into waterways, and ultimately the oceans , will reach 22 million tons and possibly as much as 58 million tons a year. And that’s the “good” news—because that estimate takes into account thousands of ambitious commitments by government and industry to reduce plastic pollution.

Without those pledges, a business-as-usual scenario would be almost twice as bad. With no improvements to managing waste beyond what’s already in place today, 99 million tons of uncontrolled plastic waste would end up in the environment by 2030.

These two scenarios, the result of new research by an international team of scientists, are a far cry from the first global tally published in 2015, which estimated that an average of 8.8 million tons flow into the oceans annually. That was a figure so startling to the world when it was published five years ago, it helped invigorate the plastic trash movement.

Jenna Jambeck, the University of Georgia engineering professor who calculated that number, also came up with a vivid analogy to put it in context. It would be the equivalent of one dump truck tipping a load of plastic into the ocean every minute every day for a year. Jambeck is also part of the team that came up with the new calculations. But coming up with a new way to visualize 22 to 58 million tons proved a challenge.

“I don’t know. We’re getting into the realm of what’s incomprehensible,” she says. “How about a football stadium filled with plastic every day? Or enough plastic to cover Rhode Island or the country of Luxembourg ankle deep?”

Neither of these new analogies, while accurate, capture the magnitude of what’s at stake. (More: We're drowning in plastic—find out why. )

Like climate change, a lot rides on how the global community responds in the next couple of decades. And, though the parallels between the problem of plastic waste and climate change are obvious—both are rooted in oil, the basic ingredient to make plastics, they are dissimilar in one key way: plastic’s persistence. While there is some possibility, however remote, that technology and restoration of natural ecosystems could remove CO 2 from the atmosphere, there is no such analog for plastic. Virtually indestructible, it doesn’t disappear.

“For me, the biggest issue is the question of permanence,” says George Leonard , the Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist and a member of the team that produced this newest forecast. “If we don’t get the plastic pollution problem in the ocean under control, we threaten contaminating the entire marine food web, from phytoplankton to whales. And by the time the science catches up to this, perhaps definitively concluding that this is problematic, it will be too late. We will not be able to go back. That massive amount of plastic will be embedded in the ocean’s wildlife essentially forever.”

The power of two

The analysis is the second in recent weeks to look ahead to the future of the plastic economy and conclude that correcting the waste problem—40 percent of plastic manufactured today is disposable packaging—requires a fundamental change in thinking about how plastics are made, used, and discarded.

The new findings were made by a team of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation through the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center ( SESYNC ). The other project, which looks ahead to 2040, was led by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, a London-based environmental advisory and investment firm, and was first made public in July. Both studies were published together in the journal Science in September.

What’s unusual is that two independent scientific working groups, using differing methodologies and timelines, reached the same broad conclusions. Both laid blame for the rising tonnage of plastic in the seas on the growth of plastic production that is outpacing the world’s ability to keep up with collecting plastic trash. They also agreed that reducing surging waste requires reducing surging production of virgin plastic.

“The magnitude of the problem is the same. The difference is in methodology,” says Stephanie Borrelle, a marine biologist in New Zealand and lead author of the SESYNC study. “We have to do something about this and do it soon. Our annual count of leakage doesn’t account for what’s already in the oceans.”

Both projects also concluded that plastic waste could be significantly reduced, though not eliminated, using existing technologies. That includes improving waste collection and recycling, redesigning products to eliminate packaging made from unrecyclable plastics, expanding refillables, and in some cases substituting other materials. But solutions such as recycling, now globally hovering around 12 percent, would also require a massive scaling-up with many additional recycling facilities that don’t exist.

The SESYNC project also calls for cleaning up plastic waste from shorelines, where possible. To give an idea of the scale involved in achieving that goal, it would require a billion people to participate in the Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach cleanup that now attracts about one million volunteers.

“The inconvenient truth now is that this business-as-usual growth in production of new plastics is not compatible with ending plastics in nature,” says Ben Dixon, a former sustainability manager at Royal Dutch Shell and partner at SYSTEMIQ. “That’s the inconvenient truth both studies get to the heart of. We may see more pressures from investors, customers, and a changing of the world underneath the feet of these companies.”

Both projects captured the attention of the plastics industry, which was quick to praise the research, but dismissed the idea of reducing production of virgin plastic as “highly counterproductive and impractical,” in the words of the American Chemistry Council, a trade group for the petrochemical industry. In emailed responses, ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, two of the world’s leading manufacturers of polyethylene, agreed.

“Reducing production to solve the waste problem will, in turn, aggravate the carbon and climate problem as alternative materials have higher emissions,” Dow said.

The manufacturing of plastic emits less CO2 and uses less water than for glass or aluminum. Some argue that such accounting doesn’t always factor in all the costs, such as environmental cleanup and weight. Glass manufacturing emits less CO2 per gram, but glass bottles are heavier. And, in the marine world, they say, it’s beside the point: Turtles eat plastic bags, not glass bottles and aluminum cans.

Todd Spitler, an Exxon spokesman, said the company’s focus will be on “increasing plastic recyclability, supporting improvements in plastic waste recovery and minimizing plastic pellet loss from our operations."

The SESYNC study calls for setting global limits on the production of virgin plastic, a recommendation unlikely to be realized. At the last United Nations Environmental Program meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2019, negotiations to pass a resolution calling for phasing out single-use plastic by 2025 and to draft a legally binding treaty on plastic debris ended in a stalemate.

The Pew/SYSTEMIQ study calls for reducing virgin production by 11 percent, arguing there is enough waste plastic that could be recycled and remade into new plastic to satisfy demand. The problem is that virgin plastic—new resin created from natural gas or oil—is so cheap to make that it undermines the economics of the recycling market. It is simply less expensive to manufacture new plastic than to collect, sort, and process disposable plastic into new feedstock. Especially now, with the collapse of oil prices. (Read more on the SYSTEMIQ study here.)

Plastic production to increase by 2050

In fact, production is forecast to more than double by 2050—increasing to 756 million tons anticipated in 2050 from 308 million tons produced in 2018, according to a report published by the American Chemistry Council in 2019. In the United States, $203 billion has been invested in 343 new or expanded chemical plants to produce plastics, according to ACC figures published last February. Production capacity for ethylene and propylene is projected to increase by 33 to 36 percent, according to an estimate by the Center for International Environmental Law.

Keith Christman , the ACC’s managing director of plastics markets, says the demand for plastic products, such as lightweight automobile parts and materials used in home construction, including insulation and water piping, is only going to grow.

“New technologies is the direction that we see the industry going,” he says.

Historically, plastic production has increased almost continuously since the 1950s, from 1.8 million tons in 1950 to 465 million tons in 2018. As of 2017, 7 billion of the 8.8 billion tons produced globally over that whole period have become waste.

The industry attributes future growth to two factors: the increasing global population and demands for more plastic consumer goods, fueled by the increasing buying power of a growing middle class. The UN projects that the world’s population, now about 7.8 billion, will add about two billion more by 2050, primarily in Asia and Africa. Globally, the middle class is anticipated to expand by 400 million households by 2039—and that is where the plastics market growth will occur.

Africa, to cite one example, shows the complications that lie ahead for gaining control of plastic waste in the coming decades. The continent today generates waste at a low rate by global standards, according to a UN report published last year. It also has limited environmental regulations, weak enforcement, and inadequate systems in place to manage waste. But as its population explodes and becomes more urban, and as buying habits change with higher standards of living, sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to become the dominant region producing municipal waste.

“Everyone is going to need to play a role along the whole value chain,” says Guy Bailey , a leading plastics analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a consulting firm specializing in energy, chemicals, mining and other research.

“If you are a recycler, it is difficult to make an investment when oil prices completely destroy the economics of your business. If you are a packing company, you are faced with so many choices of materials, it’s hard to know which to pick. If you are a chemical company, you clearly can see the reputational challenge. They risk losing their social license to operate if things go too far. They want to address those challenges.”

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, founded last year by 50 industry titans, committed to investing $1.5 billion in creating solutions to improve methods for collecting plastic waste and recycling into new products. So far, it has launched 14 projects, many in Southeast Asia and Africa, including in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Ghana.

Jacob Duer, president and CEO, said the new report “reiterates the necessity and the urgency in addressing the issue and underlines the importance of a paradigm shift.”

As the organization, based in Singapore, matures, he says the number of projects and capital investment will grow. But it opposes reducing virgin plastic production.

Both Duer and Martyn Ticknet, head of the Alliance’s project development, see similarities between tackling plastic waste and global efforts to close the hole in the ozone layer that began in the 1970s. Last year the hole had shrunk to its smallest size on record since its discovery.

“We’ve solved major crises before,” Ticknet says. “It takes some time to get going.”

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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.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

News from the Columbia Climate School

What you can do to fight plastic pollution.

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Este artículo está disponible en español.

Marine litter. Photo: BoEide

Plastic permeates just about every aspect of our lives. And because plastic is everywhere, plastic pollution is also everywhere. Eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, and it’s estimated that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will weigh more than all the fish. Plastic ends up inside animals, too; a sperm whale that recently washed up in Spain had 64 pounds of plastic waste in its gut. Plastic is also polluting land, especially on farms where sewage sludge is used for fertilizer. Scientists found Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical component in the plastic of some water bottles and the lining of tin cans, in the cord blood of nine out of 10 infants and in the urine of 95 percent of the adult Americans they tested. Tiny bits of microplastic and plastic fibers—smaller than the width of a human hair—have been found in honey, sugar, beer, processed foods, shellfish, salt, bottled water and tap water. Microplastics even contaminate Arctic ice in concentrations greater than those of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch —about 12,000 particles per liter of ice.

Last summer, Joaquim Goes, a research professor at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, and his team surveyed microplastics in the Hudson and East Rivers around New York City with the help of Riverkeeper . They discovered microplastics of all shapes and sizes in the water. The most polluted area was around Newtown Creek, where they could see waste drifting into the creek from the nearby sewage treatment plant.

Goes and his team sampling in the Hudson.

“Most of our sewage treatment plants do not have the capacity to filter out these micron-sized particles of plastic,” said Goes. “Because they get through the filtration system, they end up in the aquatic systems, and act like vectors for the transport of organic compounds [such as drugs and pesticides in the wastewater that ends up in sewage treatment plants]. When fish and shellfish take them up, you have a way by which microplastics get into food chain.”

What scientists do not know, however, is what effects plastic and the chemicals within plastic might have on humans and other living things.

The plastic pollution problem can feel overwhelming, but there are actions we can all take to make a difference.

Reduce your own plastic use

Don’t use single-use plastics.

Photo: Kevin Krejci

This category includes plastic bags, straws, dry cleaning bags, water bottles, take out food containers, and coffee cups. Eight of the ten most common items in ocean trash are single-use food-related items, so whenever possible, bring your own reusable utensils and containers. For more suggestions, see 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life .

Be a conscientious consumer  when you shop

  • Clothing: The largest proportion of microplastics in the ocean, 35 percent, comes from synthetic textiles. When you wash clothing made from polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex, fleece or nylon, between 600,000 and 17.7 million microfibers per wash come loose and end up in the wastewater. Because they are so tiny, water purification filters can’t trap them, so they end up in the food chain. Opt for clothing made of cotton, hemp, wool and other natural fibers instead, and buy used items whenever possible.
  • Packaging: Choose products packaged in natural materials such as bamboo, corn-starch, potato starch, cocoa bean shells, glass, grass paper, wood, cotton, hemp, algae, lignin or mycelium (mushroom). Try to avoid products in excessive plastic packaging.
  • Personal care: Don’t buy products that contain microbeads (bits of plastic used as exfoliants). Although Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015, banning the manufacture and distribution of cosmetics and toothpastes containing plastic microbeads, some of these products are still on store shelves. can help you determine which products contain microbeads. And if you must buy personal care items in plastic bottles, opt for larger sizes. Better still, use bar soap instead of body wash or shower gel.
  • Food: Buy in bulk whenever possible, and when shopping, bring your own reusable containers and shopping bags. Store refrigerated produce in towels or cloth instead of plastic bags. Use glass or steel food containers for leftovers instead of plastic. Cook at home more often!

Plastic that is not recycled usually ends up in a landfill.   Photo: Samuel Mann

Recycle, donate, repair

  • There are seven different types of plastic, but not all can be recycled. Plastics with resin codes # 1 (such as soda and water bottles, peanut butter jars, salad dressing and cooking oil bottles) and #2 (milk and juice jugs, laundry detergent, shampoo bottles, yogurt tubs) are usually recyclable. More take-out containers, plastic bags, plastic wrap, disposable diapers and other items are being recycled as technology improves, but check with your local government to see which plastics your town recycles. When in doubt, put it in the trash. Also, make sure the plastic you recycle is clean, because any dirt or food waste (or plastic bags) can contaminate a whole bale of recyclable plastic.

Recycling plastic bottles Photo: Lisa

  • Donate bubble wrap and packing peanuts, which can’t be recycled, to shipping stores for reuse.
  • When things break, repair them if possible instead of buying a replacement.

Put pressure on offenders and praise those who are reducing plastic use

If a company or manufacturer uses excessive plastic packaging, let it know. Write a letter or send a tweet. If you get no response, post it on social media. Conversely, praise businesses that are reducing their use of plastic by tagging the business and posting photos on social media. Tag @upstreampolicy , too, and Upstream, an organization fighting plastic pollution by advancing policies and corporate responsibility, will repost it.

Take a pledge to reduce your plastic use

  • The Plastic Pollution Coalition’s 4Rs Pledge entails refusing disposable plastic whenever you can; reducing your consumption of products with excess plastic packaging or parts; reusing durable containers, straws, bags and other items; and recycling the rest.
  • Take The Last Plastic Straw Pledge , a commitment to refuse any plastic straws served with your beverage, encourage restaurants to only provide straws upon request and adopt compostable or reusable straws, and persuade restaurants to take the pledge against straws as well.

Participate in cleanup efforts

  • Start your own cleanup or join an existing one. The Ocean Conservancy offers guidelines for starting your own cleanup of lakes, rivers or beaches. Take part in its International Coastal Cleanup , which will be held on September 15, 2018.

Plastic washed ashore in Hawaii Photo: Susan White/USFWS

  • The Surfrider Foundation’s Better Beach Alliance also runs beach cleanups and is aiming to hold 1,500 of them this year.
  • Adopt a beach. Form a group to join California’s Northcoast Environmental Center’s Adopt-a-Beach program and commit to at least four beach cleanups a year. There are also adoption programs in Florida  and Texas . The Alliance for the Great Lakes has an Adopt-a-Beach program for elementary through high school students.

Become an adventure scientist to help with research

Help gather data for the Worldwide Microplastics Initiative , which trains volunteers to collect marine and fresh water samples for scientists studying microplastics.

Organize a plastic pollution event

  • The Earth Day Network provides primers and toolkits for organizing community events to build awareness about plastic pollution.
  • Host a screening for friends and neighbors of a documentary about plastic pollution such as “A Plastic Ocean,”   “Bag It,”   “Addicted to Plastic,”  or “Straws.”

Support organizations that are fighting plastic pollution.

  •   Sponsor the Plastic Soup Foundation  for your next sporting contest.
  • Become a member of and/or donate to organizations that are working on plastic pollution, such as: Algalita , 5Gyres , Plastic Pollution Coalition,   Plastic Soup Foundation , Surfrider Foundation , and Upstream .

Get politically active

Laws and social movements are the most effective means of changing consumer behavior on a large scale, so get involved with some of these issues.

Photo: Chris Guy

Plastic bag ban laws

Countries around the world are phasing out the thin plastic bags given out in stores. Bangladesh, Rwanda, China, Taiwan, Macedonia, Gambia, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Tanzania and Sri Lanka and other countries have totally banned them. Many European Union countries impose a fee on plastic bags. And while there is no national ban or fee on bags in the U.S., California, American Samoa and Puerto Rico have banned plastic bags; more than 200 counties and municipalities have also banned bags or imposed fees for using them.

Attorney Jennie Romer founded as a resource for cities, states and communities that want to institute plastic bag bans. Romer has found that hybrid bans are the most effective—those that ban thin plastic carryout bags and also impose a charge for paper or any other bags. She explained that with a straight bag ban that only outlaws the carryout plastic bag, consumers often switch to paper bags or thicker plastic bags that qualify as reusable. Even a small bag fee, however, dramatically changes consumer behavior and has resulted in an overall drop in bag consumption. For example, in San Jose, the hybrid ban model with a 10-cent charge for paper bags led to an increase in reusable bag use from 4 percent to 62 percent.

In April, Governor Cuomo proposed a plastic bag ban at all New York stores, but without a fee on paper or other bags. If approved, it would go into effect January 2019.

To propose a plastic bag ban in your community, check out Romer’s primer  on implementing plastic bag laws.

Expanded polystyrene bans

Some U.S. towns and cities have successfully banned non-recyclable and non-biodegradable expanded polystyrene (EPS), better known as Styrofoam, used in foodware and packaging. California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Washington D.C. have ordinances banning EPS. As of the beginning of 2017, there were 148 local ordinances against EPS in the U.S., with most found in California. Here is a guide for reducing EPS in your community.

Bottled water bans

Photo: Juan Pablo Calderon

Every year, 38 billion water bottles end up in U.S. landfills. Concord, Massachusetts banned the sale of bottled water in 2013 . San Francisco has recently banned the sale of bottled water on municipal property and prohibited government agencies from buying it.

The Ban the Bottle campaign  has suggestions for starting a bottled water ban in your community.

Plastic straw bans

500 million straws are used each day in the U.S. Malibu, Miami Beach, San Luis Obispo, Fort Myers and numerous restaurants have stopped giving out straws unless customers specifically request them. As a result of the Strawless in Seattle campaign, Seattle too will ban straws in July, which could reduce straw use by a million a month. Inspired by Seattle, residents of Santa Fe are starting a Strawless Santa Fe campaign.

Surfrider’s Straws Suck campaign encourages consumers to identify businesses that use straws by taking a photo of the plastic item and posting it to Twitter or Instagram with @SurfriderVan and hashtag #StrawsSuck or #RiseAbovePlastics.

Plastic-free restaurants

Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants campaign  helps restaurants reduce their plastic consumption. Encourage your local restaurants to sign up.

Extended producer responsibility

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation requires manufacturers to be responsible for the entire life cycle of their product, which means that discarded products must be taken back, recycled or reused to make new products. Producers themselves usually do not take back the products, however, but rather contract with third parties to deal with them.

Currently, U.S. taxpayers pay for local governments to deal with the collecting, recycling, and cleanup of plastic pollution. EPR would require manufacturers to pay for the amount of packaging they produce. These funds would then go to other entities to collect and recycle the items. This would help support and expand plastic recycling, and also encourage manufacturers to design more sustainable products.

All European Union members have some form of EPR legislation on packaging, as do Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. In the U.S., there are no state or federal EPR laws for packaging, though there are some state and municipal EPR laws for other product categories. Upstream provides information about EPR legislation.

The organization is also developing a Global Plastic Reduction Toolkit that will be a resource for proposing, passing and implementing legislation to regulate or restrict single-use plastics, highlighting successful examples in cities, states, and countries around the world.

Leading the change

British prime minister Theresa May has proposed a ban on all single-use plastic items in the U.K., including straws and cotton swabs, by early 2019. Iceland Foods, a British supermarket chain specializing in frozen foods, has promised to do away with plastic packaging for its own brand by the end of 2023, and instead use recyclable paper or pulp packaging.

Bamboo toothbrushes in cardboard packaging Photo:: Anna Gregory

Ekoplaza, a Dutch supermarket chain, has created the first plastic-free supermarket aisle with 700 items that use no plastic packaging. The products carry the Plastic Free Mark, a new label that enables consumers to more easily choose plastic-free products. The products will be packaged in compostable bio-materials, cardboard, glass and metal.

A Scottish company called MacRebur is testing a road made from recycled plastic, which it claims is stronger and more durable than asphalt roads. The company maintains the road can also boost fuel economy because there is less tire resistance.

On the promising research front, the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. along with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory have (accidentally) engineered an enzyme  that can “eat” polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic used in water bottles. The discovery could make it possible to recycle much more plastic waste.

Stay Positive!

If you are feeling discouraged by the scale of the plastic pollution problem, Jennie Romer has some advice. “Don’t beat yourself up too much or get overwhelmed,” she said. “Plastics are part of life. But figure out where you can cut plastic out of your life and find others who are also interested in advocacy to build a coalition. The issue can be taken on at the grassroots level.”

Related Posts

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

Check out National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic campaign:

Anna Pfau

I have heard of some colleges and universities going straw free. Since Columbia is such a well known and influential university I believe that going straw free would not only help reduce Columbia’s plastic waste but inspire other schools in the country to help reduce their plastic waste.

Rise Prue

So happy to hear you all are on the Plastic campaign. I hope you all are working on the biggest plastic problem we face in the country. Disposal Diapers and Baby wipes. I am interested in what progress you have made on banning these.

Stella Sutkiewicz

Question… can I reference this page and quote some of the tips? With FULL CREDIT, of course. I’m with the environmental group Media on Taiji and we are currently creating flyers to present through our members all over the world. I’ll be sending you a separate email. We are a fully accredited non-profit based in Hull, England. Our founder is Tracey Ozdemir, an environmental activist and children’s book author.

Our primary focus is the end of whale and dolphin slaughter and slavery around the world but alongside that goal, we are working toward a better planet for all of us. Our next planned flyers are about plastic pollution and the price animals, especially highly intelligent and social ones, pay for captivity.

Thank you! Stella Sutkiewicz, American East Coast Coordinator

Sarah Fecht

Thanks for your interest. Our general policy is that you can excerpt up 100 words from our article, as long as you credit the author and the Earth Institute, and provide a link back to our blog where possible.

Best, Sarah Content Manager for State of the Planet


do you know that excessive use of plastic can cause diabetes mellitus? anyway, nice article. thanks for sharing! let’s reduce the use of plastic to protect our earth and our health!

Rowena Benavides

Yes, plastics is such a horrible material, when used improperly and discarded anywhere. It is our lifestyle that intensifies the problem, we enter into an age of throw away culture, where we want almost everything to be instant and thrown immediately. As if everything is disposable. hence, we must help educate our fellows to become more responsible in using the plastic material.

Lija Wills

Thank you for this excellent article. It describes what we need to do clearly and concisely.


If I were to make personal 2021 material use resolutions, what would you suggest beyond these 8 steps? 1) Use metal tableware instead of disposable plastic at picnics and parties. 2) Use cheap but washable plates rather than plastic disposables. 3) Refill my plastic water bottles at least once or twice with tap water. 4) Never buy polystyrene (P6) or polycarbonate (P7) cups. 5) Use reuseable plastic grocery bags. 6) Segregate metal containers from my waste stream and take to a scrap yard. 7) Avoid balloons, straws, plastic coffee stirrers, and plastic stick cotton swabs. 8) Install water filtration tap on sink if local water is distasteful.

Andrew Gibbs

I am a civil engineer and I am looking into the construction industry as my specialty using geosynthetic Technology. I believe that it has a more positive impact on the community and high quality innovation. It is so nice to see articles like this to enhance my skills. Here is where I am working right now.<a href=”HDPE Liner Installation CQA”></a&gt ;

Jessica Griner

Recently, I have been learning about plastic pollution in my ELA class. I have learned of how big of a deal this is but I just can’t figure out what to do. My teachers all say to use less plastic and to recycle but that won’t be much help at all. Every day, there is million tons of plastic going into our beautiful oceans. Please let me know if you have any good ideas!


What can we do at the END of the plastic life cycle?


I have seriously been thinking about peacefully protesting against plastic factories and greenhouse gases and everything that ruins our environment


Guys, I have a confession… I eat plastic. Fish are eating plastic and we are consuming it – tiny micro plastics end up in our system because of the amount of plastic that fish end up eating and it ends up in the food chain. We must end this.

Dennis Mc Endree

How do we stop plastic, we vote by the way we consume use glass, buy bulk, whole foods, learn how to cook and slow down the most important thing in life is our health without it nothing else has no meaning.

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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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Fast Fashion and Its Environmental Impact

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Plastic pollution on course to double by 2030 

Marine debris, including plastics, paper, wood, metal and other manufactured material is found on beaches worldwide and at all depths of the ocean.

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Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water continues to grow sharply and could more than double by 2030, according to an  assessment  released on Thursday by the UN Environment Programme ( UNEP ). 

The report highlights dire consequences for health, the economy, biodiversity and the climate. It also says a drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic, is crucial to addressing the global pollution crisis overall.  

To help reduce plastic waste at the needed scale, it proposes an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, the removal of subsidies and a shift towards more circular approaches towards reduction. 

Titled  From Pollution to Solution: a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution , the report shows that there is a growing threat, across all ecosystems, from source to sea. 

Solutions to hand 

Our oceans are full of plastic. A new @ UNEP assessment provides a strong scientific case for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans from source to sea. #CleanSeas Inger Andersen andersen_inger

But it also shows that there is the know-how to reverse the mounting crisis, provided the political will is there, and urgent action is taken. 

The document is being released 10 days ahead of the start of the crucial UN Climate Conference,  COP26 , stressing that plastics are a climate problem as well.  

For example, in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent; by 2050, they’re projected to increase to approximately 6.5 gigatonnes. That number represents 15 per cent of the whole global carbon budget - the​​ amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted, while still keeping warming within the Paris Agreement goals. 

Recycling not enough 

Addressing solutions to the problem, the authors pour cold water on the chances of recycling our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. 

They also warn against damaging alternatives, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which currently pose a threat similar to conventional plastics. 

The report looks at critical market failures, such as the low price of virgin fossil fuel feedstocks (any renewable biological material that can be used directly as a fuel) compared to recycled materials, disjointed efforts in informal and formal plastic waste management, and the lack of consensus on global solutions. 

Instead, the assessment calls for the immediate reduction in plastic production and consumption, and encourages a transformation across the whole value chain. 

It also asks for investments in far more robust and effective monitoring systems to identify the sources, scale and fate of plastic. Ultimately, a shift to circular approaches and more alternatives are necessary.  

Making the case for change 

For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, this assessment “provides the strongest scientific argument to date for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans, from source to sea.” 

She said that a major concern is what happens with breakdown products, such as microplastics and chemical additives, which are known to be toxic and hazardous to human and wildlife health and ecosystems. 

“The speed at which ocean plastic pollution is capturing public attention is encouraging. It is vital that we use this momentum to focus on the opportunities for a clean, healthy and resilient ocean”, Ms. Andersen argued.  

Growing problem 

Currently, plastic accounts for 85 per cent of all marine litter. 

By 2040, it will nearly triple, adding 23-37 million metric tons of waste into the ocean per year. This means about 50kg of plastic per meter of coastline. 

Because of this, all marine life, from plankton and shellfish; to birds, turtles and mammals; faces the grave risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, starvation and suffocation. 

The human body is similarly vulnerable. Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks and even common salt. They also penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air. 

In water sources, this type of pollution can cause hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and even cancer. 

According to the report, there are also significant consequences for the global economy. 

Globally, when accounting for impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, together with the price of projects such as clean-ups, the costs were estimated to be six to 19 billion dollars per year, during 2018. 

By 2040, there could be a $100 billion annual financial risk for businesses if governments require them to cover waste management costs. It can also lead to a rise in illegal domestic and international waste disposal. 

The report will inform discussions at the  UN Environment Assembly  in 2022, where countries will come together to decide a way forward for more global cooperation. 

  • Kids vs. Plastic

10 tips to reduce your plastic use

Want to save the Earth and its oceans? Eat ice cream in a cone! Seriously, single-use plastic items like ice cream spoons account for more than 40 percent of plastic waste, and each year about 8.8 million tons of plastic trash flows into the ocean. And that waste endangers wildlife. But solving the plastic problem can be as easy as getting your sweet treat in a cone. Check out our top 10 quick tips to reduce your single-use plastic pollution today!

Say no to straws

Animals can get sick after mistaking them for food. Instead, carry your own paper straw or reusable version. Learn how to make your own paper straw !

Fill up at a fountain

Drink out of a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic version. That way you won’t be buying one of the nearly one million plastic drink bottles sold every minute around the world.

Make a better bag

Pack sandwiches and snacks in reusable containers or cloth sacks instead of plastic bags. Here’s how to make your own!

Snack on fruit

Pack an apple, banana, or orange instead of snack packs. Fruit fills you up in a healthy way, plus there’s no extra packaging. (Save the core, peels, and rinds for your compost bin.)

Build a 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.

Go for the cone

No matter your favorite ice-cream flavor, always choose to have it in a cone. Who needs plastic spoons and cups when you can eat the bowl?

Buy in bulk

Encourage your family to shop for snacks, cereal, and pasta in the bulk section of your grocery store or natural food shop to avoid waste from plastic packaging. Then store it all in reusable glass jars.

Ditch microbeads

Don't use face wash or toothpaste with microbeads. (If the ingredients label lists polyethylene or polypropylene, the item likely contains microbeads.) These tiny plastic beads go down the drain, eventually flowing to rivers, lakes, and the ocean. There they can be mistaken for food by fish and sea turtles—a dish that could be deadly.

Never litter

Hey, sometimes you have to use plastic, and that's OK! But always recycle the plastic that you can, and never leave it in the environment. Trash left on the ground often blows into creeks and rivers, eventually making its way to the ocean.

Pick up what you can

Grab a parent and pick up the trash that you find in your local creek or river. But be careful: Never grab anything that looks sharp or dangerous. Here's how to host your own neighborhood cleanup.


more ways to help

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  • 22 November 2022

Plastics tsunami: Can a landmark treaty stop waste from choking the oceans?

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Meera Subramanian is a freelance journalist in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

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Plastic waste litters a fishing settlement along the coast of Medan, Indonesia. Credit: Sutanta Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty

On a warm windy day in early April, Jace Tunnell steps out of his car at Morgan’s Point, a spit of land that juts out into the Houston Ship Channel in Texas. Tunnell, a marine biologist and reserve director at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, sets his watch and gets to work, walking along the high-tide line and picking up every plastic pellet he can see.

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Nature 611 , 650-653 (2022)


Geyer, R. in Plastic Waste & Recycling: Environmental Impact, Societal Issues, Prevention, and Solutions (ed. Letcher, T. M.) Ch. 2 (Academic, 2020).

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OECD. Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060 (OECD Publications, 2022).

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste (National Academies Press, 2022).

United Nations Environment Programme. From Pollution to Solution: A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution (UNEP, 2021).

Jambeck, J. et al. Science 347 , 768–771 (2015).

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Duncan, E. M. et al. PLoS ONE 15 , e0242459 (2020).

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How to realistically reduce plastic pollution in everyday life

Plastic bottles collected for recycling

Every year, an estimated eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, and even more ends up littering the natural environment on land.

Plastic is a problem. People have produced around 9.1 billion tons of the stuff since the 1950s - and the vast majority of that still exists in some form.

Every year, an estimated eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans and even more ends up littering the natural environment on land.

This plastic pollution doesn't biodegrade and can release toxins. Wildlife may also ingest it or get caught in it. So what can we do to reduce this pollution in our everyday lives? Read on to find out.

1. Choose reusables 

One way to reduce plastic pollution is to stop using single-use plastics. You can find an alternative to many of the plastic items you use every day. Rather than disposable plastic water bottles, buy a reusable one. You could even buy a beverage in a sturdy glass container and reuse it. You can also:

  • Replace plastic grocery bags with reusable cloth bags or single use paper bags
  • Bring a reusable coffee mug or travel cup if you get coffee to go
  • Shop at farmers’ markets where you can use your own containers
  • Use refillable lighters or matches

At other times, you can just skip the single-use plastic items entirely. You could specify that you don't need plastic ware if ordering takeout or tell your waiter you don't need a straw. If you really like straws, you can purchase reusable ones !

2. Find alternatives

If you do need to purchase single-use items, pay attention to the materials they’re made of. This also goes for packaging, which accounts for a substantial portion of plastic waste. You could buy laundry detergent in a cardboard box, for example, rather than a plastic container.

Other alternatives to look for include biodegradable plastics, glass and aluminum. You can also search out items that use minimal packaging. Some manufacturers are now reducing their packaging to minimize their environmental impact.

You can also buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging you use or buy used items, which don’t typically have any packaging at all. Of course, if you can opt for a reusable item, that’s always the best choice.

3. Recycle more

Before buying items made of plastic or that use plastic packaging, check to see whether it’s recyclable. Today, many kinds of plastics are but check the rules in your community to find out what you can recycle.

If you don't have curbside pickup for some types of plastic, you may be able to recycle it elsewhere. Some grocery stores, for instance, accept plastic shopping bags for recycling.

If your workplace doesn't have a recycling program, talk to management and see if you can set one up. You should be able to arrange pickup with local waste management reasonably easily.

4. Stop litter

Never leave plastics or other trash in the natural environment and look for recycling bins, rather than trash cans, if possible. This might mean you have to hold onto that empty water bottle for a bit longer, but in the end, you’ll be helping the environment.

Of course, everyone needs to stop littering to make a widespread impact. You can help with this by picking up small items of trash if you see it littering the outdoors.

If you see evidence of illegal dumping, you can also report it. This can eliminate potential hazards to human and animal health and discourage others from dumping illegally in the future.

By following these tips, you can reduce plastic pollution in your everyday life without even having to change too much about how you live. Doing these four things will help you reduce your environmental impact and make progress toward a healthier, more beautiful world.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of  Conservation Folks .

Donate to The Ecologist and support high impact environmental journalism and analysis.

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Northeastern professor tells international group that public policy on plastics is ‘absolutely critical’

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Plastics are everywhere. From the bottles in vending machines to the cutlery that comes with takeout, it can be hard to avoid these single-use items. Many are working to cut back on this use, including academics.

Maria Ivanova , director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, served as the academic voice in New York City during Climate Week in September. She participated in the first roundtable of the End Plastic Pollution International Collaborative, a new $15 million public-private partnership helping countries reevaluate their plastic use and encouraging them to create and adopt informed policies for addressing this use.

Head shot of Maria Ivanova.

Doing so aligns with Ivanova’s work improving global governance, especially when it comes to plastics. She’s spent her career working on global environmental governance, including having served as a member of the Rwanda delegation to the United Nations Environment Assembly with the hope of creating an international treaty to end plastic pollution. Over the summer, she attended a weeklong summit in Paris addressing the plastics crisis.

“I have big ambitions about what could be done,” she said. “We have seen what Governor Maura Healey did here banning single-use plastic bottles for federal agencies. That was a clear policy signal. In Rwanda, the government has banned various single-use plastics. So we’ve experienced what it means. … The public policy of plastics is absolutely critical.”

Her previous work is how Ivanova got involved in the roundtable. A colleague at Northeastern told her there was a call for proposals for EPPIC, knowing Ivanova’s background. From there, she reached out to her connections at the roundtable who encouraged her to apply.

“(They said) we can’t just do it with policymakers,” Ivanova said. “We need a dialogue between science and policy. They asked me to moderate that dialogue.” 

The roundtable featured presentations on different issues caused by plastics. Participants heard from communities in “cancer alley” in Louisiana and such businesses as Amazon that are rethinking their products and designs to reduce plastic waste.

“I was there as the academic voice saying how important it is to engage science,” Ivanova said. “It is critical for us to be able to identify the problem, engineer solutions and imagine new ways of creating new products, or not using plastic and then being able to design public policy for plastics. … I was there linking natural science, engineering, social science, public policy and the humanities and showing that value and how academia needs to be part of not only the discussions, but the solutions.”

Ivanova hopes Northeastern can play a role in this work as well. She said the university is poised to lead this charge, given it has students and faculty specializing in fields that can contribute to finding solutions for plastic use.

“There are so many faculty at Northeastern whose work in the material sciences, in engineering, in health policy, is absolutely cutting edge,” she said. “It needs to be seen at the national and international level. I think it can inspire a lot more people across Boston, but also across the United States and globally. Ultimately, I would love to see a group of faculty, students and staff who are committed to this agenda and can mobilize a consortium in Boston.”

Erin Kayata is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at [email protected] . Follow her on X/Twitter @erin_kayata .

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.ngn-magazine__shapes {fill: var(--wp--custom--color--emphasize, #000) } .ngn-magazine__arrow {fill: var(--wp--custom--color--accent, #cf2b28) } ngn magazine why northeastern business and computer science majors take a sex and relationships class, a swiftie’s ‘wildest dreams’ come true: northeastern is offering a course on taylor swift, military ai: new book anticipates a world of ‘killer robots’ — and the need to regulate them, sandra day o’connor, first woman to serve on the supreme court, remembered as ‘independent thinker’ who often disappointed conservatives, featured stories, what happens when sunlight breaks down plastics in the ocean potentially harmful chemical byproducts are left behind, research finds, they’ve founded successful companies, now they’re shaping entrepreneurs at northeastern’s oakland campus to ‘make this world better’, ‘grand theft auto 6’ is on the horizon, but will it change the incredible (and problematic) legacy of one of gaming’s biggest series, there’s an app in the works for that: northeastern student developing program to connect researchers and study participants.

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Durable plastic pollution easily, cleanly degrades with new catalyst

by Northwestern University

Durable plastic pollution easily, cleanly degrades with new catalyst

Durable plastic pollution easily, cleanly degrades with new catalyst

A deadly difficulty

The greenest solvent is no solvent.

Durable plastic pollution easily, cleanly degrades with new catalyst

Recovering building blocks for upcycling

Efficiently targeting nylon-6, what's next.

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Stories in California

Stand Up to Plastic

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

Last updated August 08, 2022

Split image of a whale in clean water vs an ocean full of trash and plastic.

California Tackles Plastic Pollution

June 30, 2022  — Today, CA took decisive action to fight plastic pollution, signing into law SB 54—the nation’s most comprehensive and ambitious policy to address pollution from single-use plastic packaging and foodware.  Read the full statement .

The Problem

Our plastic problem is bigger than you think. About 11 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, and as the fifth largest economy in the world, California is a big part of the problem. 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.  

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

  • How We Got Here
  • From Our Experts

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.  

Solutions That Make a Difference

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.

A trash bin in a field overflows with garbage.

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. 

The Nature Conservancy in California is fighting plastic with a big picture approach:

  • In the policy arena, we are working with the latest science to advance high-impact policies that will cut the production of single-use plastic flooding our state. Recently passed legislation, Senate Bill 54 (SB 54), sets the tone for the kind of ambitious and comprehensive policy that is needed to turn off the tap.
  • In the private sector, we’re generating foundational research and partnering with global clothing brands to keep plastic microfibers from leaching into the environment when clothes are produced and washed.

Don’t let the plastic industry dictate what goes into your environment or your body.

A diver swims underwater among trash and plastic.

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

TNC’s Work: Fighting Plastic Big and Small  

Tackling single-use plastics.

  • Monitor the flow of plastic trash:  We’re figuring out how to track and measure plastic litter in California’s communities and finding out how it enters our waterways.
  • Advance high-impact policy:  We’re working with a diverse coalition of partners to push measures that limit the amount of single-use plastic that California produces and uses. With an economy of our size, changes we make here affect the whole globe.

Fighting Plastic Microfibers

  • Work with global apparel brands: We’re working with a coalition of some of the biggest apparel brands in the world to reduce microfiber leakage into the environment during the clothing manufacturing process.
  • Scale microfiber capture: We conducted a study to evaluate the amount of microfibers entering California’s lands and waters from our washing machines and determine the best solutions to address the problem. *Hint hint* filters coming soon to a washing machine near you!

Looking for a deeper dive into the health effects of microplastics? Read this article from Nat Geo!

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

The future is in our hands. We must act now to tackle plastic pollution at the source and ensure that our environment and our communities are not drowning in plastic.

It's Now or Forever

While SB 54 marks a significant milestone to tackle plastic pollution in California, the work doesn’t stop here.  TNC in California is planning to leverage 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. 

It is up to us to continue to ensure that future generations do not inherit an ocean choked with plastic.  

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November 28, 2023

Plankton Are Making Ocean Plastic Pollution Even More of a Mess

Microbes tear up plastic into teeny tiny pieces that are even more dangerous to ecosystems

By Meghan Bartels

Illustration showing a rotifer's masticatory apparatus

The rotifer’s masticatory apparatus (in yellow) is strong enough to fracture grind out more than 300,000 nanoplastic particles every day.

UMass Amherst

Tiny creatures are gnawing away at plastic we humans are pouring into the environment , making the pollution less visible but potentially more problematic than ever, according to new research.

In that work, published on November 9 in Nature Nanotechnology , scientists fed small pieces of fluorescent plastic to plankton called rotifers and watched to see what happened. Their observations and analysis suggest that in just a single day, one of these tiny animals in a plastic-rich environment can produce more than 300,000 particles of nanoplastic that are smaller than one micron across—a fraction of the size of a human red blood cell.

Nanoplastic is a major concern within the larger problem of microplastics , which cover a wide range of sizes, from one micron to five millimeters. Nanoplastics’ even smaller size could make them particularly harmful to humans and the environment because they can more readily get into the bloodstream and deep into the lungs. They can also be ingested by small animals and become concentrated up the food chain . The new study—which complements a growing body of research showing that plastic pollution extends from the deepest ocean trenches into the atmosphere —sheds light on how astoundingly quickly plastic can proliferate.

“We know that microplastics eventually become nanoplastics, but you don’t think it’s going to happen that fast,” says Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, a marine biologist at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the new research. Other natural forces, most notably sunlight, also break plastic into progressively smaller pieces but act more slowly.

The scientists behind the new research were inspired by a 2018 study that showed that Antarctic krill could break microplastics into nanoplastics . Those animals live in extremely cold—and less polluted—environments, however. The researchers behind the new work wanted to understand whether the same phenomenon also played out in animals that lived in warmer, more plastic-filled waters, says study co-author Baoshan Xing, an environmental and soil scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

From there, rotifers were an obvious choice because they are common and equipped with what scientists call trophi—specialized grinders to process their diet of algae and other tiny bites. “Rotifers have this special chewing apparatus, like teeth,” Xing says.

Xing and his colleagues found that multiple rotifer species do indeed break down microplastic. Some experiments have suggested certain bacteria and enzymes can digest plastic by breaking apart the very molecules that it is made of, chemically changing them into benign compounds and reducing the amount of plastic in the environment. But the researchers found a different, less optimistic outcome: the rotifers merely fragmented the plastic by making scratch marks on the plastic bits and creating ever smaller pieces. The scientists tested different types of plastic , as well as plastic weakened by exposure to light, and all were vulnerable to the rotifers’ trophi.

Xing says it’s unlikely that rotifers are alone in their staggering ability to tear apart microplastic. “We think any organisms with that type of chewing apparatus likely will have a similar process,” he says. He and his colleagues want to conduct comparable investigations using more species, particularly animals that live in soil rather than water, to understand how the phenomenon may be playing out in a wider variety of ecosystems.

The new research, Padilla-Gamiño says, is an important step toward understanding what happens to plastic over its long lifetime of up to hundreds of years in the environment . “We have made huge advances into [understanding] how much plastic there is, but there’s still a lot of controversy about the different pathways that plastics take,” she says. “I think this is a very cool study highlighting one of these pathways.”

And it’s also a reminder not to overlook the tiny, strange forms of life that we share our planet with. “It’s amazing how these little creatures have such tremendous power,” Padilla-Gamiño says.

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Global talks to cut plastic waste stall as industry and environmental groups clash

Michael Copley

how to stop plastic pollution in nature

A man picks through plastic waste at a garbage dump in Kenya. TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

A man picks through plastic waste at a garbage dump in Kenya.

Negotiations over a global plastics treaty ended in Kenya with little progress toward reining in plastic waste, as environmental groups criticized oil and gas producers for blocking a final decision on how to advance the deliberations.

Members of the United Nations want to finalize a treaty by the end of 2024 to reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that piles up in landfills and the environment. Plastic production is expected to soar in the coming years, and almost every piece of it is made from chemicals derived from fossil fuels.

Representatives from around 150 countries met for talks last week in Nairobi. Most of them "worked to find commonalities among diverse global perspectives, but the entire process was continually delayed by a small number of Member states prioritizing plastic and profit before the planet," Erin Simon, head of plastic waste and business at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement. The talks ended on Sunday.

Groups that want to see deep cuts in plastic waste worry plastic producers will weaken the treaty . The oil and gas industry is pushing recycling and waste management as solutions, rather than reducing how much new plastic gets made in the first place.

However, years of research and investigations, including by NPR , have shown recycling isn't working. There's also disagreement over whether the treaty should have binding global rules or be based on voluntary targets. Experts say dealing with the problem will require a mix of solutions, but that reducing production of new plastic is essential.

Most countries seem to support "strong, robust terms" for an agreement, Simon told NPR on Sunday. But there are "a handful of really lower ambition countries calling for a looser voluntary agreement."

The challenge is coming up with a plan that's effective in cutting plastic waste and that also gets buy-in from all the countries involved. Big oil and gas producers like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are at the negotiating table. The United States, which was the world's top oil and gas producer in 2022, has said plastic pollution needs to be dealt with "at every stage of the plastic lifecycle," from production to waste management.

Industry lobbyists also have a big presence at the talks. The Center for International Environmental Law said 143 lobbyists from the fossil fuel and chemical industries registered for the latest round of negotiations , an increase of 36% from the last round of talks that ended in June.

"The results this week are no accident," David Azoulay, program director for environmental health at the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a statement. "Progress on plastics will be impossible if Member States do not confront and address the fundamental reality of industry influence in this process."

Before this round of negotiations started, an industry advocacy group called American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers said restricting fossil fuel production and plastic manufacturing are not good solutions . Instead, it said the goals of the treaty can be achieved "if waste is recyclable, properly managed and kept out of the environment."

An ExxonMobil spokesperson said in a statement in early November that the company is "launching real solutions to address plastic waste and improve recycling rates." The company has previously said the problem of plastic waste can be solved without cutting how much plastic society uses.

Graham Forbes, the head of Greenpeace International's treaty delegation, said in a statement that governments are allowing fossil fuel producers to shape the negotiations.

"It's clear the present process cannot overcome the coordinated opposition of those who block consensus and progress at every turn," Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a statement .

Without major change, Muffett said the next round of talks in Canada in April 2024 will be "a polite but massive failure."


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