Rise Above Plastics Facts and Figures

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Rise Above Plastics Facts and Figures (English)
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  • The amount of plastic produced from 2000 - 2010 exceeds the amount produced during the entire last century.[1]
  • Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide.[2]
  • An estimated 100,000 marine mammals and up to 1 million sea birds die every year after ingesting or being tangled in plastic marine litter.[3] [4] [5]
  • 50 to 80 percent of dead sea turtles have ingested plastic. Plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish, are the most commonly found item in sea turtles’ stomachs.[6]
  • Worldwide, 82 of 144 examined bird species contained plastic debris in their stomachs; and in some cases, 80 percent of the population had consumed plastic.[7] Researchers found that 66 percent of Giant Petrel shorebirds regurgitated plastic when feeding their chicks.[8]
  • Commercial fish, such as Opah and Bigeye Tuna, consume plastic,[9] which could significantly reduce global populations.[10] A University of Hawaii study reports “[i]n the two [Opah] species found in Hawaiian waters, 58 percent of the small-­‐eye opah and 43 percent of the big-­‐eye opah had ingested some kind of debris.”
  • Impacts of marine debris have been reported for 663 species. Over half of these reports documented entanglement in and ingestion of marine debris. Over 80 % of the impacts were associated with plastic debris. [11]
  • Up to 80% of the plastic in our oceans comes from land-based sources.[12] [13] [14]
  • Plastics comprise up to 90% of floating marine debris.[15]
  • In 2010 about 690,000 tons of waste HDPE plastic "bags, sacks and wraps" were generated in the United States, but only 4.3% of this total was recycled.[16]
  • Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break down into small particles that persist in the ocean, absorb toxins, and enter our food chain through fish, sea birds and other marine life.[17]
  • Plastic bags are problematic in the litter stream because they float easily in the air and water, traveling long distances and never fully breaking down in water.
  • Cleanup of plastic bags is costly. California spends an estimated $25 million annually to landfill discarded plastic bags, and public agencies spend more than $500 million annually in litter cleanup.[18] [19]
  • It is estimated that Americans go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year, or 360 bags per year for every man, woman and child in the country.[20]
  • Those 100 billion plastic bags, if tied together, would reach around the Earth’s equator 773 times![21]
  • Recent studies estimate that fish off the West Coast ingest over 12,000 tons of plastic a year.[22] [23]
  • Plastic debris in the area popularly known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased by 100 times in the past 40 years.[24] The five oceanic gyres are estimated to contain 100 million tons of marine litter [25] and an estimated 20 million tons of plastic litter enter the ocean each year.[26]
  • At least 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating at sea.[27]

For even more facts and figures - and solutions(!) see this Plastics Solutions Briefing Booklet prepared by Surfrider Foundation and UCLA’s Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic.


  1. Thompson, R.C. “Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 364.1526 (2009):2153-2166.
  2. Derraik, J.G.B. “The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 44. (2002): 843.
    Gregory, M.R., Ryan, P.G. “Pelagic plastics and other seaborne persistent synthetic debris: a review of Southern Hemisphere perspectives.” Marine Debris – Sources, Impacts and Solutions. Ed. J.M. Coe, D.B. Rogers. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997, pp. 4, 9-66.
  3. United Nations. Marine Litter: Trash that Kills, November 2001. http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/docs/trash_that_kills.pdf, pp. 10.
  4. Wallace, N. "Debris Entanglement in the Marine Environment: A Review." Proceedings of the Workshop on the Fate and Impact of Marine Debris. Eds. R.S. Shomura, H.O. Yoshida. U.S. Department of Commerce: NOAA Technical Memorandum, July 1985. http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/tm/swfc/swfc054.pdf NMFS, NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFC-5, pp. 259-277.
  5. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/conservation/research/laysan-albatross-and-plastics
  6. N. Mrosovsky, Leatherback Turtles: The Menace of Plastic, 58 MARINE POLLUTION BULLETIN 287 (2009).
  7. GREENPEACE, PLASTIC DEBRIS IN THE WORLD’S OCEANS 14 (2006), at 20, available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2007/8/plastic_ocean_report.pdf
  8. Id
  9. C. Anela Choy & Jeffery C. Drazen, Plastic for Dinner? Observations of Frequent Debris Ingestion by Pelagic Predatory Fishes from the Central North Pacific, 485 MARINE ECOLOGY PROGRESS SERIES 155 (2013), at 161
  10. Christiana M. Boerger et al., Plastic Ingestion by Planktivorous Fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre, 60 MARINE POLLUTION BULLETIN 2275, 2277 (2010).
  11. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel—GEF (2012). Impacts of Marine Debris on Biodiversity: Current Status and Potential Solutions, Montreal, Technical Series No. 67, 61 pages.
  12. California Ocean Protection Council. An Implementation Strategy for the California Ocean Protection Council Resolution to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter. 2008. 3.
  13. "Ships Set Sail to Examine the Vast Patch of PLastic in the Pacific Ocean." 80beats. Discover, 08/03/2009. Web. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/08/03/ships-set-sail-to-examine-the-vast-patch-of-plastic-in-the-pacific-ocean/.
  14. “Marine Debris." California Coastal Cleanup Day, Web. http://www.cleanupday.org/education.htm.
  15. United Nations. Marine Litter: An Analytical Overview. , Web. 14 Feb 2011. http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/docs/anl_oview.pdf.
  16. United States Environmental Protection Agency, December 2011. Web. 23 Feb 2012. http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/2010_MSW_Tables_and_Figures_508.pdf
  17. Williams, Caroline. "Battle of the Bag." New Scientist. (2004): Print.
  18. Californians Against Waste. "The Problem of Plastic Bags." http://www.cawrecycles.org/issues/plastic_campaign/plastic_bags/problem.
  19. Stickel, B.H., A. Jahn and W. Kier 2012. The Cost to West Coast Communities of Dealing with Trash, Reducing Marine Debris. Prepared by Kier Associates for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, pursuant to Order for Services EPG12900098, 21 p. + appendices.
  20. Royte, Elizabeth. Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
  21. U.S. International Trade Commission. Polyethylene Retail Carrier Bags from Indonesia, Taiwan, and Vietman. Publication 4080. May 2009, pg. IV-7. *Calculation is based on the following: 2008 bag consumption, according to U.S. International Trade Commission = 101,449,633,000. Earth’s Circumference = 131,480,184 feet, Average bag length = 1ft.
  22. Davison P, Asch RG (2011) Plastic ingestion by mesopelagic fishes in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 432:173-180
  23. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/1928
  24. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/1847
  26. Raveender Vannela, Are We “Digging Our Own Grave” Under the Oceans? Biosphere Level Effects and Global Policy Challenge from Plastic(s) in Oceans, 46(15) ENVTL. SCI. & TECH. 7932, 7932 (2012).
  27. Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111913