Plastic pollution fouls our beaches, kills wildlife, contaminates the marine food web and leads to the massive garbage gyres around the world’s oceans.
A generation ago, most of what we consumed was packaged from simple, natural materials like paper, glass or metals. Today, much of what we purchase comes wrapped in plastic, a material designed to last forever, yet used as “throw-away” packaging.
Even though the majority of plastic used is recyclable, most of it ends up either in the garbage or in the environment as litter. Plastics make up almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream, a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream. The largest category of plastics in MSW is packaging, including water and soft drink bottles, lids, and shampoo bottles. In 2011, the United States generated almost 14 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging and we only recycled 11 percent of it.¹
Plastic packaging is often littered or blown out of trash cans and garbage trucks. When plastic enters the environment, it is blown into waterways and storm drains and eventually becomes marine debris. Plastic pollution fouls our beaches, kills wildlife, contaminates the marine food web and leads to the massive garbage gyres around the world’s oceans.
Plastic doesn’t go “away”
We can walk along a beach and see the debris, but it goes deeper than that. Marine mammals, fish and sea birds ingest the plastics – impacting the species that call our oceans home. Plastic debris accumulates in our oceans, degrading over time but never fully disappearing. According to NOAA, most commonly used plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics that will never fully degrade in the ocean. Instead they will persist and impact the ecosystem for years to come. Recent studies show that these microplastics are accumulating in the marine food chain, harming wildlife, and ultimately us.
¹ U.S. EPA. 2013. (http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/plastics.htm)