Plastic Pollution: Interesting Facts & Statistics You Didn’t Already Know

Did you know that small pieces of plastic — microplastics — have been found contaminating the Arctic’s ice core?

The Earth is struggling to cope with the amount of plastic we’re using, and here are the facts and stats to prove it.

Cast your eyes over these interesting, alarming and mind-boggling titbits and trivia about our plastic usage around the world. 

Single-use plastic pollution: The impact on our oceans, wildlife & planet

It’s not a secret that plastic pollution is destructive to wildlife and our environment, particularly aquatic creatures.

We use plastic every day. Some of the main examples of single-use plastic include plastic bottles, cotton buds, straws, coffee lids, wrapping, bags and plastic cutlery. When these macroplastics degrade over hundreds of years, they don’t actually disappear — they break down into tiny pieces and toxic fragments called microplastic. These miniscule fibres are everywhere.

How big is the issue of plastic pollution for our seas and its creatures?

  • Plastic rubbish resembles food to many marine creatures, particularly sea turtles who can confuse bags for jellyfish. Its consumption causes them to starve, choke or sustain internal injuries like clogged or punctured guts. 
  • According to the UN, plastic kills one million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals each year. [source]
  • In 2019, a dead whale was found with 40 kilos of plastic waste in its stomach. [source]
  • 90% of marine birds and fish are estimated to have plastic in their stomach. [source]
  • A sea turtle has a 22% chance of dying if it ingests just one piece of plastic.
  • Once a turtle has 14 plastic items in its digestive tract, it has a 50% chance of dying. [source]
  • If marine plastic pollution continues at its current rate, by 2050 the plastic waste in the sea will weigh more than the world’s population of fish. [source]
  • Globally, it’s estimated that 52% of sea turtles have eaten plastic waste. [source]
  • Nine in 10 sea birds are thought to have ingested plastic waste. [source]

It’s not just the oceans. Land animals — including those that humans consume — are affected by plastic pollution. Microplastic pollution in soil, sediments and other bodies of water poses a real danger to our ecosystems. They have even been found in our tap water. 

  • Over 50% of cattle in Kenya were found to have plastic bags in their stomachs, before the country moved to ban single-use plastic bags completely. [source]
  • In 2019, it was reported that 60,000 cows in France suffered from tumours and infections caused by an accumulation of plastic in their rumen. [source]
  • Microplastic contamination on land is estimated to be anywhere from four to 23 times higher than marine microplastic pollution. This can have a long-term negative impact as plastic enters the food chain and contaminates soil. [source]
  • Billions of people are ingesting microplastic in the water they drink out of their taps; a study found 83% of global tap water samples to be contaminated, including 72% of European samples. [source]
  • Small pieces of plastic have been found contaminating the Arctic’s ice core. [source

A plastic addiction: In numbers

Wrap your head around some of these mind-boggling stats about our global plastic consumption — it doesn’t take a genius to work out that we have a problem. More action is needed by governments, businesses and individuals to manage plastic usage.

  • At least 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into oceans and waterways every year — the equivalent of one rubbish truck per minute. [source]
  • According to the best estimates, there’s currently 150 million tonnes of plastic waste in our world’s oceans, forecast to rise to 250 million by 2025. [source]
  • Plastic bottles make up one third of all plastic pollution in our sea. [source]
  • The UK uses 13 billion plastic bottles every year, with only 7.5 billion recycled. [source]
  • There are approximately 5,000 pieces of marine plastic pollution per mile of beach in the UK. [source]
  • A plastic bottle takes anywhere between 450–1000 years to decompose. [source]
  • Plastic also has a huge effect on climate change and renewable resource depletion. By 2050, it’s estimated that plastic could contribute towards half of all oil demand growth. [source]

Hope for the future? Our fight against single-use plastic around the world

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are causes for optimism — a belief that we can turn back the plastic tide. 

Take, for instance, the global phasing out of plastic bags. Most countries have implemented a ban, partial ban or a charge arrangement. The UK’s 5p charge for plastic bags, introduced in 2015, has taken 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation, reducing marine litter by around 50%.

Additionally, from April 2020, the UK government confirmed a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds following overwhelming public support. This aims to eliminate the astonishing 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion cotton buds consumed in the UK every year.

Some countries have led the way by making single-use plastics illegals in some scenarios. Kenya was amongst the first, announcing a ban on their use in national parks, beaches, forests and zoos.

A municipal area in South Delhi, India, recently banned disposable plastic bottles in city offices — a real step forward. In New York, where plastics bags are a big problem (to the tune of 23 billion used per year), there are moves towards a complete ban. China, the world’s biggest consumer of plastic, unveiled a major plan in 2020 to reduce single-use items.

Governments, businesses and individuals around the world are beginning to heed the stark warnings, leading a global fightback against the single-use plastic scourge.

Make a lasting change today.

There’s demand out there to make the change, and the good news is that we can all be part of it. By making small changes to our individual and family lifestyles, we can reduce the amount of waste entering our landscapes and oceans. Do your part by committing to a plastic-free July.

As convenient as it may be, the small plastic bottle is one of the most littered items in the world, contributing to one third of all marine pollution. Make the easy change to a reusable, sustainable solution with Doulton’s stylish TASTE bottle — ideal for staying hydrated with great-tasting, healthy filtered water on the go.

Looking to take more steps towards sustainability as a family? Drinking more water is a great place to start. An at-home water filtration system — such as the Royal Doulton Elite — will help you to swap pollution for hydration, reducing temptation to reach for plastic bottled soft drinks.

These are just two simple ways we can all make a lasting change. Explore our blog post for more inspiration for a plastic-free lifestyle!

What are your top tips for cutting down on single-use plastics? Let us know on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!