In the chart we see the share of global plastic waste that is discarded, recycled or incinerated from 1980 through to 2015. There a number of potential effects of microplastics at different biological levels, which range from sub-cellular to ecosystems, but most research has focused on impacts in individual adult organisms. Plastic enters the oceans from coastlines, rivers, tides, and marine sources. South Asia’s contribution — largely driven by India — increases slightly, as does Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the plastic that ends up in our oceans does so because of poor waste management practices – particularly in low-to-middle income countries; this means that good waste management across the world is essential to achieving this. (2015) also project mismanaged plastic waste production for the year 2025.11. Gall, S. C., & Thompson, R. C. (2015). Ecological Indicators, 34, 641–647 (2013). One of the most widely-quoted estimates is 250,000 tonnes.24. Food chain transport of nanoparticles affects behaviour and fat metabolism in fish. While overall the amount of recycled plastics is relatively small—three million tons for a 8.5 percent recycling rate in 2018—the recycling of some specific types of plastic containers is more significant. Environmental Pollution, 193, 65-70. Whilst per capita plastic waste generation tends to increase with income (see above), this general relationship does not hold when we consider mismanaged plastic waste. However, neither human exposure nor potential risk have been identified or quantified.61. The facts and statistics that detail the amount of plastic waste in the environment do not paint a pretty picture. Ocean. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969716310154. The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade. On the other hand, plastic waste The behaviors of microplastics in the marine environment. Help us do this work by making a donation. According to the EPA, 9.1% of plastic material generated in the U.S. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) stream was recycled in 2015. Microplastic moves pollutants and additives to worms, reducing functions linked to health and biodiversity. In some cases, energy recovery from the incineration process is possible. 75-116). Inadequately managed waste has high risk of polluting rivers and oceans. Mismanaged waste generation tends to be low at very low incomes (since per capita waste is small); it then rises towards middle incomes; and then falls again at higher incomes. Whilst we try to tally ocean inputs with the amount floating in gyres at the centre of our oceans, most of it may be accumulating around the edges of the oceans. There are several ways by which plastic particles can be ingested: orally through water, consumption of marine products which contain microplastics, through the skin via cosmetics (identified as highly unlikely but possible), or inhalation of particles in the air.55, It is possible for microplastics to be passed up to higher levels in the food chain. We discuss why such countries have high mismanaged plastic waste rates later in this entry. (2015) Micro- and Nano-plastics and Human Health. Building and construction was the second largest sector utilizing 19 percent of the total. There are multiple scenarios where this can have an impact on organisms. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. As the Chinese economy grows, its demand for repurposed plastic does also. Countries around the middle of the global income spectrum therefore tend to have the highest per capita mismanaged plastic rates. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year. Recycled plastic waste is now a product within the global commodity market — it is sold and traded across the world. License: All of Our World in Data is completely open access and all work is licensed under the Creative Commons BY license. Plastics are a rapidly growing segment of municipal solid waste (MSW). Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., … & Noble, K. (2018). Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-16510-3_4. The world produces 381 million tonnes in plastic waste yearly – this is set to double by 2034. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 4666. While overall the amount of recycled plastics is relatively small—3.0 million tons for a 8.4 percent recycling rate in 2017—the recycling of some specific types of plastic containers is more significant. Annual review of marine science, 9, 205-229. The energy it takes to make 1.5 million tons of plastic could power 250,000 homes. But once it is there, where does it go? This article was first published in September 2018. (2014). 185. Environmental Science & Technology, 49(22), 13622-13627. Deleterious effects of litter on marine life. This includes disposal in dumps or open, uncontrolled landfills; this means the material is not fully contained and can be lost to the surrounding environment. For more comprehensive information, see the 2018 Data Tables on the Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report page. And, any additional plastics we add will contribute further. What determines how much plastic waste we produce? Revel, M., Châtel, A., & Mouneyrac, C. (2018). You have the permission to use, distribute, and reproduce in any medium, provided the source and authors are credited. Yang, D., Shi, H., Li, L., Li, J., Jabeen, K., & Kolandhasamy, P. (2015). How much plastic enters the world’s oceans? For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population.3. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Plastics can be challenging to recycle, particularly if they contain additives and different plastic blends. Note that this at least an order of magnitude lower than estimated inputs of plastics to the ocean; the discrepancy here relates to a surprising, but long-standing question in the research literature on plastics: “where is the missing plastic going?“. This is shown by particle size in terms of mass (left) and particle count (right). There have been many documented incidences of the impact of plastic on ecosystems and wildlife. Available at: http://oro.open.ac.uk/47539/. Available at: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/6/eaat0131. Whilst this is the relative contribution as an aggregate of global ocean plastics, the relative contribution of different sources will vary depending on geographical location and context. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, 31(9), 1574-1578. There are three key pathways by which plastic debris can affect wildlife33: Entanglement – the entrapping, encircling or constricting of marine animals by plastic debris. For example, its estimated that plastic lines, ropes and fishing nets comprise 52 percent of the plastic mass in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ (GPGP) (and comprises 46 percent of the megaplastics component of the GPGP).16. Oliveira, M., Ribeiro, A., Hylland, K. & Guilhermino, L. Single and combined effects of microplastics and pyrene on juveniles (0+ group) of the common goby Pomatoschistus microps (Teleostei, Gobiidae). As we see in the chart, North America was responsible for 0.9 percent of global mismanaged plastic, and Europe & Central Asia for 3.6 percent. Plastics are typically buoyant – meaning they float on the ocean surface –, allowing them to be transported by the prevalent wind and surface current routes. It has been documented for at least 233 marine species, including all marine turtle species, more than one-third of seal species, 59% of whale species, and 59% of seabirds.37 Ingestion by 92 species of fish and 6 species of invertebrates has also been recorded. This makes it a valuable material for many functions. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. 344–86. Environmental Pollution, 221, 141-149. The accumulation of a large number of particles tends to result from the breakdown of larger plastics — this results in an accumulation of plastic particles for a given mass. An official website of the United States government. This entry can be cited as: Our World in Data is free and accessible for everyone. Recycling statistics on plastic. Entanglements most commonly involve plastic rope and netting35 and abandoned fishing gear.36 However, entanglement by other plastics such as packaging have also been recorded. Plastic in north sea fish. Biomagnification (sometimes termed ‘bioamplification’ or ‘biological magnification’), is the increasing concentration of a substance in the tissues of organisms at successively higher levels in a food chain. The chart shows that by 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic — more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today. Levels of microplastic ingestion are currently unknown. Why then do we find at least 100 times less plastics in our surface waters? UNEP & FAO (2009). This results from the combined impact of large coastal plastic inputs in the region, alongside intensive fishing activity in the Pacific ocean. Their results suggest that macroplastics can persist for decades; can be buried and resurfaced along shorelines; and end up in offshore regions years later. 70% of our plastic debris sinks into the oceans ecosystem, 15% can be found floating, and 15% will find its way on our beaches. What is the relative contribution of each? Inadequately disposed waste is that which has the intention of being managed through waste collection or storage sites, but is ultimately not formally or sufficiently managed. Another 15.5% was combusted for energy, while 75.4% was sent to landfills. If plastic production (and hence potential ocean inputs) from these regions were eliminated, global mismanaged plastic would decline by only 4.5 percent. Environmental Pollution, 198, 211-222. Available at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0155063. Since the beginning of plastic production, it is … Prior to 1980, recycling and incineration of plastic was negligible; 100 percent was therefore discarded. Suspended micro-sized PVC particles impair the performance and decrease survival in the Asian green mussel Perna viridis. Marine Environmental Research, 113, 7-17. These results are presented in the map as the share of global mismanaged waste by country, and aggregated by region. Over 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging are used in the UK each year. Cedervall T, Hansson LA, Lard M, Frohm B, Linse S. 2012. They wanted to understand where plastic accumulates, and how old it is: a few years old, ten years or decades? Like the per capita figures above, note that these figures represent total plastic waste generation and do not account for differences in waste management, recycling or incineration. This is differentiated by domestic plastic waste generation, shown in grey, and imported plastic waste shown in red. Royal Society Open Science, 1(4), 140317. Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b01090. (2017). As we see, basins in the Northern Hemisphere had the highest quantity of plastics. The total amount of plastics combusted in MSW in 2018 was 5.6 million tons. Much of the macroplastics in our shorelines is from the past 15 years, but still a significant amount is older suggesting it can persist for several decades without breaking down. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749116311666. In 2020 This month This week Today When organisms ingest microplastics, it can take up space in the gut and digestive system, leading to reductions in feeding signals. Ogonowski, M., Schür, C., Jarsén, Å. Still have a question about the data? Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. In Marine Anthropogenic Litter (pp. Pollutants bioavailability and toxicological risk from microplastics to marine mussels. A House of Commons Library Briefing Paper on plastic waste in the UK, including statistics on plastic waste and information on UK Government and devolved Government plans and ambitions to reduce avoidable plastic waste and examples of voluntary initiatives from the plastics industry, environmental groups and retailers. Collectively, China and Hong Kong have imported 72.4 percent of global traded plastic waste (with most imports to Hong Kong eventually reaching China).72, This came to an end in 2017. This discrepancy is known as the ‘missing plastic problem’ and is discussed. For human health, it is the smallest particles – micro- and nano-particles which are small enough to be ingested – that are of greatest concern. Since microplastics are hydrophobic (insoluble), and are have a high surface area-to-volume ratio, they can sorb environmental contaminants.68 If there was significant accumulation of environmental contaminants, there is the possibility that these concentrations could ‘biomagnify’ up the food chain to higher levels.69 Biomagnification of PCBs varies by organism and environmental conditions; multiple studies have shown no evidence of uptake by the organisms of PCBs despite ingestion70 whilst some mussels, for example, have shown capability to transfer some compounds into their digestive glands.71. Whilst many countries across Europe and North America had high rates of per capita plastic generation, once corrected for waste management, their contribution to mismanaged waste at risk of ocean pollution is significantly lower. A. Inadequately disposed waste is not formally managed and includes disposal in dumps or open, uncontrolled landfills, where it is not fully contained. Across such countries almost no plastic waste is considered inadequately managed. Plastic pollution is having a negative impact on our oceans and wildlife health, High-income countries generate more plastic waste per person, However, it is the management of plastic waste that determines the risk of plastic entering the ocean. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report page. Liebezeit, G., & Liebezeit, E. (2014). In Europe, energy recovery is the most used way to dispose of plastic waste, followed by landfill. One ton of plastic is around 25,000 plastic bottles. RS Shomura, HO Yoshida, pp. Packaging is therefore the dominant generator of plastic waste, responsible for almost half of the global total. This is supported by figures from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which suggests abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear contributes approximately 10 percent to total ocean plastics.14, Other estimates allocate a slightly higher contribution of marine sources, at 28 percent of total ocean plastics.15. One key input is through river systems. Kühn, S., Rebolledo, E. L. B., & van Franeker, J. The authors suggest this means plastic pollution can be moved between oceanic gyres and basins much more readily than previously assumed. The world now produces more than 380 million tonnes of plastic every year, which could end up as pollutants, entering our natural environment and oceans. Mismanaged waste is material which is at high risk of entering the ocean via wind or tidal transport, or carried to coastlines from inland waterways. A., Thompson, R. C., & Amaral‐Zettler, L. A. Burning waste is the world’s largest source of dioxins, which is one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. High-income countries have very effect waste management systems; mismanaged waste – and plastic that ends up in the oceans – is therefore very rare. Scientific Reports, 7 (1), 8620. This is crucial, not only in understanding the scale of the problem but in implementing the most effective interventions for reduction. The plastic food service items are generally made of clear or foamed polystyrene, while trash bags are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Which countries produce the most plastic waste? In 2015, an estimated 55 percent of global plastic waste was discarded, 25 percent was incinerated, and 20 percent recycled. Bottles, bags, ropes and toothbrushes: the struggle to track ocean plastics. This is given in cumulative million tonnes. This stopped, however, in 2013 when China starte… In the chart we see the per capita rate of plastic waste generation, measured in kilograms per person per day. In the world map we see estimates on the share of plastic waste that is defined as inadequately managed and therefore at risk of entering the oceans and other environments. Galloway T.S. This would be expected since the majority of the world’s population – and in particular, coastal populations – live within the Northern Hemisphere. 2013. The chart shows the increase of global plastic production, measured in tonnes per year, from 1950 through to 2015. Almost every hour, nearly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped. Marine Pollution Bulletin 111, 213–220 (2016). This therefore takes account of per capita waste generation and population size. A global map of littered plastic from coastal populations (within 50 kilometres of a coastline) is shown here. Marine Pollution Bulletin 69:206–14. Whilst we looked previously in this entry at the plastic waste generation in countries across the world, it’s also important to understand how plastic waste is traded across the world. The data below are from 1960 to 2018, relating to the total number of tons of plastics generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled. As such, ‘lethal concentration’ (LC) values which are often measured and reported for contaminants do not exist. Interaction – interaction includes collisions, obstructions, abrasions or use as substrate. Science, 347(6223), 768-771. NOAA-TM-NMFS-SWFC-54. It takes 500 years for average sized plastic water bottles to fully decompose. There are multiple routes by which plastic can enter the ocean environment. The impact of debris on marine life. Plos One 9, e111913 (2014). From 1980 for incineration, and 1990 for recycling, rates increased on average by about 0.7 percent per year.4. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. (2015) attempted to quantify the amount of plastic that could eventually enter the ocean across the world.9. In 2015, primary plastics production was 407 million tonnes; around three-quarters (302 million tonnes) ended up as waste. The GPGP comprised 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, with a mass of 79,000 tonnes (approximately 29 percent of the 269,000 tonnes in the world’s surface oceans). Here we see a very strong geographical clustering of mismanaged plastic waste, a high share of the world’s ocean plastics pollution has its origin in Asia. Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L. C., Carson, H. S., Thiel, M., Moore, C. J., Borerro, J. C., … & Reisser, J. Available at: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-marine-010816-060409. Plastic waste treatment in Europe. This also matters for how we solve the problem of ocean pollution. Marine pollution bulletin, 92(1-2), 170-179. 17. In addition to this main data entry we have collated some of the most common questions on plastics on our FAQ on Plastics page. For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population.1. Microplastics and mesoplastics in fish from coastal and fresh waters of China. Plastic recycling results in significant energy savings compared with the production of new plastics using virgin material. Global trade of plastic is discussed here. Iñiguez, M. E., Conesa, J. Most disconcertingly, the overwhelming amount and mass of marine plastic debris is beyond visual, made of microscopic range fragmented plastic debris that … At the end of that year China introduced a complete ban on the imports of non-industrial plastic waste.73. Environmental Science & Technology, 49(15), 8932-8947. Plastic in our oceans can arise from both land-based or marine sources. To put this in context, China’s domestic plastic waste generation was around 61 million tonnes. There are several hypotheses to explain the ‘missing plastic problem’. Current Biology. PLOS ONE 7:e32254, Oliveira M, Ribeiro A, Hylland K, Guilhermino L. 2013. However, rapid growth in global plastic production was not realized until the 1950s. 88% of the sea's surface is polluted by plastic waste. As a result, plastics tend to accumulate in oceanic gyres, with high concentrations of plastics at the centre of ocean basins, and much less around the perimeters. This has typically occurred in countries that have rapidly industrialized, but failed to make progress in waste management at the same speed. Springer, Cham. 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