Fact Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean


Fact Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean

The billions upon billions of items of plastic waste choking our oceans, lakes, and rivers and piling up on land is more than unsightly and harmful to plants and wildlife.

The following 10 facts shed light on how plastic is proving dangerous to our planet, health, and wildlife. To learn more about the threat and impact of plastic pollution and to get tips to reduce your plastic consumption, download our Plastic Pollution Primer and Toolkit today!


About 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean annually[1]. Of those, 236,000 tons are microplastics[2] – tiny pieces of broken-down plastic smaller than your little fingernail


There are five massive patches of plastic in the oceans around the world. These huge concentrations of plastic debris cover large swaths of the ocean; the one between California and Hawaii is the size of the state of Texas[3]


Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans[4]


The amount of plastic in the ocean is set to increase tenfold by 2020[5]


By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish (by weight)[6]


Plastic is found in the ocean as far as 11km deep, meaning synthetic fibers have contaminated even the most remote places on Earth[7]


Many marine organisms can’t distinguish common plastic items from food. Animals who eat plastic often starve because they can’t digest the plastic and it fills their stomachs, preventing them from eating real food[8]


The likelihood of coral becoming diseased increases from 4% to 89% after coming in contact with marine plastic. It also damages the skin of coral, allowing infection[9]. Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of marine life.[10]


There is more plastic than natural prey at the sea surface of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which means that organisms feeding at this area are likely to have plastic as a major component of their diets. For instance, sea turtles by-caught in fisheries operating within and around the patch can have up to 74% (by dry weight) of their diets composed of ocean plastics.[11]

FACT #10

Many fish humans consume, including brown trout, cisco, and perch, have at one time or another, ingested plastic microfibers.[12]

[1] Jambeck, J. R., et al. “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean.” Science, vol. 347, no. 6223, 13 Feb. 2015, pp. 768–771., doi:10.1126/science.1260352.

[2] Erik van Sebille et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 124006

[3] https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

[4] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minute-one-garbage-truck-of-plastic-is-dumped-into-our-oceans/

[5] https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/how-scientists-plan-to-clean-up-the-plastic-waste-threatening-marine-life-a6820276.html

[6] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics-catalysing-action

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/15/plastics-found-in-stomachs-of-deepest-sea-creatures

[8] Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit, Earth Day Network, 2018

[9] Lamb, Joleah B., et al. “Plastic Waste Associated with Disease on Coral Reefs.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 26 Jan. 2018, science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6374/460.


[11] https://www.theoceancleanup.com/updates/how-ocean-plastics-turn-into-a-dangerous-meal/


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