Green Cities

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!

  1. Every minute, two garbage trucks of plastic are dumped into our oceans. Currently, 8 million metric tons of plastic winds up in the oceans.[1] That’s enough trash to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic…compounding every year.[2] The amount of plastic trash that flows into the oceans every year is expected to nearly triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons.[3]
  2. Microplastics in different forms are present in almost all water systems in the world, be they streams, rivers, lakes, or oceans.[4][5][6] There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.[7]
  3. 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. One patch in particular, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” covers 20 million square kilometers of water.[8] That’s bigger than the combined area of the United States’ five largest states![9]
  4. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish (by weight).[10]
  5. As of 2021, there are at least 363,762,732,605 pounds of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.[11]
  6. Plastic has been found at 36,000 feet (approximately 11km) in the Mariana Trench, meaning not even the deepest part of the world’s oceans can escape contamination.[12]
  7. Over 1 million marine organisms are killed each year due to plastic pollution in the ocean. Animals who eat plastic often starve because the plastic prevents them from properly swallowing food.[13]
  8. The chances of disease on a coral reef are enhanced by 22-fold by plastics. In 2018, a huge survey of the 159 coral reefs across Asia-Pacific region showed that over 11.1 billion plastic particles are entangling the corals, and this number is estimated to increase dramatically by 40% by 2025. Plastic debris may also cause physical damage to the corals by exhausting the resources for the wound-healing process. Importantly, more than 7000 species of fishes, invertebrates, plants, sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals can be found in the coral reef ecosystem.[14]
  9. Animals are now colonizing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, meaning that they are consuming the plastic waste and also living in previously uninhabited areas. All of these developments disrupt the natural marine ecosystem.[15]
  10. Many animals at the base of the food chain eat microplastics. These animals are then consumed by others than humans eat.[16]