Green Cities

Fact Sheet: Single Use Plastics


Fact Sheet: Single-Use Plastics

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. Plastic pollution is very real and single-use plastics are small but have a large impact.

The following 10 facts shed light on how single-use plastic is a large problem that most people are a part of.  To learn more about the threat and impact of plastic pollution and get tips to reduce your plastic consumption, download our Plastic Pollution Primer and Toolkit today!

  1. Around 380 million metric tons of plastic are being produced yearly.[1] 8.3 BILLION Metric Tons (9.1 BILLION US Tons) of plastic has been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s. The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity.[2]
  2. Humans use about 1.2 million plastic bottles per minute in total. Approximately 91% of plastic is not recycled.[3] Roughly half of our global annual plastic production is destined for a single-use product.[4] 
  3. Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).[5]
  4. Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S.! That means by using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.[6]
  5. Five trillion plastic bags are produced worldwide annually. It can take up to 1,000 years for a bag to disintegrate completely. Americans throw away 100 billion bags annually– that’s the equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of crude oil! By switching to reusable shopping bags, we can eliminate that waste– which amounts to about 307 bags per person.[7]
  6. Americans alone use half a billion drinking straws every day.[8]
  7. The world uses 500 billion plastic cups every year.[9] The world also produces more than 29 million US tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) each year.[10] Americans alone throw away around 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year.[11]
  8. In 2017, packaging production constituted the highest-demanded use for plastic, with 146 million metric tons used.[12]
  9. At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Many countries lack the infrastructure to prevent plastic pollution such as: sanitary landfills; incineration facilities; recycling capacity and circular economy infrastructure; proper management and disposal of waste systems.[13]
  10. When plastics end up in landfills, they aren’t harmless. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them.[14] Researchers in Germany indicate that terrestrial microplastic pollution is much higher than marine microplastic pollution– estimated at four to 23 times higher, depending on the environment. This could ultimately have adverse health effects on humans and animals.[15]