Plastic Pollution Essay for Students and Children

500+ words essay on plastic pollution.

Plastic is everywhere nowadays. People are using it endlessly just for their comfort. However, no one realizes how it is harming our planet. We need to become aware of the consequences so that we can stop plastic pollution . Kids should be taught from their childhood to avoid using plastic. Similarly, adults must check each other on the same. In addition, the government must take stringent measures to stop plastic pollution before it gets too late.

Uprise of Plastic Pollution

Plastic has become one of the most used substances. It is seen everywhere these days, from supermarkets to common households. Why is that? Why is the use of plastic on the rise instead of diminishing? The main reason is that plastic is very cheap. It costs lesser than other alternatives like paper and cloth. This is why it is so common.

plastic pollution essay introduction

Secondly, it is very easy to use. Plastic can be used for almost anything either liquid or solid. Moreover, it comes in different forms which we can easily mold.

Furthermore, we see that plastic is a non-biodegradable material. It does not leave the face of the Earth . We cannot dissolve plastic in land or water, it remains forever. Thus, more and more use of plastic means more plastic which won’t get dissolved. Thus, the uprise of plastic pollution is happening at a very rapid rate.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Impact of Plastic Pollution

Plastic Pollution is affecting the whole earth, including mankind, wildlife, and aquatic life. It is spreading like a disease which has no cure. We all must realize the harmful impact it has on our lives so as to avert it as soon as possible.

Plastic pollutes our water. Each year, tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean. As plastic does not dissolve, it remains in the water thereby hampering its purity. This means we won’t be left with clean water in the coming years.

Furthermore, plastic pollutes our land as well. When humans dump Plastic waste into landfills, the soil gets damaged. It ruins the fertility of the soil. In addition to this, various disease-carrying insects collect in that area, causing deadly illnesses.

Should Plastic Be Banned? Read the Essay here

Most importantly, plastic pollution harms the Marine life . The plastic litter in the water is mistaken for food by the aquatic animals. They eat it and die eventually. For instance, a dolphin died due to a plastic ring stuck in its mouth. It couldn’t open its mouth due to that and died of starvation. Thus, we see how innocent animals are dying because of plastic pollution.

In short, we see how plastic pollution is ruining everyone’s life on earth. We must take major steps to prevent it. We must use alternatives like cloth bags and paper bags instead of plastic bags. If we are purchasing plastic, we must reuse it. We must avoid drinking bottled water which contributes largely to plastic pollution. The government must put a plastic ban on the use of plastic. All this can prevent plastic pollution to a large extent.

FAQs on Plastic Pollution Essay

Q.1 Why is plastic pollution on the rise?

A.1 Plastic Pollution is on the rise because nowadays people are using plastic endlessly. It is very economical and easily available. Moreover, plastic does not dissolve in the land or water, it stays for more than hundred years contributing to uprise of plastic pollution.

Q.2 How is plastic pollution impacting the earth?

A.2 Plastic pollution is impacting the earth in various ways. Firstly, it is polluting our water. This causes a shortage of clean water and thus we cannot have enough supply for all. Moreover, it is also ruining our soils and lands. The soil fertility is depleting and disease-carrying insects are collecting in landfills of plastic.

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Ocean plastic pollution an overview: data and statistics

mfava

09 May 2022

https://oceanliteracy.unesco.org/plastic-pollution-ocean/

Plastic is one of the most enduring materials man has created. Nowadays, we all know that it can take hundreds of years for plastic to degrade, and research is showing that it is possible that it does not even fully degrade, but becomes what we call microplastic .

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic that can be eaten by marine animals and end up in their bodies and tissues, entering the food chain and leading to disastrous consequences for the health of our planet and all its inhabitants.

Even if human beings are becoming more and more aware of the hazards this material poses to life, the presence of plastic in our ocean is continually increasing, and plastic pollution is still one of the main causes of marine species extinction , health problems for human beings and animals alike, and the destruction of our ecosystems.

In this article, we will look at ocean plastic pollution and lay out the data and statistics you need to understand the daunting issue we are facing. Most importantly, we will also look at what we can do as individuals and as part of our society to prevent plastic pollution and save our planet.

Let’s start!

Plastic Pollution in the Ocean: Where does it come from?

It is clear that plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues we are currently facing, but how did it come to be? Moreover, where does all the plastic in the ocean come from?

Plastics produced from fossil fuels are just over a century old , but they revolutionized our life completely. It allowed the invention of many life-saving devices and the implementation of new technologies that changed the course of history.

However, the great advantages plastic offered led to a throwaway trend that made us discover plastic’s dark side: the threat it poses to our environment and life.

The majority of plastic pollution in the ocean is caused by littering : we buy or use disposable plastic items (food wrappings, plastic bags, razors, bottles, etc.) and do not dispose of them properly, which cause them to end up in the waterways and eventually in the ocean.

Yet, not all-plastic waste in the ocean is an effect of littering: many plastics and microplastics are the product of improper manufacturing processes and about 20% of the ocean’s plastic pollution comes from industrial fishing.

Plastic Pollution: Key Facts

  • Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution and around 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year.
  • Research states that, by 2050, plastic will likely outweigh all fish in the sea.
  • In the last ten years, we have produced more plastic products than in the previous century.
  • The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has stated that basically 100% of all plastics human beings have ever created are still in existence.
  • Plastic generally takes between 500-1000 years to degrade. Even then, it becomes microplastics, without fully degrading.
  • Currently, there are about 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean.
  • This plastic either breaks down into microplastic particles (see below), or floats around and ends up forming garbage patches.

Garbage Patches in the Ocean

Most of the plastic we find in the ocean comes from land: it flows downstream through rivers all the way to the sea. At first, it may stay in coastal waters, but it can soon be picked up by rotating ocean currents , called gyres, and transported literally anywhere in the world.

According to National Geographic, scientists found plastic coming from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China on Henderson Island , an uninhabited isolated atoll halfway between Chile and New Zealand.

Usually, marine plastic debris groups up in what we call garbage patches, plastic accumulation areas, in the center of the ocean’s gyres. The biggest is the Great Pacific garbage patch , located between Hawaii and California.

Consequences

Today, plastic production and use is still at its highest, but the data on recycling are not at all promising: only about 10% of the plastic we produce is currently being recycled . The rest is either incinerated, causing air pollution, or it ends up in our oceans and environment.

Harm to Wildlife

Plastic pollution in the ocean has a devastating impact on marine life and ecosystems. The most obvious one being the damage plastic items cause to animals when they come into contact with or ingest them, which include suffocation, entanglement, laceration, infections and internal injuries.

17% of the species affected by the presence of plastic in the ocean are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Yet, there are more problems related to plastic: floating plastic items can help transport invasive species, which leads to threats for marine ecosystems , biodiversity and the food web.

Harm to Human Beings

As we explained above, microplastics have now become part of the food chain and have been found everywhere: in drinking water, salt, beer and in the soil where we grow our vegetables.

Plastic materials are carcinogenic and can affect the body’s endocrine system, causing developmental, neurological, reproductive and immune disorders. Another health hazard is given by toxic contaminants that often accumulate on plastic’s surface, and are then transferred to humans through the consumption of seafood.

Climate Change

Plastic pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin : plastic production, as it is created from fossil fuels, highly contributes to the climate crisis.

Moreover, as we already mentioned, when plastic waste is incinerated, it releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, increasing emissions and worsening global warming.

Economic effects

According to research, the yearly economic costs of plastic in the ocean are estimated to be between $6-19bn USD. These costs are given by its impact on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, and (governmental) cleanups.

Images of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Here, we have decided to show you some recent images of plastic pollution in the ocean.

This will help you comprehend the magnitude of the threat that plastic pollution in the ocean poses to our planet and life, as we know it, and hopefully help you develop a deeper awareness of what is going on.

Why it is Vital to Prevent Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is undoubtedly an issue that requires worldwide cooperation. Its consequences affect the whole planet and its inhabitants: it threatens ocean health , the health of marine species, food safety and quality, human health , coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.

Reducing the presence of plastic in our oceans will not only allow us to save marine species and ecosystems, but will improve our overall health and that of the environment in general, helping us fight climate change and working towards a more sustainable future .

How to Stop Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

It is quite hard to retrieve plastic from the ocean once it has entered it. New technologies allow us to catch larger marine debris, but small plastic items and microplastics are virtually impossible to reach, especially when they are deep in the ocean.

Therefore, many scientists and conservationists have declared that the best solution is to prevent plastic waste from entering rivers and seas in the first place.

This could be accomplished with the improvement of our waste management systems and the implementation of recycling . In addition, it is essential to reconsider the design and usage of disposable packaging , and the reduction in manufacturing of unnecessary single-use plastics.

What Can We Do

There are many ways to keep plastic out of the ocean ! Here are some strategies you can adopt and share with your community:

  • Reduce plastic use Think about all the plastic items you use in your daily life. Can you even count them all? Being more aware of the way you use plastic is a great starting point to reduce plastic waste.

We know, habits are hard to change, but even a small individual commitment can make a difference especially when talking about the single-use plastics we mentioned earlier which, according to data from the European Parliament, are responsible for 49% of all marine pollution.

Here are some new habits you can take inspiration from:

  • Swap plastic bags for reusable ones, made of cloth or fiber.
  • Reduce the use of disposable plastic cups, plates, cutlery and bottles. For example, bring your own reusable bottle to work and a reusable coffee cup for your morning take-away!)
  • Buy food and cleaning products in bulk to avoid useless plastic wrappings. Nowadays, there are plenty of options to choose from, and many supermarkets let you fill your own jars/bags.
  • Choose metal or glass food containers and storage options instead of plastic ones.
  • Avoid buying and using cosmetics that contain plastic microspheres or microbeads.
  • Participate in (or organize!) a cleanup

If you live by a sea or river, you can volunteer to pick up litter in your local community, thus remove plastics from the waterways and preventing them from getting to the ocean in the first place. There are many organizations you can join, or simply do it on the weekend with your friends and family. Every little helps!

  • Support the right legislation

Of course, it is essential to change our individual behaviors and habits, but unfortunately, this is not sufficient to prevent and stop ocean plastic pollution. It is also essential that you support legislation that aims at reducing the use and production of plastic, improve recycling facilities and better manage waste in general.

  • Support research and organizations

One of the main weapons we can use to stop ocean pollution is research. By deepening our knowledge of the effects of the issue, we can start implementing better policies for all.

There are many NGOs and non-profit that rely on donations to develop their projects and research for reducing and eliminating plastic from the ocean. Here are some examples:

  • Oceanic Society
  • Plastic Pollution Coalition
  • Plastic Soup Foundation

Sylvia Earle, marine biologist, said: “It is the worst of times but it is the best of times because we still have a chance.” So, let us make the best of this chance; we can all make choices to protect our planet, it is not too late!

https://www.itsafishthing.com/plastic-in-the-ocean/

https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/plastic-planet-how-tiny-plastic-particles-are-polluting-our-soil

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/plastic-pollution

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/marinedebris/plastics-in-the-ocean.html

https://theoceancleanup.com/

https://www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/plastic-in-the-ocean

https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/how-does-plastic-end-ocean

https://www.oceanicsociety.org/resources/7-ways-to-reduce-ocean-plastic-pollution-today/

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The dubbing world for the ocean- la giornata mondiale dell’oceano (santa marinella- latium coast, central tyrrhenian sea), sustainable mediterranean, issue no 79 on ocean literacy.

plastic pollution essay introduction

Short Essay: Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. The proliferation of plastic waste in our oceans, rivers, and landfills has detrimental effects on ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. As a result, addressing the issue of plastic pollution has become a critical priority for individuals, communities, and governments worldwide.

Writing an essay on plastic pollution provides an opportunity to delve into the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to this pervasive problem. It allows us to explore the environmental, social, and economic implications of plastic pollution while raising awareness and encouraging action. By examining the issue from various angles, we can develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem and contribute to the ongoing efforts aimed at mitigating its impact.

Table of Contents

Plastic Pollution Essay Tips

Understand the topic: Begin by thoroughly researching and understanding the topic of plastic pollution. Familiarize yourself with the causes, impacts, and potential solutions related to this issue. Gather relevant data, statistics, and case studies to support your arguments.

Develop a clear thesis statement: A strong thesis statement is essential for guiding your essay and stating your main argument or perspective on plastic pollution. It should be concise, specific, and debatable. For example, “Plastic pollution is an urgent global crisis that requires immediate action from individuals, industries, and governments.”

Plan your essay structure: Outline the main sections of your essay, such as the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each section should have a clear purpose and flow logically from one point to another. Consider using subheadings to organize your ideas within the body paragraphs.

Start with a compelling introduction: Begin your essay with a captivating introduction that hooks the reader’s attention. Provide some background information on plastic pollution and its significance, and clearly state your thesis statement. You can use a relevant anecdote, a thought-provoking question, or a startling statistic to engage the reader from the outset.

Provide evidence and examples: Support your arguments with credible evidence, facts, statistics, and real-life examples. This can include scientific studies, expert opinions, case studies, and personal anecdotes. The use of concrete evidence strengthens your essay and makes it more persuasive.

Address causes, impacts, and solutions: Dedicate separate paragraphs or sections of your essay to explore the causes of plastic pollution, its environmental and societal impacts, and potential solutions. Provide a balanced view by presenting different perspectives and discussing both immediate and long-term measures that can be taken.

Use clear and concise language: Write in a clear, concise, and coherent manner. Avoid using jargon or technical terms without proper explanation. Use simple language to ensure that your arguments are easily understood by a wide audience.

Consider counterarguments: Acknowledge and address counterarguments to strengthen your essay’s credibility. Anticipate potential objections or opposing viewpoints and provide well-reasoned responses to demonstrate the validity of your argument.

Conclude effectively: Summarize your main points and restate your thesis in the conclusion. Emphasize the importance of taking action to combat plastic pollution and leave the reader with a sense of urgency and a call to action.

Revise and edit: Once you have completed the initial draft of your essay, take the time to revise and edit it for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Ensure that your essay flows smoothly and that your arguments are well-supported. Proofread carefully to eliminate any spelling or punctuation errors.

Plastic Pollution Essay Example #1

Plastic pollution has become a pervasive and escalating environmental issue that demands immediate attention. The exponential increase in plastic production and consumption, coupled with inadequate waste management practices, has resulted in the widespread contamination of our ecosystems. This essay delves into the causes and consequences of plastic pollution, highlighting the urgent need for effective solutions.

The causes of plastic pollution are manifold. The prevalence of single-use plastics, such as bags, bottles, and packaging, has skyrocketed due to their convenience and affordability. However, these items are discarded after a single use, leading to a staggering accumulation of plastic waste. Inadequate waste management systems exacerbate the problem, with improper disposal and insufficient recycling infrastructure allowing plastic to infiltrate our natural environments. Additionally, the continuous production of virgin plastic, derived from fossil fuels, further depletes precious resources and intensifies the environmental impact.

The consequences of plastic pollution are far-reaching and devastating. Marine ecosystems bear the brunt of this crisis, with plastic waste infiltrating oceans and endangering marine life. Marine animals mistakenly ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in injury, suffocation, and death. The detrimental effects extend to terrestrial ecosystems as well, where land animals and birds suffer from ingestion or entanglement, disrupting ecological balance.

Moreover, plastic pollution poses risks to human health. Microplastics, tiny particles that result from the degradation of larger plastic items, have infiltrated our food chain. Consuming seafood and other food products contaminated with microplastics exposes humans to potential health hazards, including the ingestion of toxic chemicals associated with plastics. Furthermore, the leaching of harmful additives from plastic products can lead to chemical exposure, with adverse effects on human well-being.

To combat plastic pollution, concerted efforts are required. First and foremost, reducing plastic consumption is crucial. Individuals can opt for reusable alternatives, such as cloth bags and stainless steel water bottles, to minimize their reliance on single-use plastics. Governments and industries must also take responsibility by implementing policies that restrict the production and use of disposable plastics. Promoting recycling and investing in comprehensive waste management systems are vital to ensure proper disposal and prevent plastic from entering our environment.

In conclusion, plastic pollution has reached alarming levels, threatening ecosystems and human health. The causes of this crisis lie in excessive plastic consumption and inadequate waste management. It is imperative that we address this issue urgently. By reducing plastic consumption, improving waste management practices, and fostering a culture of environmental responsibility, we can pave the way for a cleaner and more sustainable future. Only through collective action and a shift towards more sustainable alternatives can we mitigate the devastating impact of plastic pollution.

Plastic Pollution Essay Example #2

Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. The excessive production and improper disposal of plastic waste have resulted in a global crisis that threatens ecosystems, wildlife, and human well-being. This essay discusses the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to plastic pollution, emphasizing the need for immediate action to address this escalating problem.

The causes of plastic pollution are rooted in our reliance on single-use plastics and inadequate waste management practices. The convenience and affordability of items such as plastic bags, bottles, and packaging have led to their widespread use and subsequent disposal. However, these products have a short lifespan and are often discarded improperly, ending up in landfills, rivers, and oceans. Inadequate waste management infrastructure, lack of recycling facilities, and limited public awareness further contribute to the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment.

The consequences of plastic pollution are far-reaching and multifaceted. Marine ecosystems bear a significant brunt, with plastic debris suffocating coral reefs, contaminating water bodies, and endangering marine life. Sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals often mistake plastic for food, leading to ingestion and entanglement, which can be fatal. Plastic pollution also affects terrestrial ecosystems, as land animals and birds may ingest or become entangled in plastic waste, disrupting their natural habitats and food chains.

In addition to environmental impacts, plastic pollution poses risks to human health. Microplastics, small particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items, have been found in water sources, air, and even food. The ingestion of microplastics by humans through the consumption of contaminated seafood and other food products raises concerns about the potential health effects, including the absorption of toxic chemicals associated with plastics.

Addressing plastic pollution requires collaborative efforts and systemic changes. Firstly, reducing plastic consumption is essential. This can be achieved through promoting reusable alternatives, supporting initiatives that encourage the use of sustainable materials, and implementing policies that restrict the production and use of single-use plastics. Additionally, improving waste management practices is crucial, including the establishment of effective recycling programs, investment in infrastructure, and raising public awareness about proper waste disposal.

Furthermore, innovation and research play a vital role in finding sustainable alternatives to plastic and developing environmentally friendly packaging materials. Governments, industries, and individuals must work together to support and implement these solutions.

In conclusion, plastic pollution has reached critical levels, posing severe threats to ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. The causes of this crisis lie in the excessive production and improper disposal of plastic waste. To mitigate the impacts of plastic pollution, concerted efforts are needed to reduce plastic consumption, improve waste management practices, and foster innovation in sustainable alternatives. By taking immediate action, we can protect our environment and ensure a healthier and more sustainable future for generations to come.

Plastic Pollution Essay Example #3

Plastic pollution has become a global environmental crisis with far-reaching consequences. The widespread production, consumption, and improper disposal of plastic materials have led to the contamination of our oceans, land, and air. This essay explores the detrimental effects of plastic pollution on ecosystems, wildlife, and human health, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions.

One of the most significant impacts of plastic pollution is on marine ecosystems. Plastic waste, particularly single-use items like bags and bottles, finds its way into rivers and eventually the oceans. Marine animals mistake plastic debris for food and can suffer from ingestion or entanglement. This leads to internal injuries, starvation, and death. Coral reefs, which are vital ecosystems supporting a diverse array of marine life, are also threatened by plastic pollution. The accumulation of plastic waste smothers and damages coral, hindering their growth and survival.

Terrestrial ecosystems are also affected by plastic pollution. Land animals and birds can become entangled in plastic items or ingest them, resulting in injury or death. Plastic waste disrupts the balance of ecosystems, impacting biodiversity and overall ecological health.

Plastic pollution poses risks to human health as well. Microplastics, small particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items, have infiltrated various sources, including drinking water, air, and food. The ingestion of microplastics by humans raises concerns about potential health effects, as they can contain toxic chemicals and pollutants. Furthermore, plastic products often contain additives like phthalates and bisphenols, which can leach into the environment and pose potential health risks such as endocrine disruption and reproductive disorders.

To tackle the issue of plastic pollution, a multi-faceted approach is required. Firstly, reducing plastic consumption is crucial. Individuals can make conscious choices to minimize their use of single-use plastics and opt for reusable alternatives. Governments should implement policies that promote sustainable practices, such as banning or taxing single-use plastics and encouraging the use of biodegradable or compostable materials.

Improving waste management systems is another vital aspect of addressing plastic pollution. This includes investing in recycling infrastructure, implementing waste separation programs, and raising awareness about proper waste disposal and recycling practices.

Innovation and research play a significant role in finding alternative materials to plastic and developing sustainable packaging solutions. Governments, industries, and research institutions should collaborate to support and fund initiatives that promote the development and adoption of these alternatives.

In conclusion, plastic pollution has severe consequences for ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. The accumulation of plastic waste in our oceans, land, and air poses a significant threat to the environment and biodiversity. Immediate action is needed to reduce plastic consumption, improve waste management practices, and promote sustainable alternatives. By working together, we can mitigate the devastating effects of plastic pollution and ensure a cleaner and healthier planet for future generations.

An English teacher from Scotland, currently based in Hong Kong, teaching in an International Kindergarten and tutoring Primary students. Owner of Mr Greg's English Cloud & Eczemafeed

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Plastic Pollution: A Perspective on Matters Arising: Challenges and Opportunities

Austine ofondu chinomso iroegbu.

† Department of Chemical Sciences, University of Johannesburg, Doornfontein 2028, Johannesburg, South Africa

‡ Centre for Nanostructures and Advanced Materials, DSI-CSIR Nanotechnology Innovation Centre, Council for Scientific & Industrial Research, CSIR, Pretoria 0001, South Africa

Suprakas Sinha Ray

Vuyelwa mbarane.

§ State Information Technology Agency (SITA), 459 Tsitsa Street, Erasmuskloof 0048, Pretoria, South Africa

João Carlos Bordado

∥ Centro de Recursos Naturais e Ambiente (CERENA), Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Av. Rovisco Pais, 1, 1049-001 Lisboa, Portugal

José Paulo Sardinha

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
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Plastic pollution is a persistent challenge worldwide with the first reports evidencing its impact on the living and nonliving components of the environment dating back more than half a century. The rising concerns regarding the immediate and long-term consequences of plastic matter entrainment into foods and water cannot be overemphasized in light of our pursuit of sustainability (in terms of food, water, environment, and our health). Hence, some schools of thought recommend the revisitation and continuous assessment of the plastic economy, while some call for the outright ban of plastic materials, demonstrating that plastic pollution requires, more than ever, renewed, innovative, and effective approaches for a holistic solution. In this paper, dozens of reports on various aspects of plastic pollution assessment are collated and reviewed, and the impact of plastic pollution on both the living and nonliving components of the environment is discussed. Current challenges and factors hindering efforts to mitigate plastic pollution are identified to inform the presented recommendations while underscoring, for policymakers, stakeholders, and the scientific community, the exigency of finding sustainable solutions to plastic pollution that not only encompass existing challenges but also future threats presented by plastic pollution.

1. Pollution—An Overview

Pollution is a global phenomenon, a persistent challenge that is transnational (i.e., borderless) in nature, transinstitutional in purview, and transdisciplinary in solution scope. 1 − 3 As indicated in Figure ​ Figure1 1 , pollution can arise naturally, for example, by saltwater intrusion into freshwater resources and volcanic eruptions that release dangerous gases, or it can be manmade, a result of anthropogenic activities such as the exploitation of the environment and its resources and the introduction of matter or energy into the environment that are not natural to it. 4 − 6 Substances or energies (e.g., material entropy) that are introduced into the environment through anthropogenic activities can upset and compromise the natural balance of the earth’s intricate and inter-related systems, causing a “domino effect”. 7 − 9 Pollution can also be considered as (an) unnatural disturbance(s) arising from the intrusion of energy or matter into the environment, which may result in the interruption (i.e., modification) or degradation of the natural state of a system or environment, thereby increasing the risk of the system or environment deviating from its initial state (i.e., original conditions and functions). For example, the water present in commercial petroleum products (e.g., gasoline) can be considered a pollutant because it affects the original conditions and functions of these products in motor engines. Hence, it can be inferred that chemical reactions usually occur as a result of unnatural disturbances (i.e., the agitation or excitation of the state of matter or a system), causing the transformation or transmutation of substances (i.e., matter) from one form to another (which may be reversible or irreversible); accordingly, pollution has the potential to change the dynamics of matter and environments, which consequentially impacts the natural characteristics of living and nonliving components. 8 , 10 Notwithstanding, we hold that matter or energy entering an environment cannot be considered pollution (or a pollutant) if the effect of such intrusion or disturbance on the environment or system is not negative, i.e., is (i) neutral or (ii) positive. Hence, we posit that meeting these conditions should be the basis for considering such matter or energy as “green” or “eco-friendly”. For example, sunlight is considered friendly to green vegetation but unfriendly to plastic materials; in the former, it is vital for photosynthesis, and in the latter, it is known to promote photodegradation.

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Common sources of pollution.

Pollution has detrimental consequences, which cannot be overstated in light of current environmental challenges. For example, it has been reported that a slight deterioration in air quality, owing to pollution, significantly impairs the natural behavior of bees, interrupting their critical roles in the ecosystem and thereby threatening food security. 11 Elsewhere, it has been found that a strong correlation exists between congenital anomalies and community exposure to chemicals associated with environmental contaminants. 12 A recent study has shown that the deterioration in the quality of milk in breastfeeding mothers can be traced to environmental pollution; it further contends that pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), entering the human body have the potential to disrupt and alter the natural balance of a mother’s milk with health consequences for breastfeeding infants that can range from allergies and endocrine disorders to impaired neurodevelopment. 13 To place the existential threat of pollution in context, a global health assessment has established that more than 20% of global deaths can be traced to pollution-related health complications. 14 Pollution impacts almost every aspect of our existence and the living and nonliving components of the environment. For example, satellite data spanning three decades evidence the devastating impact of global warming (a result of environmental pollution), which has shrunk Greenland’s ice sheets to almost nothing, thus contributing to rising global sea levels. 15

Plastic pollution is a pressing global challenge owing to the pervasive, near-unmanageable threat it poses to living and nonliving systems and the environmental stress it causes. 16 , 17 Herein, we define plastic pollution (encompassing macro-, micro-, and nanoplastic debris) as the intrusion or invasion by plastic materials (i.e., polymeric systems), either through direct introduction or degradation processes, of environments (to which they are not native) to negatively or undesirably impact such environments. Similar to greenhouse gases, persistent pollutants, and other environmental contaminants, plastic pollution cannot be restricted by territorial boundaries or legislation because it is able to migrate between water bodies, disperse through air, and be transported to remote locations through human intervention. 18 − 20

The following criteria are considered conditions for qualifying a pollutant as hazardous to the environment: 8 (i) its biological impact even at minute concentrations is significant (noticeable and observable); (ii) it easily diffuses into the atmosphere, is soluble in water, and has an affinity for accumulating in environments; (iii) it tends to persist in a given environment; (iv) it can impact a wide range of targets (living and nonliving), especially those directly linked to human health or important for environmental stability and functions; (v) its degradation byproducts or their combination with other environmental chemical compounds exhibit toxicity, persist, and accumulate in a target or exceed the original levels of the material; (vi) it is suitable for large-scale production and its benefits are considered to outweigh the concomitant cost of pollution. This perspective shows that plastic pollution satisfies all of these criteria and, thus, is hazardous to both living and nonliving systems in the environment.

A Google Scholar search using the search criteria “Plastic Pollution” at 10-year intervals in the last seven decades reveals that the number of publications on plastic pollution has increased, as shown in Figure ​ Figure2 2 . Across the world, the issue of plastic pollution has brought about a paradigm shift in discourses on climate change and ocean and environmental sustainability. 21 , 22 In almost every country in the world, multiple individuals and groups have become environmental activists against plastic pollution. 23 In addition, governments, world leaders, and various stakeholders participate in discussions, conventions, and resolutions in concerted efforts to find a holistic solution to plastic pollution. 24 , 25

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Number of publications between 1952 and 2021 on plastic pollution. The search engine was Google Scholar, while the keyword for the search was Plastic Pollution.

However, despite being a half-century-old problem, it is evident that the threat posed by plastic pollution is not abating and remediation will require, more than ever, renewed effort and a holistic approach with concrete commitments from all stakeholders. Borrelle et al. 17 estimated that more than 10% of the global plastic waste generated in 2016 found its way into aquatic environments. Moreover, they forecast that, without immediate intervention, by 2030, the world’s aquatic environments could contain more than 80 metric ton (Mt) of plastic debris. 17 Such a volume of plastic added to the world’s aquatic environments would displace an equal volume of water, shrinking aquatic habitats, increasing the likelihood of floods, and exacerbating global warming; 2 these phenomena, in turn, have countless negative consequences, such as endangering individuals and communities, destroying properties, and straining healthcare facilities and resources, government budgets, and the insurance industry, demonstrating the wider impact of plastic pollution. 26 − 28

Concerns regarding the mounting challenges of pervasive environmental and biological stressors, chiefly arising from the short- and long-term impacts of plastic pollution, have prompted the consolidation of the efforts (and associated financial, scientific, economic, and political resources) of stakeholders, worldwide, in the form of a sustainable development goal (SDG) initiative that prioritizes sustainable and healthy earth for all. 29 Therefore, discourses on environmental pollution such as plastic pollution should evaluate challenges, possible amelioration/mitigation, or control, with reference to the SDGs and current environmental issues.

This perspective differs from existing publications on plastic pollution ( Table 1 ) as it underscores key challenges and factors hindering global efforts to mitigate the menace of plastic pollution while highlighting various views on plastic pollution. It also discusses important developments and initiatives, aimed at mitigating the environmental impacts of plastic pollution, and presents recommendations that are based on a multidisciplinary approach. Policymakers, stakeholders (i.e., the plastic economy value chain), and the scientific community are alerted to the exigency of synergistically reshaping the current plastic economy to demonstrate a commitment toward the pursuit of green(er) plastics and support of blue sea initiatives, focusing on sustainable solutions that address the existing and future challenges presented by plastic pollution.

Plastics are polymeric systems (i.e., macromolecules), for example, polyethylene, polyacrylamides, polyesters, and polypropylene. Although plastics are generally polymers, not all polymers are plastics, such as natural cellulose, carbohydrates, proteins (e.g., leather), lignin, and natural rubber ( Hevea brasiliensis ). In this perspective, we consider plastic pollutants to be polymer-based materials in the environment, which may be plastics or not, that are potentially harmful.

2. A World of Polymers

We have always lived in the polymer age. Humans are essentially polymeric, from the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that encodes our human traits to the protein that covers our body (skin) and our keratin-laden hair. Moreover, our living, walking polymeric forms are sustained by the polymers we consume in the forms of carbohydrates and proteins and protected by the polymer-based clothes we wear. Advances in polymer science and engineering over the years have led to the discovery and commercialization of various polymer-based systems or materials such as polycarbonates, nylons, polyimides, polyurethanes, and liquid crystals, which have found various domestic and industrial applications that shape our world and advance our quality of life. Polymers feature prominently in almost every sector of the economy, from industries that manufacture pharmaceuticals, composites, and tires to laboratories that perform DNA profiling for criminal investigations by law enforcement agencies, demonstrating that polymers and polymer science have contributed and continue to contribute to civilization; additional examples are presented in Figure ​ Figure3 3 . 35 − 38 Owing to great minds such as Hermann Staudinger (1881–1965), Wallace Hume Carothers (1896–1937), Paul J. Flory (1910–1985), and Stephanie L. Kwolek (1923–2014) advancing the field of polymer science and engineering, plastics are considered one of man’s greatest feats in the field of science and technology. 39 , 40 In 1962, Fred Wallace Billmeyer Jr. (1919–2004) predicted that, with advances in polymer science and engineering, plastics will become the dominant materials of the future, surpassing steel, aluminum, and copper. 41 More than half a century later, this prediction seems accurate as, in recent times, plastics have outperformed competing materials, including wood, metal, and glass, as the material of choice in diverse domestic and industrial applications; the production of plastics exceeded 8 billion Mt between 1950 and 2015. 2 , 42

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Immense contributions of polymers to human advancement and civilization cannot be overstated; polymers feature heavily in almost every sector of the economy.

Owing to their flexibility and adaptability for various applications, lightweight, moisture resistance, corrosion resistance, and low-cost plastics are sought-after materials for various applications. Commodity plastics such as polypropylene, which is a very cost-effective polymeric material that can be blow-molded, extruded, thermoformed, or injection-molded, are popular for the fabrication of products such as packaging films, plastic crates used for good transportation, storage containers (e.g., ice cream containers and yogurt containers), plastic caps, jerry cans, and hair combs. Other well-known commodity plastics include poly(vinyl chloride) (generally known as PVC and employed in piping and insulation systems), polyethylene (generally employed in packaging films), and poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET; generally employed in beverage packaging). 36 , 43 Since our reliance on polymers increases in step with advances in science and technology (e.g., robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic organs, insulation for energy conservation, and smart materials), a future that is not enriched and heavily dependent on plastics seems unlikely. 43 − 45

3. Health and Environmental Issues

There is no gainsaying that plastics have contributed immensely to the rise of human civilization; however, the distribution of plastic debris (macro-, micro-, and nanoplastics) in the environment and its entrainment into biological systems have become a serious issue. 46 Various health conditions such as thyroid dysfunction, obesity, diabetes, and reproductive impairment have been attributed to plastic pollution. 47 For example, it has been shown that nanoplastics impact negatively the composition and diversity of microbial communities in the human gut, which, considering emerging research evidencing the strong relationship between the gut and neural networks in the brain, could negatively impact the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. 20 As already highlighted, pollution changes the dynamics of systems and environments with consequential impacts on the natural characteristics of their living and nonliving components; thus, it is reasonable to infer that the entrainment of nanoplastics into the human gut holds physiological consequences. The genotoxicity of micro- and nanoplastics to DNA has been established. It has been demonstrated that if the plastic matter is small enough to cross the nuclear membrane surrounding the DNA, damage can occur, impairing the DNA structure or forming lesions, which, unrepaired or misrepaired, can cause mutagenic processes that are considered to play a role in the carcinogenesis of cells. Additionally, it was found that the type and level of damage of DNA depend on the shape, functional groups, and chemical composition of the plastic debris. 48 The human airway is a key pathway for plastic fiber entrainment into the lungs, and biopersistence of the fibers depends on their length, structure, and chemical composition. Moreover, at certain exposure limits, all plastic fibers are likely to produce inflammation, which can lead to lung challenges such as the formation of reactive oxygen species with the potential to initiate cancerous growth through secondary genotoxicity. 49 Although there are few studies on the extent of the damage that prolonged exposure to plastic particles can cause to the human body (suggesting the need to increase research in this area), it is accepted that industry workers at textile facilities are at a high risk of contracting occupational diseases arising from high exposure to textile fibers. 50 It has long been established that constituents of plastic packaging chemically interact with or migrate into fat-containing foods; typical interactions include the migration of antioxidants from the plastic packaging into the food, sometimes bonding to the food surface. 51 Such transfer of packaging additives from the packaging material to its food content is a potential health risk. Furthermore, PET, a common plastic employed in the food and beverage industry, is a source of endocrine disruptors; 52 these endocrine disruptors leach from the plastic packaging into the consumables that it contains. Even at standard room temperature, phthalates (potential endocrine disruptors) are known to leach from PET packaging into various food contents in the presence of water. 52

The low thermal conductivities of plastic materials, although considered advantageous in certain applications (e.g., heat insulation), 43 contribute to global warming when these plastics are distributed in aquatic environments; they displace equal volumes of water and restrict heat flow from the sun to the aquatic environment, leading to a rise in sea levels and the dissipation of energy into the immediate environment. 2 The degradation pathways of plastics in the environment can also contribute to environmental stress. For example, Gewert et al. 53 posited that PVC, a very unstable polymer in the presence of UV radiation (+ h v), undergoes dechlorination in the environment, forming polyene moieties and hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the presence of water, as shown in Scheme 1 .

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Reproduced with permission from Gewert, B.; Plassmann, M. M.; MacLeod, M. Pathways for degradation of plastic polymers floating in the marine environment. Environ. Sci.: Process. Impacts 2015 , 17, 1513–1521. 53 Copyright 2015, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK.

This dechlorination process and subsequent release of HCl have the potential to contribute to the acidification of aquatic environments by decreasing the pH level, in addition to the acidification caused by atmospheric CO 2 . It has been highlighted that increasing ocean acidity will aggravate global warming, 54 , 55 detrimentally affecting and possibly mutating habitats and the characteristics of various environments 56 , 57 to seriously undermine our goal of sustainable earth for future generations. However, a major concern must be raised at this point: the risk posed by PVC debris on living systems. Can PVC debris find its way into living systems? If it can, does it follow the above-mentioned degradation pathway? If it does, what health challenges do direct dechlorination and the subsequent release of HCl present living systems such as humans?

The load-bearing capacity of an environment is considered finite and it is believed that exceeding this capacity of an environment (and its living and nonliving components) to tolerate stressors such as synthetic waste (e.g., plastic debris) can result in unpredictable, possibly catastrophic, situations owing to a butterfly effect. 9

4. Challenges Associated with Plastic Pollution Mitigation

Factors militating against efforts to manage and limit the negative environmental impacts of plastic pollution are numerous and multifaceted; they include economic and political factors, a lack of commitment by governments and global plastic economy stakeholders, dissenting opinions of scientists, and under-reported or overlooked polluters. 2 , 58 − 61 Here, we highlight a few important challenges. For example, in October 2020, it was reported that the United States generated an estimated 42 Mt of plastic waste in 2016, of which between 0.14 and 0.41 Mt was allegedly dumped illegally into the environment (land and water) and another 0.15–0.99 Mt was exported to other countries such as South Africa, Indonesia, and Mexico, where it was inadequately recycled (either burnt or discarded in open landfill sites). It was further stated that between 2010 and 2016, the United States was the most significant contributor to plastic pollution in the environment, overtaking China. 62 This indicting report of a technologically and economically advanced country such as the United States and others 63 demonstrates one of the key challenges facing global efforts to mitigate plastic pollution, i.e., the tendency of global powers to pass the responsibility for their generated waste on to poorer nations, who are less equipped to recycle or manage the waste. Hence, we contend that the issue of plastic pollution and its mitigation strategies transcend the generally narrow public focus on single-use carrier bags (although they contribute to the problem) and concern powerful stakeholders such as multinational corporations and top brands that have the capacity (financially, politically, etc.) to undermine or circumvent concerted global efforts to address plastic pollution. For example, based on an audit undertaken in more than a dozen countries, it was found that well-known global brands, such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever, are among the top sources of plastic pollution (for the third consecutive year); 64 yet, there are scant reports of these brands taking ownership of the environmental threat posed by plastic packaging used in their products, especially in countries in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Nigeria). 65

Multiple studies have demonstrated that automobile tires are significant contributors to microplastic pollution in the environment. For example, Kole et al. 66 demonstrated that the wear and tear of tires contribute significantly to the entrainment and distribution of plastic particles in the environment. They estimate the annual per capita emission of tire particles to range between 0.23 and 4.7 kg, with a global average of 0.81 kg. Furthermore, they contend that 5–10% of the plastic pollution in aquatic environments is derived from automobile tires, while 3–7% of the plastic particles in the air that we breathe is derived from automobile tires, which is a significant contribution to the global air burden. 66 However, they did not collate data on the amount of plastic matter, derived from tires, that enters the food chain (through water and air), or how much is consumed by ruminants owing to plastic matter trapped/settled on their food sources, e.g., grasses. Furthermore, they did not include comprehensive data from the wear and tear of bicycle tires or tires employed in the aviation industry since reports that quantify the contributions of these categories of plastic polluters are limited. A related study quantified the relative abundance of plastic matter (i.e., microplastic debris) generated by the wear and tear of automobile tires at roadside drains and in the natural environment near major road intersections, finding that it ranged from 0.6 ± 0.33 to 65 ± 7.36 in 5 mL of sampled material. The report also noted that plastic debris tends to act as a vector for other hazardous systems and thus persists in the environment with serious negative consequences. 67 Owing to increasing concerns that automobile users contribute substantially to microplastic distribution in the environment, the Swedish Government commissioned the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) to conduct a comprehensive study of this matter between 2018 and 2020. The key findings of their study are summarized. 68

  • At least half of Sweden’s microplastic pollution derives from tires.
  • Particles as large as 20 μm are deposited on or near roads and are carried off by winds to remote places. In addition, rain or snow clean-up processes transport these particles to other locations.
  • Stormwater transports tire-based microplastics into open waters, reservoirs, and containment areas.
  • It is necessary to further investigate the transportation and fate of these generated microplastics in sewerage and natural organisms.

Notwithstanding the mounting evidence of tire-based microplastic pollution, the multibillion-dollar tire industry is resisting scrutiny of its contribution to plastic pollution and the imposition of sanctions and regulations through the intense lobbying of European Union (EU) lawmakers. The report further highlighted how the tire industry commissioned and published no less than ten studies to counter reports revealing the significant risk that tire particles pose to humans and the environment; 69 again demonstrating how polluters undermine efforts to mitigate the plastic pollution caused by their products. In addition, several studies have argued that because tire particles contain toxic substances, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (phenanthrene, butylated hydroxyanisole, 2-methylnaphthalene, etc.) that are considered to pose serious health risks to living systems, 70 , 71 their distribution in the environment should not be trivialized.

Another factor limiting efforts to mitigate plastic pollution is the dissenting opinions and counteropinions held by scientists on various aspects of plastic pollution, e.g., sources, risk assessment, and toxicology. For example, Stafford and Jones 72 opine that addressing plastic pollution, such as ocean plastic pollution, is less pressing than addressing other environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. They insist that emerging reports highlight the exigency of directing global efforts toward mitigating carbon emissions rather than expending energy on lesser threats, such as marine plastics. They further suggest that although ocean plastic pollution is a problem that needs attention, it does not pose an immediate ecological or toxicological threat at a planetary boundary level (i.e., the threat posed by plastic pollution is contextually less pressing than the threats posed by climate change and biodiversity loss that have long exceeded core planetary boundaries). 72 However, Avery-Gomm et al. 73 have challenged the position of Stafford and Jones, 72 arguing that global threats must continually be kept in perspective because undermining one threat by substituting it with another so-called “heftier” threat would be counterproductive in the global pursuit of sustainability. In their concluding remarks, they posit that the continuous discourse on plastic pollution has informed the improvement of the monitoring and risk evaluation of plastic pollution, as well as the development of frameworks for mitigation and remediation. 73 Elsewhere, an environmental toxicologist and risk assessor has argued that microplastics in marine and freshwater ecosystems do not pose any threat to the aquatic habitat as long as these pollutants are in low concentrations, despite the contradictory views of fellow scientists, referring to the threat posed by microplastics to aquatic habitats as a superficial risk. 74 However, this trivialization of the threat posed by plastic pollution on not only aquatic habitats but also terrestrial and arboreal environments is strongly rejected by Hale, 75 who insists that there is no basis to downplay the threat posed by plastic pollution to aquatic habitats. Hale contends that, in addition to plastic particle size, assessments of the toxicological impacts and consequences of plastic pollution in any given environment must consider the chemical compositions of the polymeric materials employed in the manufacture and production of the plastic materials; the shapes, surface areas, density, and persistence of the plastic particles; as well as the effects of additives (e.g., modifiers) and even sorbed pollutants (e.g., carriers and/or transfer agents). 75 Hale’s position is supported by Kramm et al., 76 who add that plastic pollution is a prototypically global and complex anthropogenic issue. They hold that a reductionist approach to addressing a serious environmental issue such as that presented by plastic pollution is detrimental to mitigation efforts. Moreover, they consider it high time that the scientific community takes responsibility for the environmental problems resulting from the work and inventions of scientists rather than trivializing or shirking responsibility. 76 Although some scientists may want to trivialize the threat of plastic pollution, it is generally accepted that any substance or energy can become toxic and environmentally disruptive at sufficient concentrations. 8 The fundamentally different opinions of scientists are a key challenge to forging cooperation; after all, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Such differences also convey disunity and present avenues or opportunities for plastic polluters to exploit, to avoid responsibility, to the detriment of the environment and, by extension, humanity.

Studies have evidenced that textiles and fibers are major contributors to the plastic materials that entrain into human lungs, food, and the environment ( Table 2 ). 49 , 77 However, because clothing is a primary human need, the textile industry directly and indirectly employs more than 100 million people globally and is a significant contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP) and economic growth of various nations. 78 , 79 In this context, addressing the plastic pollution resulting from the use of textiles and fibers is a challenge since any approach will have consequences (whether that approach involves banning the use of textiles and fibers or mitigating their contribution to plastic pollution as much as possible). Figure ​ Figure4 4 shows how much textile lint accumulates in the lint trap of a commercial dryer in a laundry house. This commercial dryer features a trap that prevents lint from escaping; however, washing machines and dryers that do not feature appropriate filtration systems release significant volumes of textile fibers into the environment.

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Lint accumulation from a winter blanket in a commercial dryer. (A) Winter blanket loaded inside a commercial dryer. (B) Accumulation of lint inside the lint trap during the drying of the blanket. (C) Unweighed lint accumulated in the lint trap from the winter blanket after a single dry cycle. Photo Credit: First author (AOCI).

Moreover, considering that most polymers employed in the manufacturing of synthetic fibers and textiles are derived from petroleum and fossil-based resources, plastic pollution mitigation becomes a challenge (especially for oil-dependent economies) when balancing economics and politics. 80 , 81

Products and polymer-based articles, such as toothbrushes, shoes (materials or soles may be made from plastics), insulated electrical cables and equipment, light switches, writing pens (i.e., plastic cases), writing and printing inks (employ polymeric systems such as drag-reducing agents and stabilizers), mattresses, wigs and artificial hair (usually derived from high-performance polymers), artificial nails (e.g., acrylics), kitchen wipes (composed of microfibers), automobile paints, phone casings, computer casings, plastic wristwatches, and marine paints, are usually overlooked or underestimated as significant contributors to plastic pollution. Collectively, the “insignificant” contributions of these products or articles to plastic pollution, owing to poor disposal or through the process of wear and tear/degradation, is less insignificant. Notwithstanding, several reports focus on single-use plastic carrier bags as the primary plastic pollutant menacing our environment. 84 , 85 While we do not fault the positions held by these scientists, we argue that almost everyone releases plastic matter into the environment on a daily basis, e.g., through the shedding of textile fibers from our clothing. Hence, a more holistic approach to the management and control of plastic pollution is necessary to realize a sustainable environment. A small leak will sink a great ship; hence, we must beware of the plastic fibers that billions shed from their clothes daily or that is derived from insignificant contributors. It is our opinion that most people have little or no idea that their footwear (made from polymeric materials) also contributes to plastic pollution in the environment through wear and tear. As people tread on road surfaces, these surfaces abrade their footwear and accumulate plastic particles, which are subsequently washed away by rain into open waters. Furthermore, reports on the contributions of automobile and marine paints/coatings to plastic pollution through wear and degradation are limited. We submit that the contributions of automobile and marine paints/coatings to plastic pollution must be analyzed and quantified, as they represent potential secondary or primary sources of micro- and nanoplastic stressors in the environment. Moreover, the advanced paints and coatings (e.g., anticorrosive paints and coating) 86 , 87 that scientists and technologists are developing may pose additional environmental challenges when such materials leach, degrade, or form sediments in particular environments. It is worth noting that during the environmental degradation of paints and coatings, sorbed pollutants or additives may combine with biogenic systems and unpredictably alter living and nonliving systems in the environment. These plastic pollutant sources are usually overlooked or understudied, resulting in a knowledge gap that must be addressed to formulate a holistic approach to the management and control of plastic pollution in various environments.

5. Opportunities

Evidently, plastic pollution is a global challenge, and, as has been demonstrated, it meets all of the criteria of an environmental hazard for both the living and nonliving components of the environment. It is also apparent that a plastic-free future is unlikely despite the threat plastic pollution poses to the environment. 25 In addition, emerging data indicate an increase in global plastic pollution owing to the demand for personal protective equipment, 88 , 89 such as facemasks, to limit the spread of COVID-19. Besides, even if we were to ban the production and use of plastics, we would still need to address the plastic pollution currently present in our water, atmosphere, soil, consumables (e.g., table salts), and even vegetation (e.g., wheat and lettuce). 90 − 92 Hence, concerted global efforts are required to mitigate, manage, and control the current and possible future threats plastic debris distribution in the environment poses to its living and nonliving systems. Fortunately, various courses of action can be taken to realize this goal.

5.1. Plastic Education in National Curricula

Because prevention is better than cure, environmental responsibility and sustainability must be taught (formally and informally) from childhood, be it at home or in religious or formal education settings, to instill an appreciation of life and the environment. Such an educational approach is comparable to comprehensive sex education (CSE) that forms part of school curricula and teaches students life skills that enable them to make appropriate and healthy choices concerning their sexual lives. 93 We hold that incorporating plastic education into the national curricula is critical to mitigating, managing, and controlling plastic pollution and fostering sustainability. 94 We have enumerated elsewhere 2 the opportunities a plastic education curriculum presents. Hence, we support the call by the comity of nations for a global curriculum on plastic pollution, taught from kindergarten to the tertiary level, that addresses existing and emerging environmental and sustainability goals and objectives. For example, it has been established that handwashing clothes limits the amount of plastic fibers that ends up in the environment and prolongs the life span of fabrics. Although most people would consider using washing machines to do their laundry, a greater understanding of the limitations of these conveniences in mitigating plastic pollution may change behavior. It is believed that one of the reasons plastic pollution persists is the disconnect between scientific knowledge and the formative knowledge of the population. The population should be equipped with sufficient knowledge concerning the dangers and detrimental impact of plastic pollution (i.e., heightened risk awareness); instilling this risk awareness through formative education from childhood will promote the acceptance and support of policies and initiatives formulated to mitigate plastic pollution.

Religious and cultural institutions must actively participate in educating society on the value of sustainable earth and environment. It has been observed that culture, tradition, and religion all overwhelmingly influence the psyche, politics, emotional intelligence, and approach to life of individuals; 95 , 96 hence, addressing a global issue such as plastic pollution requires a rethink of our educational systems and the roles they play in promoting a sustainable environment. Human behaviors are ranked as some of the main challenges to addressing environmental issues; however, educational, religious, cultural, and traditional organizations can influence the attitudes and behaviors of their members in terms of environmental issues and are best placed to convince the population of the dire need to manage and control plastic pollution through behavioral change and ethical best practice. 2 , 97

Furthermore, global education systems should place greater emphasis on “responsible science”, where every scientific pursuit considers the environment to avoid engineering our own destruction. Scientists must understand that sustainability is their core mandate and must take ownership of the environmental challenges in which they are complicit. We believe that the formal and informal education sectors are critical to achieving the SDGs 29 and posit that plastic pollution mitigation, management, and control can only be achieved through the cooperation of all stakeholders, i.e., every human on the earth, for divided we fall. In closing, we emphasize that incorporating plastic education in national curricula to increase risk awareness is an opportunity that should not be squandered.

5.2. Green(er) Alternatives

We have previously mentioned that for a material to be considered green or eco-friendly, the effect of its intrusion or degradation in any given environment should either be neutral (have no net effect) or positive (energy-efficient, easily recyclable or reusable, etc.). In our view, the concept of “green plastics” should, in addition to biodegradability, encompass biocompatibility as well as a net neutral or positive impact on the environment. Hence, a “green plastic” should be an alternative polymeric material with properties or characteristics that are comparable or superior to those of conventional polymeric materials but that demonstrates less environmental impact. Such plastics can be biobased or fossil-based materials. 98 There has been an increasing and persistent call for rethinking the plastic economy in terms of the future of the environment; the sustainability of civilization; and the pursuit of green(er) chemistry, sustainable chemicals, and a circular economy. 99 − 102 Consequently, research that explores green(er) alternatives to conventional plastic materials has increased. For example, on June 5, 2014, Avantium ( https://www.avantium.com/ ) Technologies, headquartered in Amsterdam (The Netherlands), reportedly reached an agreement with international brands, such as Coca-Cola, Danone, Swire, and others, to produce packages exclusively from 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), a carbohydrate-based material, industrially known as poly(ethylene furanoate) (PEF), which affords many advantages over fossil-based PET, the dominant plastic material employed industry-wide in beverage packaging. 103 The advantages of PEF over PET include a higher gas barrier and better water, thermal, and tensile properties. 101

In recent years, a myriad of green(er) plastics with the potential to replace conventional plastics in various domestic and industrial applications has emerged. For example, nanocellulose has recently gained prominence as a versatile, benign, ubiquitous, and sustainable material that can be modified, spun, drawn, molded, and even cast, finding applications in almost every economic sector and replacing plastics and other conventional materials such as steel. 104 In addition to its abundance, nanocellulose has been demonstrated to represent a green(er) alternative to plastics used in, among others, the packaging industry, membrane fabrication, and composites with properties and characteristics comparable to and even exceeding those of conventional plastics in terms of resilience, lightweight, and strength. 105 As nanocellulose research and development advances, it is hoped that nanocellulose will replace conventional plastic materials in many domestic and industrial applications to promote our SDGs. The increasing number of green(er) alternatives to conventional plastics, such as DNA biodegradable materials, 106 lignin biodegradable and biocompatible composite films, 107 chitin biocompatible and biodegradable plastics and fibers, 108 , 109 biocompatible and nontoxic plastics derived from lactic acid, 110 is a testament to the promising technologies available to mitigate plastic pollution. In a yet-to-be-published work, we demonstrate that bamboo straws are not only green(er) than plastic straws but also sustainable and do not negatively impact the environment. We also posit that other green(er) articles, such as tires, shoes, and clothing, may become possible in the near future with concerted effort and political will.

5.3. Revision of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

As previously noted, in too many cases, the cost of pollution is considered tolerable in terms of a narrow cost–benefit analysis; thus, the negative impact of plastic pollution on, among others, our ecosystem and health, with a cost of more than USD 2 trillion per annum is usually under-reported. 47 , 111 Moreover, because most of the plastic debris generated inland generally finds its way into aquatic ecosystems, the oceans are one of the environments worst hit by plastic pollution, with an estimated impact of over USD 1 trillion per annum in terms of the loss in ocean productivity. 112 As pointed out by Forrest et al., 47 the current extended producer responsibility (EPR) and other plastic-related laws must be reviewed to reflect the exigency of the threat posed by plastic pollution; moreover, “voluntary” financial contributions from entities throughout the value chain of the plastic economy would generate considerable funds for innovative waste management schemes and environmental remediation. The goal of a circular plastic economy will remain elusive unless processes and technologies exist that ensure that the recycling of waste plastic is economically viable; 47 to promote the realization of a circular plastic economy, such technologies and processes must not only be cost-competitive but also enable the production of high-purity monomers (that are comparable to virgin resins) from waste plastic recovered from the environment. 113 , 114 As long as plastic recycling is disincentivized by its high cost, realizing and sustaining a circular plastic economy will be expensive, which is one of the major reasons that stakeholders in the plastic economy value chain have not fully embraced the concept of a circular plastic economy despite the recognized benefits. 115 Furthermore, we suggest that tariffs and levies on reclaimed or recycled plastic goods and materials should be reviewed throughout the value chain to promote their economic viability and enable them to compete with products produced from virgin resins, thus encouraging businesses to engage in environmental remediation. In addition, policies should be formulated to encourage consumers to use reusable and recycled products, thus incentivizing the reclamation of plastic wastes.

Elsewhere, we have argued 2 that despite the potential benefits of a circular economy, such as job creation, infrastructure development, and a low-carbon economy, we do not foresee the realization of a sustainable circular plastic economy without the cooperation of policymakers, governments, and the population. Hence, the synergistic cooperation of all stakeholders is imperative to plastic pollution mitigation.

6. Conclusions

Pollution is a global phenomenon and no nation or continent is immune to its negative environmental impact. Plastic pollution, in particular, is hazardous to the living and nonliving components of the environment. The negative impact of macro-, micro-, and nanoplastics on the environment and living organisms results from a combination of inherent characteristics and toxicity, the leaching of additives or constituent compounds, and the release of persistent sorbed pollutants. Although studies concerning the impact of plastic matter on various ecosystems, such as soil and air, are limited, the available literature demonstrates the exigency of revisiting the entire plastic economy value chain to ensure a sustainable environment.

To meaningfully address this global challenge, the scientific community must take ownership of the environmental challenges in which it is complicit as well as a remedial action. The political will of governments, cooperation of stakeholders, and determination of the population are imperative to the success of plastic pollution mitigation. Although plastics have contributed immensely to the progress and advancement of our civilization, we must ensure that posterity inherits sustainable earth. The time for action is now.

7. Future Prospects

Plastic pollution is a global phenomenon that exacerbates global warming and flooding and must be mitigated to achieve environmental sustainability. While plastic pollution presents a serious environmental threat, numerous opportunities exist that can be harnessed to mitigate, manage, and control this global problem. However, our understanding of plastic pollution is incomplete and further investigation is required to fully elucidate this problem. For example, studies on the accumulation of plastic debris as sediment in water beds (e.g., ocean floors), as a result of the phenomenon of convergence caused by the persistent directional flow of surface water, need to be investigated. We argue that (with the exception of polyethylene, polypropylene, and expanded polystyrene) a significant portion of plastic debris, such as polyesters, rubber particles, polyurethanes, PET, poly(vinyl chloride), linear low-density polyethylene, and high-density polyethylene, with specific gravities exceeding 1 g/cm 3 , sink to the bottom of the oceans. It is necessary to investigate whether these plastic particles undergo biodegradation and are biocompatible with the life forms inhabiting the ocean floors. The degradation pathways or processes of these plastic materials in the absence of light and oxygen, which are the conditions that exist at ocean floors, must be determined. Do these plastic materials resist anaerobic degradation processes on the ocean floor? What is the impact of free volume or molecular impermeability on the chemical and biological resistance of these plastics? The composition of ocean beds is not easy to study; however, modified nuclear microscopy and micro-Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) mapping may facilitate such investigations. In addition, understanding the degradation pathways of nanoplastics may reveal ways to break plastic materials down into their constituent chemical compounds that can be captured and reused. 116 It is, furthermore, necessary to elucidate the biochemical kinetics and interactions of polymeric systems (e.g., plastic and rubber), their degradation pathways in living systems, the possible risk they pose to living organisms, and their potential to cause living cell mutations and physiological changes. Finally, facile and inexpensive sensors must be developed to monitor our consumables, such as food and water, for plastic debris. A real-time monitoring system of water distribution networks would enable governments to protect water resources and the health of their populations by preventing people from ingesting harmful amounts of plastic materials. However, what amount of plastic constitutes a harmful amount of plastic for an average human is unclear. Perhaps medical science can determine this amount.

Acknowledgments

The authors (SSR and AOCI) thank the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (HGER74p) and the Department of Science and Innovation (HGERA8x) for financial support.

Author Contributions

⊥ A.O.C.I. and S.S.R. contributed equally to this work.

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, plastic pollution - free essay samples and topic ideas.

Plastic pollution is a pressing environmental issue due to the accumulation of plastic objects in the Earth’s environment. Essays could explore its causes, impacts on wildlife and ecosystems, and strategies to reduce plastic waste. We have collected a large number of free essay examples about Plastic Pollution you can find in Papersowl database. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

Plastic Pollution in the Oceans

“There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way” (McCarthy). Many Americans consume plastic throughout the year and do not recycle all of it. The beaches are getting dirtier and dirtier but there is not much change going on. The wastes on the beaches, streets, and air are going into the ocean and harming the species. Pollution in the oceans is affecting the sea creatures because surfers are exposed to pathogens, sea turtles develop […]

Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

All pollution is bad for the ocean and all the creatures in it. However, there is one material that is highly potent to the ocean, and that is plastic. It has many immensely negative effects on the ocean's wildlife. Thousands of marine animals die each year because of plastic debris. There are many ways that plastic can get to the ocean than you know. This has been an ongoing problem and still has not been stopped. Plastic was founded in […]

Pollution Caused by Plastic Bags

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into oceans. The plastic waste problem is a great issue that the world is facing today. While plastic has brought many great benefits to society, it has done so at the cost of harm to the environment and wildlife. Plastic bags, in particular, contribute greatly to this ongoing crisis. There has been great attention given to single use plastics recently. Many companies, cities, and some countries have banned certain single use […]

Our Planet is Drowning in Plastic Pollution

In 2018, recycling and not littering has become very common for an average person in California. Despite the hard work and dedication to recycling and giving people fines for littering any piece of trash, we still have a problem with plastic waste and taking care of the environment. Recycling bins are known to be around for a while now and are used to help reduce the polluting of our environment. However plastic waste is the one product that is destroying […]

Fight against Plastic Pollution

 Do you ever consider the life of the shopping bag you use to transport your groceries or the plastic straw that seems to come standard now with most beverages? “A bag that is used on average for 15 minutes, yet it could take 100 to 300 years to fragment” according to SAS.org. These often one-time-use plastics do more harm than good when looking at their long half-life and the effects on our environment, even though their implementation into the market […]

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Plastic Straws Cause and Effect Final Draft

 Plastic can be seen practically everywhere in this day and age. It has a vast array of uses from storing leftover food to insulating houses. It is a cheap and useful invention; however, not all of the effects of this invention are positive. Due to plastic straws’ negative environmental impact as well as the opportunity to use less harmful alternatives, the use of plastic straws by mainstream restaurant businesses should be questioned by consumers. Plastic waste is responsible for the […]

Save the Earth from the Plastic Pollution

Pollution is caused by some sort of toxic waste that is thrown into the atmosphere or land nearby. There are many types of pollution, the main are air pollution, plastic pollution, and water pollution, all three are very dangerous to the ecosystem. Pollution is the contamination of the environment in which we live in and it harms nature and living things around it. It is the biggest global killer affecting over 100 million people. That’s more than global diseases like […]

Plastic Pollution in the Philippines

The top countries that dispose of the most plastic are all in Asia the Philippines is the third. What is the problem, the Philippines are using too many plastic objects. Who has the pollution affected humans, food sources including, land animals, crops, and wildlife? Solutions what can the Philippines do to help the water pollution and save their and our world. What is the problem? “The Philippines generates 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste annually and 20 percent – or […]

 The Effects of Building Construction on Wildlife Habitats

Conserving habitats is not an easy task. The number of threatened and endangered species in the United States and critical habitats is constantly being destroyed (Shilling 1662). With one-quarter of mammal species at risk of extinction and amphibians on the decline, more needs to be done to protect wildlife habitats. Plans to protect species tend to be for well-known animals such as the bald eagle or the gray wolf. As a result, many species are barely surviving. Conservation biologists warn […]

Campaign against Plastic Pollution

Plastic has become a necessity in man’s life all around the world. Plastics are in everything; your toothbrush, mechanical pencil, cell phone, milk jug, and even your face wash. This “versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture-resistant, strong, and relatively inexpensive” substance has dire consequences on the ocean environment because it is extremely durable and non-biodegradable (Le Guern, 2018). Consequently, plastic is found floating around in our oceans for decades. Some countries are enforcing taxes, laws, and bans on microplastics (such as plastic […]

Plastic Pollution in Tho Ocean: Facts and Information

To many, the ocean may just serve as a place for water recreation and fishing. However, without the ocean, the Earth would not have the air we breathe. The ocean produces over half the world’s oxygen and absorbs fifty times more carbon than the atmosphere. Covering more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface we truly have only one “World Ocean”. Home to 97 percent of the planet’s water supply saltwater moves from one part of the ocean to another […]

Paired Debate Speech Water Pollution and Consumerism

Water is polluted many different ways, just to name a few are hypoxia, wastewater pollution, and marine debris. In this paper I will touch on many different ways waters become polluted, and you can see for yourself that human involvement is the root cause of it all. There are different types of pollution in the world. However, my argument is that water pollution is a more pressing matter in comparison to other forms of pollution. The EPA states in their […]

Plastic Pollution and its Effect on the Thermal Capacity of Seawater

The findings of this study indicate that as expected the natural albedo of seawater is susceptible to positive and negative forcing by pollution and natural agents. Comparison of oil and gas pollutants showed inverse temperature change profiles, with the oil sample heating more rapidly and cooling more slowly than seawater, while the plastic sample heated slower and cooled faster than the control. Regarding oil pollution, reports have shown that while a rainbow film of oil over the surface of the […]

Beach Clean-Up Study Shows Global Scope of Plastic Pollution

Have you ever been to the beach and seen trash laying there? Most people who see trash on the beach pick it up and throw it away. But, there are some people who see it and think “It’s just a little bit of trash, I’m sure it’s fine”. If you're one of those people I suggest you stop. There is so much waste in the ocean that destroys the life of marine animals. Not only does it hurt them and […]

Plastic Pollution of Earth’s Oceans

Introduction Approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year (Cressey 2016). It's disposable, yet long-lasting nature makes it critical to pose the question “where does all this plastic end up?” A large quantity of the plastic produced eventually ends up floating on the surface of the ocean- some even reach the seafood humans eat (Rochman, 2016). Plastic is a cheap, versatile, disposable material that does not degrade easily, making it a perfect candidate for a variety of uses […]

Plastic Pollution in Ocean

Abstract The use of plastic is a part and parcel of modern life. Because of its non-biodegradable nature, plastic garbage creates hazards both on the surface and in the water of seas and oceans. Inhabitants of the oceans are endangered due to plastic pollution. Moreover, the presence of tiny plastic particles in the marine food chain also raises questions about human health and food security. The UN Environment Assembly passed a resolution in Dec. 2017 to eliminate plastic pollution in […]

Climate Change in Oceans and its Impacts

 Abstract This paper examines the impact climate change has on oceans based on data and research. It focuses on how sea level rises, pollution of plastic, and ocean acidification have affected our daily lifestyle and how marine animals are deeply affected by our actions. This paper highlights the dangers of living this lifestyle and suggests ways to combat this important issue. Until we decide ourselves that we want a change, then our planet will continue to suffer because of our […]

Plastic Pollution in the USA

In America we love plastic! We use it in our everyday life because it’s super convenient, but most people rarely think about the impact plastic has on the world around us. The downside of these qualities is that, unlike other materials, plastic does not biodegrade and it takes over hundreds of years for it to break down causing an increase every day to plastic pollution. Those billions of plastics end up in our oceans. This has become a cause of […]

Ocean Pollution: Plastic

The topic that I chose to write about is ocean pollution, specifically plastic. I found a very interesting article by National Geographic that makes me wonder just how much plastic we use daily, and how much it affects marine life. According to the article, the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), comprising twenty-two aquariums in seventeen different states is pushing a campaign called "No Straw November". The campaign is a push to eliminate single-use plastic including plastic straws, bottles, and plastic in […]

Plastic in the Environment

Plastic being one of the top littered items on earth has taken a negative effect on our environment regarding climate and geological change. In today's world plastic is something that we use on a daily basis whether that means the use of water bottles, plastic bags, straws, etc. Although individuals are encouraged to recycle, not everyone does. The fact that plastic takes 450 to 1000 years to decompose can determine the type of negative impact it can have on earth […]

The Negative Effect of Single Use Plastic

One of the largest producers of plastic wastes in Asia is the Philippines. According to PhilStar Global (2018), about 79 percent of branded plastic residual wastes came from food packaging, followed by household and personal care products with 12 and eight percent, respectively. One of the solutions that the researchers have in mind to minimize producing plastic waste is the banning of single-use plastic. The researchers envision their campus free from single-use plastic and free from its harmful effects on […]

Related topic

Essay about Plastic Pollution While plastic has numerous important uses, we have gotten dependent on single-use or dispensable plastic — with extreme ecological outcomes. The effects of plastics on underestimated populaces are serious, and exist at all phases of the creation cycle, from removing crude materials and assembling, to utilization and removal, as per the report. Plastic waste not just imperils the vocations of those depending on marine assets, it additionally causes a pile of medical problems for individuals who burn-through fish pervaded with harmful miniature and nano plastics. Ladies, specifically, experience the ill effects of plastic-related poisonousness hazard, because of higher total openness to plastics at home and surprisingly in female consideration items. Contrasts in sex, social jobs, and political force in managing plastic use and wellbeing guidelines place ladies at high danger of premature deliveries and malignancy, further fueling sex-related aberrations by and large. Exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic waste has become a significant piece of the worldwide pollution emergency, alongside biodiversity misfortune and environmental change, addressing a triple crisis that should be handled by solid and compelling activity plans, says UNEP. All throughout the planet, 1,000,000 plastic drinking bottles are bought each moment, while 5 trillion single-utilized plastic sacks are utilized worldwide consistently. Altogether, half of all plastic created is intended to be utilized just a single time — and afterward discarded. Plastic sticks around in the climate for a very long time, undermining natural life and spreading poisons. Plastic additionally adds to a worldwide temperature alteration. Practically all plastics are produced using synthetic compounds that come from the creation of planet-warming powers (gas, oil, and even coal). Our dependence on plastic hence draws out our interest in these messy powers. Consuming plastics in incinerators likewise delivers environment-destroying gases and harmful air pollution. There are approaches to stay away from trivial plastics (continue to look for thoughts underneath). Yet, all our earnest attempts are at risk of being subverted. Organizations are set to produce more plastics, making our dependence on them significantly harder to stay away from. We need the public authority to step in. We need a law to eliminate single-use plastics now. That is the thing that we're dealing with. The aggregate sum of plastic entering the marine climate is over 12m tons a year  – as per a report by Eunomia in 2016. For examination, a multi-level bus weighs around 12 tons. Ocean animals can get tangled in plastic or misstep it for food, and the impacts are regularly deadly. Unsafe synthetics connected to plastic have been found in species from tiny fish to dolphins.

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The World's Plastic Pollution Crisis Explained

Much of the planet is swimming in discarded plastic, which is harming animal and possibly human health. Can it be cleaned up?

Conservation

Children Play among Plastic

While plastic pollution is a worldwide problem it is most obvious in less-wealthy African and Asian nations, like the Philippines. Here, children play among plastic waste on the shore of Manila Bay.

Photograph by Randy Olson

While plastic pollution is a worldwide problem it is most obvious in less-wealthy African and Asian nations, like the Philippines. Here, children play among plastic waste on the shore of Manila Bay.

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Plastic pollution is most visible in less-wealthy Asian and African nations, where garbage collection systems are often inefficient or nonexistent. But wealthy nations, especially those with low recycling rates, also have trouble properly collecting discarded plastics. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous it has prompted efforts to write a global treaty negotiated by the United Nations. How Did this Happen? Plastics made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. Production and development of thousands of new plastic products accelerated after World War II to the extent that life without plastics would be unimaginable today. Plastics revolutionized medicine with life-saving devices, made space travel possible, lightened cars and jets—saving fuel and lessening pollution —and saved lives with helmets, incubators , and equipment for clean drinking water. The conveniences plastics offer, however, led to a throw-away culture that reveals the material’s dark side: Today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, are used for mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Plastics by the Numbers Some key facts:

  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
  • Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
  • Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down.

How Plastics Move around the World Most of the plastic trash in the oceans, Earth’s last sink, flows from land. Trash is also carried to sea by major rivers, which act as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they move downstream . Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world. On Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Group isolated halfway between Chile and New Zealand, scientists found plastic items from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China. They were carried to the South Pacific by the South Pacific gyre , a circular ocean current. Microplastics Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than half a centimer (one-fifth of an inch) across. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough . Microplastics are breaking down further into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic microfibers (or the even smaller nanofibers), meanwhile, have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air. Harm to Wildlife Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics. Most of the deaths to animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by  abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels destined for our dinner plates. In many cases, these tiny bits pass through the digestive system and are expelled without consequence. But plastics have also been found to have blocked digestive tracts or pierced organs, causing death. Stomachs so packed with plastics reduce the urge to eat, causing starvation. Plastics have been consumed by land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death. Tests have also confirmed liver and cell damage and disruptions to  reproductive systems , prompting some species, such as oysters, to produce fewer eggs. New research shows that larval fish are eating nanofibers in the first days of life, raising new questions about the effects of plastics on fish populations. Stemming the Plastic Tide Once in the ocean, it is difficult—if not impossible—to retrieve plastic waste. Mechanical systems, such as Mr. Trash Wheel, a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, can be effective at picking up large pieces of plastic, such as foam cups and food containers, from inland waters. But once plastics break down into microplastics and drift throughout the water column in the open ocean, they are virtually impossible to recover. The solution is to prevent plastic waste from entering rivers and seas in the first place, many scientists and conservationists—including the National Geographic Society—say. This could be accomplished with improved waste management systems and recycling, better product design that takes into account the short life of disposable packaging, and reduction in manufacturing of unnecessary single-use plastics.

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Related Resources

  • Environment

The world's plastic pollution crisis explained

Much of the planet is swimming in discarded plastic, which is harming animal and possibly human health. Can it be cleaned up?

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues , as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Plastic pollution is most visible in developing Asian and African nations, where garbage collection systems are often inefficient or nonexistent. But the developed world, especially in countries with low recycling rates , also has trouble properly collecting discarded plastics. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous it has prompted efforts to write a global treaty negotiated by the United Nations.

How did this happen?

Plastics made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. Production and development of thousands of new plastic products accelerated after World War II, so transforming the modern age that life without plastics would be unrecognizable today. Plastics revolutionized medicine with life-saving devices, made space travel possible, lightened cars and jets—saving fuel and pollution—and saved lives with helmets, incubators, and equipment for clean drinking water.

The conveniences plastics offer, however, led to a throw-away culture that reveals the material’s dark side: today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

A whale shark swims beside a plastic bag in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen. Although whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea, they're still threatened by ingesting small bits of plastic.

Plastics by the numbers

Some key facts:

  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
  • Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
  • Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down.

How plastics move around the world

Most of the plastic trash in the oceans, Earth’s last sink, flows from land. Trash is also carried to sea by major rivers , which act as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they move downstream. Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world.

On Henderson Island , an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Group isolated halfway between Chile and New Zealand, scientists found plastic items from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China. They were carried to the South Pacific by the South Pacific gyre, a circular ocean current.

Microplastics

Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench , the deepest trough.

Microplastics are breaking down further into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic microfibers, meanwhile, have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air.

Harm to wildlife

Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics.

Most of the deaths to animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales , turtles, and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings . Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels destined for our dinner plates. In many cases, these tiny bits pass through the digestive system and are expelled without consequence. But plastics have also been found to have blocked digestive tracts or pierced organs, causing death. Stomachs so packed with plastics reduce the urge to eat, causing starvation.

Plastics have been consumed by land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death .

Tests have also confirmed liver and cell damage and disruptions to reproductive systems, prompting some species, such as oysters, to produce fewer eggs. New research shows that larval fish are eating nanofibers in the first days of life, raising new questions about the effects of plastics on fish populations.

Stemming the plastic tide

Once in the ocean, it is difficult—if not impossible—to retrieve plastic waste. Mechanical systems, such as Mr. Trash Wheel , a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, can be effective at picking up large pieces of plastic, such as foam cups and food containers, from inland waters. But once plastics break down into microplastics and drift throughout the water column in the open ocean, they are virtually impossible to recover.

The solution is to prevent plastic waste from entering rivers and seas in the first place, many scientists and conservationists—including the National Geographic Society —say. This could be accomplished with improved waste management systems and recycling , better product design that takes into account the short life of disposable packaging, and reduction in manufacturing of unnecessary single-use plastics.

Read This Next

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The world’s nations agree to fix the plastic waste crisis

How a dramatic win in plastic waste case may curb ocean pollution, california’s sweeping new plastics law could be a game changer.

  • Planet or Plastic?

The Haunting Art of Plastic Pollution

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Open Access

Confronting plastic pollution to protect environmental and public health

* E-mail: [email protected] (LG); [email protected] (JE)

Affiliation Public Library of Science, San Francisco, California, United States of America

ORCID logo

Affiliation Center for the Advancement of Public Action, Bennington College; Beyond Plastics, Bennington, Vermont, United States of America

  • Liza Gross, 
  • Judith Enck

PLOS

Published: March 30, 2021

  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001131
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A new collection of evidence-based commentaries explores critical challenges facing scientists and policymakers working to address the potential environmental and health harms of microplastics. The commentaries reveal a pressing need to develop robust methods to detect, evaluate, and mitigate the impacts of this emerging contaminant, most recently found in human placentas.

Citation: Gross L, Enck J (2021) Confronting plastic pollution to protect environmental and public health. PLoS Biol 19(3): e3001131. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001131

Copyright: © 2021 Gross, Enck. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: Liza Gross is a current paid employee of the Public Library of Science.

The explosive production of affordable plastic goods during the 1950s ushered in an era of disposable living, fueled by an addiction to convenience and consumerism, that has created one of the world’s most vexing pollution problems. Plastic, for all its uses, has left a trail of debris from the deepest ocean trenches to the remotest polar reaches. Plastic pollutes throughout its life cycle, from its beginnings as a by-product of greenhouse gas-emitting oil and natural gas refining to its degradation-resistant end as increasingly fragmented shards of micro-and nanoplastics in atmospheric currents, alpine snow, estuaries, lakes, oceans, and soils. Researchers are finding microplastics in the gut or tissue of nearly every living thing they examine, including the placentas of unborn children.

The first sign of this burgeoning crisis came nearly half a century ago, when marine biologists first spotted tiny plastic pellets stuck to tiny marine organisms and seaweed in the North Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea. Describing their discovery in 1972, the scientists predicted, presciently, that “increasing production of plastics, combined with present waste disposal practices, will probably lead to greater concentrations on the sea surface” [ 1 ].

Researchers have struggled to keep tabs on plastic production and waste ever since. The first global assessment of mass-produced plastics, reported in 2017, estimated that manufacturers had produced 8,300 million metric tons of virgin plastics, creating 6,300 million metric tons of plastic waste—with only 9% recycled, 12% incinerated, and the rest either piling up in landfills or entering the environment [ 2 ].

Some 15 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans every year [ 3 ], choking marine mammals, invading the guts of fish and seabirds, and posing unknown risks to the animals, and people, who eat them. Plastics release toxic chemicals added during manufacturing as they splinter into smaller and smaller fragments, with half-lives ranging from 58 to 1,200 years [ 4 ]. Persistent organic pollutants have a high affinity for plastic particles, which glom on to these contaminants as do pathogens in the ocean, presenting additional risks to marine life and the food web. Scientists once viewed freshwater lakes and rivers as primarily conduits for plastic, delivering trash from land to the sea, but now realize they’re also repositories.

Plastic production increased from 2 million metric tons a year in 1950 to 380 million metric tons by 2015 and is expected to double by 2050 [ 2 ]. Petrochemical companies’ embrace of fracking has exacerbated the crisis by producing large amounts of ethane, a building block for plastic.

Recognizing the scope and urgency of addressing the plastic pollution crisis, PLOS Biology is publishing a special collection of commentaries called “Confronting plastic pollution to protect environmental and public health.”

In commissioning the collection, we aimed to illuminate critical questions about microplastics’ effects on environmental and human health and explore current challenges in addressing those questions. The collection features three evidence-based commentaries that address gaps in understanding while flagging research priorities for improving methods to detect, evaluate, and mitigate threats associated with this emerging contaminant.

Environmental ecotoxicologist Scott Coffin and colleagues address recent government efforts to assess and reduce deleterious effects of microplastics, which challenge traditional risk-based regulatory frameworks due to their particle properties, diverse composition, and persistence. In their Essay, “Addressing the environmental and health impacts of microplastics requires open collaboration between diverse sectors” [ 5 ], the authors use California as a case study to suggest strategies to deal with these uncertainties in designing research, policy, and regulation, drawing on parallels with a similar class of emerging contaminants (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

In “Tackling the toxics in plastics packaging” [ 6 ], environmental toxicologist Jane Muncke focuses on a major driver of the global plastic pollution crisis: single-use food packaging. Our throwaway culture has led to the widespread use of plastic packaging for storing, transporting, preparing, and serving food, along with efforts to reduce plastic waste by giving it new life as recycled material. But these efforts ignore evidence that chemicals in plastic migrate from plastic, making harmful chemicals an unintentional part of the human diet. Addressing contamination from food packaging is an urgent public health need that requires integrating all existing knowledge, she argues.

Much early research on microplastics focused on ocean pollution. But the ubiquitous particles appear to be interfering with the very fabric of the soil environment itself, by influencing soil bulk density and the stability of the building blocks of soil structure, argue Matthias Rillig and colleagues in their Essay. Microplastics can affect the carbon cycle in numerous ways, for example, by being carbon themselves and by influencing soil microbial processes, plant growth, or litter decomposition, the authors argue in “Microplastic effects on carbon cycling processes in soils” [ 7 ]. They call for “a major concerted effort” to understand the pervasive effects of microplastics on the function of soils and terrestrial ecosystems, a monumental feat given the immense diversity of the particles’ chemistry, aging, size, and shape.

The scope and effects of plastic pollution are too vast to be captured in a few commentaries. Microplastics are everywhere and researchers are just starting to get a handle on how to study the influence of this emerging contaminant on diverse environments and organisms. But as the contributors to this collection make clear, the pervasiveness of microplastics makes them nearly impossible to avoid. And the uncertainty surrounding their potential to harm people, wildlife, and the environment, they show, underscores the urgency of developing robust tools and methods to understand how a material designed to make life easier may be making it increasingly unsustainable.

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Essay on Plastic Pollution

Plastic waste makes its way from our homes and offices to landfills and bodies of water, causing contamination. For the sake of health and the environment, it is important to properly dispose of such plastic waste and to reduce its widespread use. Here we have provided both a Long and Short essay on plastic pollution for students of Class 1 to 12.

Students can refer to these plastic pollution essays in English to gain some insights on the topic as well as a reference for writing their essays.

Long Essay on Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is becoming more of a global problem. Governments, foundations, and some social media organizations are all attempting to raise awareness about this issue. Plastic goods are commonly used in industry because they are more effective and less costly than other materials.

Plastic, on the other hand, triggers a slew of environmental issues. Plastic pollution has several negative effects on our climate, but the three most important are ocean pollution, land pollution, and food pollution.

Plastic pollution is wreaking havoc on the oceans, and it's getting worse every year. Some governments are imposing strict regulations to discourage the use of plastic goods so that people are aware of the effect of plastic waste on the environment. As a result, action must be taken to address this issue before it is too late.

Plastics come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they are commonly used in our everyday lives. Today, it's difficult to find a substance that isn't made of plastic. Thermosets, also known as thermoplastics, are used in several products.

The following are a few examples of plastic objects that people typically use in their daily lives:

PET fabric and polyester condensers.

Plastic tapes–fabrics, garments, curtains, carpets, conveyors, mouldings, tarpaulins, etc. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)–used in water bottles, tubes, detergent bottles, food trays in microwaves.

PET fabric and polyester condensers, LCDs, and plastic tapes–fabrics, clothes, curtains, carpets, conveyors, mouldings have frequently broken FAQor or wall corsets made of polyvinyl chloride, automobile instrument boards, electrical wiring sheaths, games, syringes, cloth covers, window frames, and other high-density polyethene building materials Plastic bags, trash bags, prescription bottles, empty food containers, bottles, and milk bottle liners are all examples of items that can be recycled.

While it might seem that addressing chemical waste issues is as simple as recycling or washing empty bottles, the reality is that polluting plastic can vary in size from large to small.

Even if you don't want it on those products, plastic is all around us. Milk boxes are stuffed with cardboard, water bottles are strewn around, and some items can also contain small plastic pieces. Chemical pollutants are more likely to enter the environment and cause harm each time one of these items is discarded or swept away.

Plastic is one of the many widely available but overused items in today's world due to its low cost. When burned in the open, this does not decompose quickly and pollutes the underlying soil or groundwater.

Commercial fisheries are an unavoidable requirement in many parts of the world, but many people consume fish daily. Nonetheless, this industry has culminated in a variety of solutions to the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans. Plastic is often used in the nets used by certain large-scale troll operations. Second, they spend a lot of time submerged in water, where they can freely release contaminants, but they are frequently dissolved or killed, leaving them to live wherever they land. It not only destroys and threatens native animals, but it also allows chemicals to swim away and contaminate nearby fish.

The majority of the items are made of plastic, but most of the materials are not biodegradable, making disposal difficult. There were no natural methods in place to recycle non-biodegradable plastics. It cannot be recycled or left to starve in the manner in which traditional waste is discarded or spilt.

Also, reuse does not reduce steel use because it recycles existing plastics in a new shape. In a variety of ways, the method of paper recycling can result in the release of plastic allergens.

Short Plastic Pollution Essay in English

Plastic waste has long-term social, economic, and ecotoxicological effects. Entanglement, swallowing, and starvation are some of the physical effects on sea life. Chemical influence: the accumulation of residual chemical contaminants like PCBs and DDT.

It's easy to see how this amount of oil, which isn't meant to penetrate, can harm the environment over time, causing long-term problems for plants, animals, and humans. The following are a few of the major long-term consequences of pollution:

Upsets the Flow of Food - Polluting materials, which come in smaller and larger dimensions, impact even the tiniest species on the earth, such as plankton. When these species become contaminated as a result of plastic ingestion, it poses a threat to larger animals that depend on them for food. Any move further along the food supply chain can cause a slew of problems. Furthermore, it means that plastic is present in the fish that so many people consume daily.

Groundwater Pollution - Chemicals are released into the soil and leak into groundwater, resulting in groundwater pollution (also known as groundwater contamination). Such a type of water pollution may also occur naturally as a result of the presence of a minor and undesirable component, contaminant, or impurity in underground water, in which case it is more likely to be referred to as waste rather than pollution. Plastics are responsible for almost all the waste and pollution that pollutes the world's oceans. It will have devastating effects for a variety of marine animals, with repercussions for those that consume fish or other sea life for food, such as humans.

Land Pollution - Once dumped in landfills, the plastic reacts with water or forms toxic chemicals. If these pollutants flow deep into the water, they degrade its efficiency. The stench wafts through the litter and transports waste from one place to the next. They can also become entrapped in posts, traffic lights, trees, walls, houses, and other structures, as well as predators that may arrive in the area and suffocate to death.

Air Pollution - Air pollution appears to be a mix of solid particles and gases in the atmosphere. Pollutants from automobiles, plants, smoke, pollen, and mould spores can all be stored as particulate matter. Ozone is a chemical that contributes significantly to urban air pollution. Smog is the term for when ozone causes air pollution. Some of the toxins in the air are poisonous.

Plastic trash disposal that isn't done properly would have a huge environmental effect. To ensure that the environment remains free of plastic waste, waste disposal using green technologies and proper waste management must be strictly controlled. The preservation of the environment from rising plastic contamination is the responsibility of every human being.

Causes of Plastic Pollution

Plastic can be found in everything from milk cartons to water bottles. Plastics are inexpensive, simple to manufacture, and extremely durable. Toxic contaminants have a greater probability of infiltrating the environment and causing harm every time one of these plastic objects is disposed of or rinsed down the drain.

It is one of the most commonly available and overused items in the world today because it is less expensive. Demand for low-cost plastics is increasing because of rising urbanization and population increase.

Because they're so inexpensive, they're also easily discarded. When burned in the open air, it does not degrade quickly and pollutes the ground and air nearby.

Waste is frequently carried by the winds. Plastic, because it is lightweight, is carried away by gentle winds and washed into sewers, rivers, streams and, eventually, the oceans. Natural disasters, such as floods, should also be taken into account as sources of plastic pollution.

Commercial fishing is a necessary economic industry in many regions of the world, but it has contributed to the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans in several ways. Plastic nets are commonly utilized in certain large-scale fishing activities. They are frequently broken apart or misplaced and can rot wherever they fall. Marine animals become entangled in nets and/or ingest the poisonous particles.

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FAQs on Plastic Pollution Essay

1. What do we Mean by Plastic Pollution?

Plastic Pollution occurs when synthetic plastic goods accumulate in the atmosphere to the point that they pose a threat to wildlife and their ecosystems, as well as human populations.

2. What are the Ways in Which we can Avoid/Control Plastic Pollution?

The reality is that the only way to fix this problem is for people and businesses all over the world to agree to and enforce pollution-reduction policies. The best plastic pollution solutions to control and avoid it are listed below.

Shop Friendly - Plastic bags have become a daily convenience, but they can be easily replaced with plastic bags, some of which are elegantly structured and lightweight. Simply add up how many things you typically carry out of a store and divide by the number of times you shop there. It's a substantial sum of money! Take a bag and, if you have any, just use plastic bags as much as you can.

Get Rid of Bottled Water - Drinking plenty of water is recommended every day, and giant water bottles are becoming a popular way to stay hydrated during the day. Furthermore, some of these are only licenced for individual use, meaning that any full container will end up in the trash. Several companies are now selling recycled water bottles as a substitute, reducing plastic waste and the availability of leaky bottles.

Reduce the Usage of To-go Containers - You'd be amazed to hear how much plastic is used in the manufacture and storage of food containers. Though the cafe's drink cup is documented and usually wrapped in acrylic for padding (for either a cup of coffee or a piece of cardboard to see what's going on). Plastic food plates, lids, and cookware can all be quickly replaced with recycled materials, resulting in a substantial reduction in waste from only one meal.

3. Why is plastic pollution on the rise?

The accumulation of plastic in the environment causes plastic pollution. Primary plastics, such as cigarette butts and bottle caps, are classified as primary, whereas secondary plastics, which emerge from the decomposition of primary plastics, are classified as secondary. Its world production is increasing at an exponential rate. Plastic pollution is on the rise because of people's persistent need to use plastic. Its outstanding features, including simplicity of shape, low cost, and mechanical resistance, all contribute to its success. It is both inexpensive and readily available. Furthermore, plastic does not decompose in the soil or water; it persists for over a century, contributing to an increase in plastic pollution. Plastic is practically everywhere because it is the suitable material for packaging. Natural disasters, such as floods, should be considered plastic pollution sources.

4. How does plastic pollution affect the environment?

Plastic pollution has a range of effects on the environment. Plastic stays in the ecosystem for a long time, causing a hazard to wildlife and spreading pollutants. Plastic also majorly contributes to global warming. Almost all plastics are made from chemicals used in the manufacturing of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change. To begin with, it pollutes our water. So, there is a scarcity of clean water and everyone's needs for clean water can’t be fulfilled. It is also eroding our soils and fields. Disease-carrying insects are accumulating in plastic landfills, and soil fertility is worsening. Plastics are also released into the atmosphere when they are burned in incinerators, releasing greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollution. Plastic has an impact on all organisms in the food chain, from microscopic plankton to whales.

5. Where can I get a collection of long and short essays for my school?

Vedantu has a good collection of long and short essays to help students from Class 1 – 12. Vedantu's online educational platform will provide you with a comprehensive learning experience. You will be able to chat with some of the instructors with adequate expertise to coach you for school exams, competitive exams, and so on through our live interactive teaching sessions. In addition to coaching classes, we provide revision notes for grades 6 to 12. You can also easily download them and access them as per your convenience. Students who are looking for good quality study material, can download that from Vedantu website in PDF format with no extra cost. You can also get more resources for free by downloading the Vedantu app.

Plastic Pollution Essay

500+ words essay on plastic pollution.

Plastic has become an integral part of our daily lives. We begin our day using mugs and buckets made of plastic for bathing. Further, as we trace back our activities throughout the day, we use plastic in the form of water bottles, combs, food packaging, milk pouches, straws, disposable cutlery, carry bags, gift wrappers, toys etc. The wide use of plastic has resulted in a large amount of waste generated. Plastic has been so much used that plastic pollution has become one of the environmental problems that the world is facing today. It has impacted the environment, our health and well-being. We have all contributed to this problem, and now it’s our responsibility to work towards it to reduce and ultimately End Plastic Pollution. This essay on plastic pollution will help students to understand the harmful effects of using plastic and how it is affecting our environment. So, students must go through it and then try to write their own essays on this topic. They can also practise CBSE essays on different topics as well.

Plastic Pollution

The accumulation of plastic products in huge amounts in the Earth’s environment is called plastic pollution. It adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans, which has become a major concern. In 2008, our global plastic consumption worldwide was estimated at 260 million tons. Plastic is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture-resistant, strong, and relatively inexpensive, because of which it is excessively used by everyone. It has replaced and displaced many other materials, such as wood, paper, stone, leather, metal, glass and ceramic. Plastics have come to clutter almost every landscape. In the modern world, plastics can be found in components ranging from stationery items to spaceships. Therefore, the over-consumption of plastic goods, discarding, littering, use and throwing culture has resulted in plastic waste generation and thus creating plastic pollution.

Every day, thousands of tons of pollutants are discarded into the air by natural events and human actions. Far more damaging are the substances discharged into the atmosphere by human actions. Most plastics are highly resistant to the natural processes of degradation. As a result, it takes a longer period of time to degrade the plastic. It has resulted in the enormous presence of plastic pollution in the environment and, at the same time, adversely affected human health. It is estimated that plastic waste constitutes approximately 10% of the total municipal waste worldwide and that 80% of all plastic found in the world’s oceans originates from land-based sources.

How to Manage Plastic Pollution?

To save the environment from plastic waste, we should minimise and ultimately end the use of plastic. Each one of us has to learn the following 4 R’s:

  • Refuse – Say no to plastic, particularly single-use plastic, as much as possible.
  • Reduce – Limit or reduce the use of plastic in daily life.
  • Reuse – Reuse plastic products as much as possible before disposing of them.
  • Recycle – Plastic products should be recycled into other usable products. This reduces the demand for manufacturing raw plastic required to make various plastic products.

Apart from that, we should educate other people around us. We should create awareness campaigns in public places and help people know about plastic pollution and its harmful effects. We should stop this culture of using and throwing and start reusing things. When everyone takes a pledge to minimise the use of plastic, then we will be able to manage plastic pollution.

Students must have found this Essay on Plastic Pollution helpful for improving their writing section. They can also access more study material related to CBSE/ICSE/State Board/Competitive exams, by visiting the BYJU’S website.

Frequently asked Questions on Plastic pollution Essay

How does plastic pollution affect the environment.

Excessive usage of plastic products has caused the accumulation of this plastic on Earth. Plastic is non-biodegradable and does not naturally degrade or break down thus these plastics are flooded over the Earth.

How to reduce plastic usage?

Replacement of plastic items with jute, cotton and other biodegradable items needs to come into practice more.

What are the simple steps to avoid plastic overuse?

The simple 3 R method can be followed: “Reduce, reuse and recycle”.

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Essay on plastic pollution: top 4 essays.

plastic pollution essay introduction

Read this essay to learn about plastic pollution. After reading this essay you will learn about: 1.   Introduction to Plastic Pollution 2. Causes of Plastic Pollution 3. Effects 4. Control.

Essay # 1. Introduction to Plastic Pollution:

In the last decade, plastic has affected the health and life of human beings very badly. Some incidents have attracted the attention of the whole world and put a question mark about the use of plastic in daily life.

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Plastic, the wonder material that we use for everything and which pollutes our environment, is perhaps the most harmful of trash dumped by mariners and sea-goers in sea because it does not readily break down in nature. In-fact, the plastic that goes over the side today may still be around in hundreds of years to foul up the fishing gear, boat propellers, and beaches of future generations.

Careless disposal of plastic can have dire consequences. A plastic bag looks like a tasty jellyfish to an indiscriminate feeder like the sea turtle, but plastic is indigestible. It can choke, block the intestines of, or cause infection in those animals that consume it.

A plastic bag can also clog an outboard engine’s cooling system. Lost or discarded monofilament fishing line can foul propellers, destroying oil seals and lower units of engines, or it can become an entangling web for fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.

According to the Centre for Marine Conservation, over 25,000 pieces of fishing line were collected from U.S. beaches during the 1996 annual beach clean-up and at least 40% of all animal entanglements reported during the clean-ups involved fishing line.

Every day, more and more plastic is accumulating in our oceans. Recreational boaters are not the only group that improperly disposes off plastic refuse at sea. Plastics also enter the marine environment from sewage outfalls, merchant shipping, commercial fishing operations, and beachgoers.

In the middle stage, it is very flexible and can be given any shape depending on temperature and pressure. In practices, urea, formaldehyde, poly ethylene, polystyrene, polycithylcholide, phenoloic compounds and other substances are used in the preparation of plastics pollution.

Now-a-days the most popular plastic pollution is caused is polyvinyl chloride (P.V.C.). When any food material or blood is stored in the said plastic containers then gradually the soluble chemical gets dissolved in them causing death due to cancer and other skin diseases.

Polyvinyl chloride has also been found to destroy the fertility of the animals and their respiratory systems. When mixed with water, it causes paralysis and also damages bones and causes irritation to the skin.

Recently U.S.A. has banned the use of P.V.C. plastic in space apparatus and in food containers (as chemicals get dissolved in the food). India should immediately ban the use of P.V.C. in water pipes, food and medicine containers to save the lives of millions who are already suffering from different types of ailments.

Essay # 2. Causes of Plastic Pollution:

Plastics are used because these are easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Unfortunately these very useful qualities make plastic a huge pollution problem. Because the plastic is cheap it gets discarded easily and its persistence in the environment can do great harm. Unbanization has added to the plastic pollution in concentrated form in cities.

Plastic thrown on land can enter the drainage lines and choke them resulting into floods in local areas in cities as was experienced in Mumbai, India in 1998. It was claimed in one of the programmes on TV channel that eating plastic bags results in death of 100 cattle per day in U.P. in India.

In stomach of one dead cow, as much as 35 kg of plastic was found. Because plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultra-violet light to break down, the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is streadily increasing.

More than 90% of the articles found on the sea beaches contained plastic. The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate from use on land, such as packaging material used to wrap around other goods.

On remote rural beaches the rubbish tends to have come from ships, such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry. This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways: by entangling creatures, and by being eaten.

Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic pollution, and all seven of the world’s turtle species are already either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles get entagled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs. Turtles mistake floating transparent plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them.

In one dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific more than 1000 pieces of plastic were found in its stomach. A recent US report concluded that more than 100000 marine mammals die every year in the world’s oceans by eating or getting entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is worsening world-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South Africa.

A recent study of blue petrel chicks on South Africa’s remote Marine Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidentally by their parents. South African seabirds are among the worst affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomach, blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation.

Essay # 3. Effects of Plastic Pollution:

Since the development of plastic earlier this century, it has become a popular material used in a wide variety of ways. Today plastic is used to make, or wrap around, many of the items we buy or use. The problem arises when we no longer want these items and we have to dispose off them, particularly the throwaway plastic material used in wrapping or packaging.

Plastics are used because they are easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Unfortunately these same useful qualities can make plastic a huge pollution problem. The cheapness means plastic gets discarded easily and its long life means it survives in the environment for long periods where it can do great harm.

Because plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultraviolet light to break down, the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is steadily increasing.

The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate from use on land, such as packaging material used to wrap around other goods. On remote rural beaches the rubbish tends to have come from ships, such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry.

i. Effect on Ocean Wildlife:

This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways; by entangling creatures, and by being swallowed.

The bodies of almost all marine species, ranging in size from plankton to marine mammals, and including some of the wildest and most vulnerable species on the planet – animals that make nearly their entire living far from human beings – now contain plastic.

Sixty per-cent of 6,136 surface plankton net tows conducted in the Western North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from 1986 to 2008 contained buoyant plastic pieces, typically millimetre in size.

Plastics turn up in bird nests, are worn by hermit crabs instead of shells, and are present in sea turtle, whale and albatross stomachs. Over 260 species, including invertebrates, turtles, fish, seabirds and mammals, have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output, lacerations, ulcers, and finally death.

Ingestion of plastic items occurs much more frequently than entanglement. At sea, plastic bags may often be mistaken for jellyfish, whilst on shorelines seabirds have been seen to pick up plastic items the same way they pick up cuttlefish bones. In the North Sea, almost all Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) contain some plastic.

Microscopic fragments, in some locations outweighing surface zooplankton, revealed a significant increase in abundance when samples from the 1960s and 1970s were compared with those of 1980s and 1990s. When ingested, such small particles can also be carried from the gut into other body tissues.

Ingestion of plastic can lead to wounds (internal and external); impairment of feeding capacity; blockage of digestive tract followed by satiation and starvation; and general debilitation often leading to death.

Plasticizers and organic contaminants they typically sorb and concentrate on plastics at levels far superior to the surrounding marine environment have been shown to affect both development and reproduction in a wide range of marine organisms.

Molluscs and crustaceans appear to be particularly sensitive to these compounds. Being an important food item for many species, plastics ingested by invertebrates then have the potential to transfer toxic substances up the food chain. The mechanism by which ingestion leads to illness and death can often only be surmised because the animals at sea are unobserved or are found dead ashore.

Once fouled with marine life or sediment, plastic items sink to the seafloor contaminating the sea bed. Deployment of a remotely operated vehicle submarine in the Fram Strait (Arctic) revealed 0.2 to 0.9 pieces of plastic per km at Hausgarten (2,500 m).

On dives between 5,500 and 6,770 m, 15 items of debris were observed, of which 13 were plastic. The presence of plastic at shallow and greater depths may harm sediment wildlife such as worms, sessile filter feeders, deposit feeders and detritivores, all known to accidentally ingest plastics.

The hard surface of pelagic plastics also provides an attractive and alternate substrate to natural floating debris (e.g., seeds, pumice, and wood) for a number of opportunistic colonizers. The increasing availability of these synthetic and non-biodegradable materials in marine debris may increase the dispersal and prospects for invasion by non-indigenous species.

ii. Plastic Pollution and Turtles:

Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic pollution, and all seven of the world’s turtle species are already either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles get entangled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs.

It is believed that they mistake these floating semi-transparent bags for jellyfish and eat them. The turtles die from choking or from being unable to eat. One dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific was found to have more than 100 pieces of plastic in its stomach including part of a comb, a toy truck wheel and nylon rope.

All sea turtle species are particularly prone and may be seriously harmed by ‘feeding on’ anthropogenic marine debris, particularly plastics. Of particular concern is floating plastic bags that might be mistaken for jellyfish, and discarded fishing gear in which sea turtles get entangled, or pieces of which they ingest.

Laboratory experiments demonstrated that green and loggerhead turtles actively target and consume plastics whether it is small pieces intermixed with food items, or single 1 to 10 cm 2 sheets. Sub lethal impacts of plastics on sea turtles can be substantial, yet mortality resulting from interactions with plastic debris is much more difficult to quantify.

Plastic ingestion by sea turtles is a relatively common occurrence, albeit often in small quantities. However, even in small quantities, plastics can kill sea turtles due to obstruction of the oesophagus or perforation of the bowel for example.

Relief of gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction of a green turtle off Melbourne beach, Florida, resulted in the animal defecting 74 foreign objects over a period of a month, including four types of latex balloons, five different types of strings, nine different types of soft plastic, four different types of hard plastic, a piece of carpet-like material, and 2 to 4 mm tar balls.

Fishing line can be particularly dangerous, when, during normal intestinal function, different parts of the digestive tract pull at different ends of the line. This can result in the gut gathering along the length of the line. This can result in the gut gathering along the length of the line preventing digesta from passing through the tract.

Plastic ingestion may also indirectly lead to death of an animal through nutrient dilution, i.e., plastic pieces displacing food in the gut (and reducing the surface available for absorption).

Typical consequences include decreased growth rate, longer developmental periods at sizes most vulnerable to predation, depleted energy reserves, and lower reproductive output and survivorship of animals. The latter is likely to be an important threat to smaller individuals with a lower ability to increase intake to meet their energetic requirements than larger animals.

Young pelagic sea turtles typically associate with “floating islands” of drifting seaweeds such as Sargassum. Floating plastics, tar from terrestrial and oceanic (ship) sources and lost fishing gear are drawn by advection into the same drift lines.

As young sea turtles indiscriminately feed on pelagic material, large occurrence of plastic is common in the digestive tract of these small sea turtles, often resulting their mortality.

As plastics can accumulate in multiple segments of the gut, stomach lavages underestimate the incidence of ingestion.

iii. Marine Mammals:

There is great concern about the effect of plastic rubbish on marine mammals in particular, because many of these creatures are already under threat of extinction for a variety of other reasons e.g. whale population has been decimated by uncontrolled hunting.

A recent US report concluded that 100000 marine mammals die every year in the world’s oceans by eating or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is worsening.

When a marine mammal such as a Cape fur seal gets caught up in a large piece of plastic, it may simply drown, or get exhausted and die of starvation due to the greater effort needed to swim, or the plastic may kill slowly over a period of months or years as it bites into the animal causing wounds, loss of blood and/or severing of limbs.

iv. “Ghost Nets”:

A large number of marine creatures become trapped and killed in “ghost nets”. These are pieces of gill nets which have been lost by fishing vessels. Other pieces of fishing equipment such as lobster pots may also keep trapping creatures. 

v. Marine Birds:

World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South Africa. A recent study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa’s remote Marion Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidently by their parents.

South African seabirds are among the worst affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomachs, blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation. As particular species seem to be badly affected this may be a threat to the entire population of these birds.

vi. Plastic Pollution and Elephant Seal:

Plastic’s devastating effect on marine mammals was first observed in the late 1970s, when scientists from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory concluded that plastic entanglement was killing up to 40,000 seals a year. Annually, this amounted to a four to six percent drop in seal population beginning in 1976. In 30 years, a 50% decline in Northern Fur Seals population has been reported.

These curious, playful seals would often play with fragments of plastic netting or packing straps, catching their necks in the webbing. The plastic harness can constrict the seal’s movements, killing the seal through starvation, exhaustion, or infection from deep wounds caused by the tightening material.

While diving for food, both seals and whales can get caught in translucent nets and drown. In the fall of 1982, a humpback whale tangled in 50 to 100 feet of net washed up on a Cape Cod beach. It was starving and its ribs were exposed. It died within a couple of hours.

Along Florida’s coasts, brown pelicans diving for fish sometimes dive for the bait on a fisherman’s line. Cutting the bird loose only makes the problem worse, as the pelican gets its wings and feet tangled in the line, or gets snagged onto a tree.

vii. Effect on Sea Birds:

Royal terns (Sterna maxima) are among several species of sea birds that dive from the air to the water to catch fish with their sharp beaks. A plastic bag floating at the surface would become invisible to the tern, and may even have attracted the fish in the first place.

In this photograph the tern’s bill penetrated the plastic and left the bird wearing the bag around its sneck like shroud. It causes problem to terns to dive in & catch fish. They die due to starvation.

viii. Plastic Bags Litter the Landscape:

Once they are used, most plastic bags go into landfill, or rubbish tips. Each year more and more plastic bags are ending up littering the environment. Once they become litter, plastic bags find their way into our waterways, parks, beaches, and streets. And, if they are burnt, they infuse the air with toxic fumes.

ix. Plastic Bags Kill Animals:

About 100,000 animals such as cows, dogs and penguins are killed every year due to plastic bags. Many animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food, and therefore die. And worse, the ingested plastic bag remains intact even after the death and decomposition of the animal. Thus, it lies around in the landscape where another victim may ingest it.

x. Plastic Bags are Non-Biodegradable:

And one of the worst environmental effects of plastic bags is that they are non-biodegradable. The decomposition of plastic bags takes about 1000 years.

xi. Petroleum is Required to Produce Plastic Bags:

As it is, petroleum products are diminishing and getting more expensive day by day, since we have been using this non-renewable resource increasingly. Petroleum is vital for our modern way of life. It is necessary for our energy requirements – for our factories, transport, heating, lighting, and so on.

Without viable alternate sources of energy yet on the horizon, if the supply of petroleum were to be turned off, it would lead to practically the whole world grinding to a halt. Surely, this precious resource should not be wasted on producing plastic bags, should it?

xii. Effect on Birds:

Birds like chicks are often mistakenly fed plastics by their parents, when chicks are unable to eject the plastics, which cause death of chicks – either due to starvation or choking. Bottle caps and other plastic objects are visible inside the decomposed carcases of some Laysan albatoss. The bird probably mistook the plastics for food and injested them while foraging.

xiii. Effects on Human Beings:

The quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink or bath on, and the earth in which we grow our food has an immense effect on our health. A recent US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Study found that about 93 percent of the US population has bisphenol A, a chemical that can be found in canned goods and in hard, clear plastic items (including baby bottles), in their body.

Endocrine disruptors are ubiquitous in our environment and have deep impact on our health. Endocrine distruptor chemicals (EDC’s) are added to plastic products to make them softer and easier to handle.

These EDCs are common in our environment and, when absorbed by human beings and wildlife, mimic the action of hormones and have been linked to reproductive problems in animals and human beings are known to affect fat cells.

Bisphenol A (an endocrine disruptor) is a key monomer in production of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastic, which is clear and nearly shatter-proof, is used to make a variety of common products including baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental composite (white) fillings and sealants and lenses.

The figure shows that as the plastic moves up in food chain, its concentration increases and when these fishes with huge amount of plastic are eaten by human cause diseases like cancer. Plastic plays the villain right from the stage of its production.

The major chemicals that go into the making of plastic are highly toxic and pose serious threat to living beings of all species on earth. Some of the constituents of plastic such as benzene are known to cause cancer. Recycling of plastic is associated with skin and respiratory problems, resulting from exposure to and inhalation of toxic fumes, especially hydrocarbons.

Thin plastics are thrown anywhere and everywhere causing the following environmental degradation problems:

i. It blocks the open sewage system and results in stagnation of sewage paving way for the mosquitoes which leads to the spread of various diseases.

ii. Plastic dumped on the soil prevents water percolation into the water table.

iii. It affects the very structure of soil.

iv. Water stagnating on the plastics strewn on the land becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes which, in turn, produce diseases.

v. Jelly fish-eating, Fishes mistaking the plastic floating in the water for Jellyfish eat them and then die their species is becoming extinct.

vi. Cattle eat plastic and die as a result thereof.

vii. Burning of plastics results in release of toxins in the atmosphere which, in turn, causes dreadly Cancer.

viii. Plastic is non-biodegradable and so the problems become perennial.

Essay # 4. Control of Plastic Pollution:

Plastic bags and bottles, like all forms of plastic, create significant environmental and economic burden. They consume growing amount of energy and other natural resources, degrading the environment in a number of ways.

In addition to using up fossil fuels and other resources, plastic products create litter, hurt marine life, and threaten the basis of life on earth. Here are some steps that we can take to reverse the tide of toxic, non-biodegradable pollution so that it may not overtake our planet.

i. Put produce in paper, canvas, and other healthy-fiber bags.

ii. If a clerk throws your box of soap into a plastic bag, ask him or her to replace it in one of your bags. Give the clerk a copy of “Why I Don’t Use Plastic Bags”. Our experience has been that they appreciate this information.

iii. Use wax paper bags, cloth napkins, or re-useable sandwich boxes (e.g., tiffins, described below).

iv. Use only glass bottles or cans.

v. Bottled water costs over 1000 times more per liter than water from your tap. Buying our most essential nutrient, water, from corporations represents an abdication of community control of the commons. If you have concerns about water safety, investigate a filter system such as Multi-Pure. Better yet, work with your water district to develop stricter standards for water purity.

vi. Pre-bagged produce not only uses wasteful packaging, but also tends to come from farther away, consuming more of our dwindling oil supplies in transport.

vii. Tiffins (stainless steel food containers) are a long tradition in India. They store food well, have longer life than Tupper Ware and its look-alikes (you’ve probably seen the fading, corroding, and chipping that occurs to these plastic containers), are more hygienic, and have a certain panache.

viii. Look for and reward earth-s friendly packaging choices, e.g.,

Buy greeting cards in paper boxes instead of clear plastic shells.

Ask you florist for flowers wrapped in paper, not clear film

Use pens that re-fill instead of land-fill.

ix. Conscious consumption is not only good for the earth, it’s good for you. “Mindfulness”, says Thick Nhat Hanh, “is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.”

x. Support recycling schemes and promote support for one in your local area.

xi. Fishermen throughout South Africa should not throw away waste line, net or plastic litter – this causes huge suffering and many deaths.

xii. Practice and promote paper disposal of plastics in your home and at the beach. Always remember that litter generates litter. Never dispose off plastics in the sewage system.

xiii. At the beach dispose off plastics and other litter in the bins provided. If these facilities are inadequate, contact the local authority responsible for this and lodge a complaint. Take your litter back home with you if there are no receptacles on the beach. Pick up any plastic litter you may see on the beach or in rock pools in the vicinity in which you are sitting or walking. Encourage young children to do likewise.

xiv. In the street never throw plastic or other litter out of your car and do not drop it on the pavement or in the gutter.

xv. Set an example for others and encourage them to help. Plastics are not themselves a problem. They are useful and popular materials which can be produced with relatively little damage to the environment. The problem is the excessive use of plastics in one-off applications together with careless disposal.

Related Articles:

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plastic pollution essay introduction

Protect Our Planet from Plastic Pollution: 5 Things to Know

plastic pollution essay introduction

By Dynahlee Padilla-Vasquez on May 31, 2023

plastic pollution essay introduction

Female workers sort out plastic bottles for recycling in a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. If plastic production stays on its current trajectory, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach 1.34 billion tons per year. Photo: Abir Abdullah/Climate Visuals

Plastics are polluting our planet and choking our ocean, harming human health, and damaging ecosystems vital to our livelihoods. The UN Environment Programme is raising the alarm on the severity of the global plastics crisis and highlighting the networks of everyday people, coastal workers, and communities who are spearheading solutions to beat plastic pollution.

More than 430 million tons of plastic are produced each year, two-thirds of which is cast aside as waste after just one use.

Eleven million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean alone each year, in addition to the estimated 200 million metric tons that already flow through our marine environments, per data from the Ocean Conservatory .

At the current rate of production, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by mid-century, according to Nikola Simpson, Head of the United Nations Development Programme’s Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Blue Economy Accelerator Lab.

“We just keep producing, producing, producing plastic,” she says.

The UN Environment Programme is determined to help the world avert such a catastrophic future. UNEP’s new report , “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy,” maps out a plan to reduce global plastic waste by 80% within two decades.

Here are five reasons why the world needs to beat plastic pollution — and how everyone can step up to protect our planet for generations to come.

plastic pollution essay introduction

Microplastic pellets, shown here on a fingertip, are extremely small pieces of plastic debris found nearly everywhere in the environment, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. Photo: Chayanuphol

1. Plastic is Everywhere.

From the Philippines to the Arctic to the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch , plastic is everywhere. It takes a variety of forms, from synthetic fishing nets to single-use items like water bottles and trash bags.

If all plastic waste in the ocean were collected, it would fill 5 million shipping containers. Put another way, there is enough plastic in the ocean to stretch 30,000 kilometers (18,640 miles) if placed end to end. That’s the equivalent of a trip from New York City to Sydney, Australia.

And because plastic is not at all biodegradable, it simply breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces over time, creating what’s known as micro- or nanoplastics.

“It’s completely indestructible,” says Agustina Besada, co-founder and CEO of Unplastify, an organization based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, committed to ending plastic pollution. “To me, that’s a problem of systemic design.”

plastic pollution essay introduction

A man works to clean up marine waste from the beaches and waters of Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Data from remote beach cleans is recorded, tracked and used to create public-facing programs and campaigns to create systemic change for pollution from plastics and debris. Photo: Nicole Holman/Climate Visuals

2. Plastics Harm Our Health and Our Ecosystems.

Despite being tiny in size, microplastics and nanoplastics pose a massive threat to human health and the health of vital ecosystems.

“These microplastics act as little sponges and come with a lot of different chemicals that get absorbed,” Besada explains. “All these [affect] our health system [and can cause] endocrine alterations.”

They also infiltrate and contaminate every part of the planet, from everyday things like our clothing and laundry to remarkable places like the summit of Mount Everest or the depths of the ocean.

When disposing of plastic, “there’s no such thing as ‘away,’ because everything must go somewhere,” Simpson says. “It’s in your phone, in your credit card, in your clothes. … It’s now in your blood.”

When you look at “the human health impacts of plastics,” she adds, “some of them have been linked to possibly being cancerous.”

And it’s not just humans who are being negatively impacted; ocean ecosystems are harmed as well. Besada notes that plastics have been shown to affect reproduction abilities in animals, which has serious implications not only for our food chain but also for communities that rely on those ecosystems for their livelihoods.

plastic pollution essay introduction

A female student of Nikuao Primary School in Kiribati refills her water bottle from reusable containers sponsored by UNICEF. Photo: Vlad Sokhin / UNICEF

3. To Beat Plastic Pollution: Reuse, Recycle, Reorient.

It’s entirely possible to meet UNEP’s ambitious goal of reducing plastic waste by 80% in the next two decades. The changes we need to make as consumers are necessary, affordable, and achievable by implementing three market shifts.

Eliminating unnecessary common plastics such as excessive packaging is the first step, according to UNEP’s “Turning off the Tap” report. Reusing refillable bottles for example, in addition to enhancing recycling and turning to greener alternatives, are among the report’s recommendations.

“If we can reduce production that would significantly help. And then hopefully, as behavioral change increases, we then use alternatives, or we go back to what we used in the past,” says Simpson.

Besada adds, “We need to identify which are the plastics that we still need, and we need to improve infrastructure to recycle. … We cannot rely [solely] on recycling to fix the problem.”

Not all plastics are made the same either. So, identifying what type of materials can be recycled — and where — is key. A variety of economic, social, and cultural reasons, including infrastructure, are part of why recycling isn’t always ideal, Besada explains.

However, transitioning to plastic alternatives that are less harmful to the environment would help, which the report describes as reorientation and diversification.

plastic pollution essay introduction

Two men harvest jute crops and stack them for drying in India. Jute, which is one of the best alternatives to plastic products, has become an increasingly popular crop to grow in West Bengal. Photo: Dipayan Bose/Climate Visuals

4. Transitioning Away from Plastics Saves Money and Creates Jobs.

With an estimated annual financial risk of $100 billion for businesses dealing with waste management, circularity in plastics — or put simply, using plastics more efficiently — could save $4.5 trillion in environmental and social costs in the next 17 years, as underscored in UNEP’s report.

The transition would also create hundreds of thousands of opportunities, income, and innovation by 2024. That’s 700,000 additional jobs and improved livelihoods for millions of workers in developing countries directly associated with short-lived plastics, according to the report.

Still, a lot of work will be needed to manage 100 million metric tons of plastics from short-lived products yearly by 2040. If government policies fail to support shifting away from plastic production and overconsumption, countries will be left in the lurch with 227 million tons of plastic management versus 40 million tons, according to the report.

With plastic packaging virtually everywhere, “every person on average uses 45 kilograms, which I think is 90 [to a 100] pounds of plastic per year,” says Besada.

plastic pollution essay introduction

Negotiations commence at the UN Environment Programme's second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting on plastic pollution at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo: Twitter / Inger Andersen .

5. Global Momentum to End Plastic Pollution is Growing.

March 2022 marked a historic decision at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, where all 193 UN Member States agreed to end plastic pollution through a binding legal agreement for the end of next year, says Simpson, who contributed to the treaty’s text.

Besada notes that all voices and stakeholders need to have balanced representation and work toward bipartisanship throughout the negotiating process, which is ongoing. The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee just took place in Paris.

In addition to government action, UNEP highlights the importance of efforts to raise advocacy and awareness. Individuals and communities must continue to use their voices to talk about the need to end plastic pollution and put their values into practice by supporting businesses striving to reduce single-use plastic products in their supply chains.

“I always try to encourage everyone to try to create systemic change,” says Besada. For example, if a school can partner with a bakery to stop packaging cookies with plastic and instead sell cookies in bulk, she says, then the possibilities are endless.

Anyone can participate. Anyone can make a difference locally. Anyone can take their advocacy efforts to the next level.

“If you want to advocate and pursue regulation, do it,” Besada urges. “There are many, many levels of action, it just depends on how involved you want to get.”

Join the Movement

Help protect our planet and save our ocean by joining global efforts to #BeatPlasticPollution this World Environment Day — and every day of the year.

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Plastic Pollution In The Ocean

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