35 Global Plastic Pollution Statistics
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Last updated: 13 March 2024

Global Plastic Pollution Statistics

1. An estimated 9.2 billion tons of plastic have been manufactured since the 1950s – 2017. Less than a quarter of it is still in use, with only 600 million tonnes known to have been recycled.

2. Every year, globally, we produce around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste. Around 40% of all plastic products are thrown away within a month. (Plastic Soup Foundation)

3. Plastic is mainly used for packaging, which in 2017 accounted for 115 million metric tonnes. Building and construction is the second use, which accounted for only 64 million in the same year. 

4. A study published in Science Advances (2017) calculated that we had produced 8,300 million metric tons of plastic to date, 25,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building

5. Plastic use and consumption have driven global generation to approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year to keep up with demand, 60% of which ends up in our natural environment or landfills.

6. Global plastic production has risen quickly between 1950 – 2019. The graph below shows annual global plastic production measured in metric tonnes yearly.

7. As of 2021, there is more single-use plastic worldwide than ever – at an estimated 139 million tonnes.

8. The top 20 companies producing polymers for use in single-use plastic have remained unchanged since 2019. An indication that these companies are unaffected by growing climate concerns.

9. The total greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 equal those of the United Kingdom, the equivalent of 460 million tonnes of CO2. (Minderoo Foundation)

10. According to the Minderoo Foundation, the companies who contributed the most to single-use plastic generation in 2021 included: ExxonMobil, Sinopec, DOW and Indorama Ventures. These four companies cover the USA, China and Thailand.

11. China is widely regarded as the world’s largest plastic producer, with a 32% share of all production. 

12. Some companies are, however, attempting to make positive changes by producing recycled polymers at scale. Around ten major companies aim to ensure at least 20% of their production is made from recycled polymers by 2030.

13. Recycling efforts are still not considered great enough within the plastics sector. Single-use plastics are still produced 15 times more often from original materials than recycled stock.

14. Approximately 400 million metric tonnes of plastic waste is produced yearly. Of this, 10 million tonnes will end up in the ocean.

15. The world’s most plastic-polluting countries include the USA (which produces 42 million metric tonnes of annual plastic waste); India is second with 26.3 million, and China follows with 21.6 million.

Some studies suggest, however, that China is the largest plastics polluter overall, but the USA is the worst per capita.

16. According to a 2021 US congressional report, the USA generates 130 kg of plastic waste (287 pounds) per person each year.  An estimated 1.13-2.24 million metric tons of that waste is leaked into oceans and the environment annually.

17. Across continents, in 2019, Africa had the most plastic waste per capita, at 10.47kg per person:

18. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States generated 130kg of plastic waste per head of population in 2018. Around 146.1 million tonnes of municipal solid waste were landfilled in the same year, and over 18 per cent were plastics.

19. Asia and Western Europe throw away the highest percentage of plastic in Municipal Solid Waste (trash or garbage). In both these regions, 12% of this was plastics, which often end up in landfills or the oceans. 

20. Up to 46% of plastic waste comes from packaging. This includes bottles, bags, bubble wrap, pots and shrink wrap.

21. An audit of global brands undertaken by Break Free From Plastic discovered that the biggest plastic-polluting companies include: Coca-cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever and MondelezInternational. These have been the top plastic polluting companies for the past five years (2018 – 2022), meaning their products are the most commonly found waste items.

22. In 2021, the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) community hosted coastline litter picks across the globe. Analysis of the waste items they collected revealed the most common waste items to wash up from the oceans. They included:

  1. Food Wrappers = 1,341,463
  2. Cigarette Butts = 1,134,292
  3. Plastic Drink Bottles = 849, 321

Also included were bottle caps, plastic bags, glass bottles, cans, straws and plastic cups or plates

23.

24. Close to 40% of the ocean’s surface is thought to be covered by plastic waste and debris. Scientists warn that if plastic waste grows, there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050

25. In the North Pacific Ocean, there is an area known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, which is thought to be made up of nearly two trillion pieces of plastic waste. It is estimated to be four times the size of Germany

Much of the large debris in this area is made up of abandoned or lost fishing nets and other equipment.

26. Plastic can also be found in oceans across the globe, with an estimated 1.3 trillion pieces in the Indian Ocean, 930 billion in the North Atlantic, and another 491 billion in the South Pacific.
(World Economic Forum

27.

28. Since 2019, single-use face mask, plastic bottles of disinfectant and other protective equipment has been scaled up to combat COVID-19. This plastic increase has created 8.4 million tonnes of plastic waste across 193 countries.  Research suggests that 25,900 tonnes of that waste has leaked into the ocean.

29. Fishing litter, or ghost fishing equipment, contributes to up to 1 million tonnes of debris entering the ocean. It’s estimated that 100,000 marine animals die as a direct cause of this debris due to entanglement. 

30. Research from 2020 concluded that by 2030, 53 million tonnes of plastic could end up in oceans, rivers and lakes yearly – unless mitigation measures were to increase dramatically.

31. Studies by Orb Media found that plastic fibres were present in 83% of tap water samples worldwide. It also revealed that residents in the USA and Lebanon were more likely to find plastic in tap water, with 94% of samples testing positive in those countries. It was also found that India has 82% contamination, and Europe has 72%.

32. India has the best plastic recycling rate in the world, recycling as much as 60% of its plastic waste. Second to this are South Africa, the Netherlands, South Korea, Norway, and Spain.
The global average plastic recycling rate is just 18%.

33. Americans generated 35.7 million tons of plastic in the United States 2018. Some 12.2% of that makes up the total municipal solid waste generated – according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

34. Only 8.7% of all plastic waste was recycled in 2018 in the US. One cause of this could be that many recycling programs won’t accept every type of plastic. It is thought that plastic bottles are the most regularly recycled.

35. A report published in 2020 predicted that if no action is taken, plastic pollution could grow to 29 million metric tons per year. However, with increased recycled plastic production and waste collection systems, scientists canreduce that figure by 80%.

Becky Mckay
Written by Becky Mckay, Writer

Becky is an experienced SEO content writer specialising in sustainability and renewable trends. Her background in broadcast journalism inspires reliable content to help readers live more sustainably every day.

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