Plastic Facts

Plastic production uses 8% of all the world's oil production. At the current rate the world produces 200 million tons of plastic a year. Less than 3.5% is recycled.

In other words, 96% of all the worlds plastic is not recycled.

The world plastic production is increasing by 3.5% per year. This means that every 20 years the amount of plastic we produce doubles.

Packaging represents the largest single sector of plastics use in the UK. 56% of this is used for disposable items of packaging that are discarded within a year. This debris is accumulating in landfill and the environment and the problem is growing fast.

In India use of plastic is 2 kg per person per year while in Europe it is just over 60 kg per person per year. In USA it is now over 80 kg per person per year.

The dawn of the plastic era was in the 1950's. This was when we started to use plastic for consumer goods on a mass scale.

Plastics do not biodegrade, they photo degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil, waterways, oceans and entering the food chain when ingested by animals.

Scientists estimate that each plastic item will last in the environment anywhere between 400 to 1000 years.

Think of it this way: since the 1950's almost every piece of plastic that we have ever made, used and thrown away is still here on this planet in one form or another, whether it's in our homes, in landfill or in the environment; and it will be here for centuries to come.

Plasticizers are a group of chemicals that are added to plastic resins during the manufacturing process. As a general rule plasticizers soften the final plastic product to increase it's flexibility. However because these plasticizers are an additive and not actually part of the plastics molecular structure it has been established that traces of these chemicals can leach out when they come into contact with a product, for example food or drink. Some of these plasticizers are also known to be carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recognised the chemical used to make PVC, vinyl chloride, is a known human carcinogen. Other plasticizers such as Bisphenol A (BPA) - a known hormone disruptor that when released into food and liquid acts like oestrogen - are still very much in use.

About four-fifths of all marine litter comes from land, swept by wind or washed by rain off highways and city streets, down streams and rivers, and out to sea. (Only 20% of this litter comes from boats.)

Nearly 90% of floating marine litter is plastic. Since the dawn of the plastic era it is estimated that 5% of all the world's post production plastic has entered the world's oceans. That is just over 100 million tons of plastic.

In June 2006 United Nations Environmental Programme report estimated that there are an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic debris floating on or near the surface of every square mile of ocean. (In the most concentrated areas it was reported to be at over 1 million pieces.

Worldwide, at least 143 marine species are known to have become entangled in marine debris (including almost all of the world's species of sea turtles) and at least 177 marine species (including 95% of all the world's sea birds) have eaten plastic litter.

It is estimated that over 1 million seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic debris every year, and about 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine mammals suffer the same fate.

UK beaches have on average 2000 pieces of litter for every kilometre. And that is just the larger items of plastic: the number of plastic particles (small plastic pieces) on a beach in just one square foot can range from hundreds to thousands in some of the worst polluted areas.

All plastic breaks down into particles. It does not dissolve; it just breaks into tiny pieces and stays there. At this size it is small enough to be ingested by every single organism in the world's oceans - animals as small as krill and salps (plankton feeders) right up to the great Blue Whale.

These plastic fragments are now so prolific in the oceans that they out-weigh plankton by 6 to 1. (That is six times more plastic than plankton and the problem is growing.)

It is now known that all plankton feeders mistakenly eat it. As they ingest it the toxins from the plastic leach into their bodies; when predators in turn eat the plankton feeders the toxins move up a level. As you move up the food chain the toxins become ever more concentrated - a process known as bio-accumulation.

So animals at the top of the food chain take the biggest hit of toxins - and where are humans in that chain? Scientists now nickname vast surface areas of the world's oceans as "Plastic Soup".

In short: all throwaway plastic is a real threat and causing huge damage to the marine environment, it's not just plastic bags. Plastic particles in the ocean have been nicknamed little toxic time bombs.

What about the dear old plastic bag?

The world uses over 1.2 trillion plastic bags a year. That averages about 300 bags for each adult on the planet.

Or another way of looking at it is we are using one million bags per minute.

On average we use each plastic bag for approximately 12 minutes before disposing.

It can then last in the environment for centuries.

In the UK we use 17 billion plastic bags a year. On average we only recycle 1 plastic bag in every 200 that we use.

Not all litter is deliberate. 47% of wind borne litter escaping from landfills is plastic - much of this is plastic bags.

In the oceans plastic bag litter is lethal, killing at least 100,000 birds, whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and turtles every year. Plastic bags can be mistaken for food and are consumed by a wide range of marine species - for example sea turtles, albatross and toothed whales consume plastic bags mistaking them for squid or jellyfish, which they resemble when floating in water. Ingested plastic bags can remain in the stomach leading to infections, starvation and death. Then when the animal or fish dies, their body decomposes and the plastic bag is released back into the environment to cause further damage. And so it continues….

A Minke Whale washed up on the Normandy coast - cause of death? - the animal's stomach was full of plastic bags and throwaway plastic packaging. Some of the bags were identified as coming from British high street shops

What can we do? We can make a difference in our own small way. Let's start with ourselves. Let's stop using plastic bags in our shops and town. We can make a difference. Let's be part of the solution. Let's do it now!

Let's make Selkirk Plastic Bag Free!

For further information on the damage that plastic is doing to our world and other links have a look at the Modbury web site from where these facts were taken.