12 Shocking Plastic Bag Ocean Pollution Statistics & Facts (2023 Update)
By Brooke Bundy
Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
Pollution is a global crisis. Every country contributes to the problem, which has its roots at the governmental, corporate, and personal level. When we neglect to care for our oceans and dispose of trash properly, we endanger the lives of sea creatures such as turtles and birds. Even large animals such as whales have suffered the fatal consequences of plastic pollution. Here’s a look at how the world is handling the problem in 2023, including what some countries are doing right, and what could be improved in the future.
Click Below to Jump Ahead:
- Plastic Pollution on a Global Scale
- How Plastic Pollution Affects Ocean Life
- How Plastic Pollution Affects Our Lives
The 12 Plastic Bag Ocean Pollution Statistics & Facts
- The United States produces 34 million tons of plastic waste every year.
- The Philippines releases at least 356,371 tons of plastic into the ocean.
- An estimated 22% of global plastic trash is mismanaged, with most of this percentage ending up in the environment.
- Globally, only 9% of plastic waste is actually recycled.
- In 2020, China implemented a ban on single-use plastic.
- Over 95% of the plastics in Norway become recycled.
- Between 8 and 12 million tons of plastic are estimated to enter oceans across the world every year.
- One in four fish ingests plastic.
- Over 50% of sea turtles have eaten plastic.
- Out of 555 studied species of fish, 386 had ingested plastic.
- At the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish by weight by 2050.
- Single use plastic takes 20-500 years to decompose.
Plastic Pollution on a Global Scale
1. The United States produces 34 million tons of plastic waste every year.
(World Population Review)
The United States of America is the world’s largest producer of plastic waste per capita and per weight. Unfortunately, the United States only recycles about 4% of their plastic, which is less than half of the global average. However, the US is at least better about tossing things in the trash than other high-producing countries. An estimated 73% of plastic waste ends up in the landfill, which brings down the percentage of mismanaged trash that can find its way to the ocean. That’s definitely not to say they’ve a handle on the issue, though. Almost 20% of plastic waste is burned in the US, which is highly toxic to humans and the environment.
2. The Philippines releases at least 356,371 tons of plastic into the ocean.
(World Population Review)
Even though these islands might not produce an enormous amount of trash per capita, they don’t manage it very well. The Philippines releases more trash into the ocean than any other country. Over 4 million tons leaked from their borders into the ocean in 2021 alone.
3. An estimated 22% of global plastic trash is mismanaged, with most of this percentage ending up in the environment.
(OECD Global Plastics Outlook Database)
As we’ve seen, small countries may not produce as much trash as more populated areas, but some manage their trash crisis poorly. The average country lets 22% of their trash slip into the environment by blatantly littering, or otherwise not disposing of trash properly. Eventually, this wandering trash may travel to the ocean.
4. Globally, only 9% of plastic waste is actually recycled.
(OECD Global Plastics Outlook Database)
Statistics show that more trash winds up in the ocean than becomes recycled into something new. Currently, the European Union has the highest recycling score at 14%. That’s better than the world average, but clearly there’s a long way to go since most of their plastic is burned, which releases harmful fumes.
5. In 2020, China implemented a ban on single-use plastic.
(Chinese National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment)
Supermarket bags and single-use cutlery are among the common culprits of plastic pollution. China sought to combat this problem by banning the production of most of these products. However, there are exceptions. For example, biodegradable plastic is still allowed, as well as plastics thicker than 0.025 millimeters. Since banning widespread uses of plastic radically changes society, China is easing its citizens into the new laws—some of which won’t take full effect until 2025.
6. Over 95% of the plastics in Norway become recycled.
Almost 99% of plastic water bottles in Norway are made into something new. Since most countries can’t even muster up their citizens to recycle 10% of their plastic waste, you might wonder how this tiny country has managed to solve one of the world’s main crises.
The answer? The government charges an environmental tax for companies who produce plastic. If the companies collectively recycle more than 95% of their bottles, no one must pay this tax. The plan has worked for 12 years in a row because of Norwegian citizens, who receive cash from the companies for every bottle they return to the store.
7. Between 8 and 12 million tons of plastic are estimated to enter oceans across the world every year.
(MIT Climate Portal)
Unfortunately, the global pollution rates have risen steadily. Over the last 30 years, plastic production has quadrupled. Unless preventative action is taken to change the course, the amount of pollution in the ocean is set to double by 2030.
How Plastic Pollution Affects Ocean Life
8. One in four fish ingests plastic.
(Wiley Online Library)
Ingesting plastic can painfully damage a fish’s internal organs. Fish also die from starvation because eating plastic isn’t nutritious. Their stomachs fill with toxic waste, and then they perish. At the very least, plastic in the oceans is dangerous to fish on a grand scale because the leakage can leach into their bodies as it breaks down, even if it isn’t directly ingested. These fish may suffer from birth defects and other health problems. Not to mention, humans who eat fish are unconsciously subjected to plastic contaminants in their food.
9. Over 50% of sea turtles have eaten plastic.
(University of Queensland)
The 2015 study examined six main species of sea turtles across the world. They found that over half of them had plastic in their stomach when they died. Plastic can directly kill sea turtles by entangling them in the water where they can’t eat or escape or can puncture their intestines if ingested. The mere presence of plastic in the water subjects turtles to hazardous chemicals that can negatively impact their health.
10. Out of 555 studied species of fish, 386 had ingested plastic.
(Wiley Online Library)
This study shows that unfortunately most fish are attracted to plastic. Some species don’t seem as likely to take the bait, but scientists don’t know why.
How Plastic Pollution Affects Our Lives
11. At the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish by weight by 2050.
(World Economic Forum)
More plastic than fish isn’t merely a food shortage issue. Plastic sticks around for a long time, so the WWF warns that such acute ocean pollution is irreversible. If pollution is allowed to get to that point, the fish in the ocean may eventually be gone forever.
12. Single use plastic takes 20-500 years to decompose.
Even if the ocean never saw another bottle touch its water, its pollution problem isn’t going to completely go away for a long time. Single use plastic may take 20-500 years to decompose. For perspective, if American patriots had tossed plastic cups full of tea into Boston Harbor, they’d still be there today.
Frequently Asked Questions About Plastic Bag Pollution
What can we do about plastic bag pollution in our oceans?
We can all make environmentally conscious choices as consumers. Opt for the reusable shopping bag instead of the thin supermarket bags which are apt to blow away. Cotton or linen bags are even better than reusable plastic ones that tend to break easier. Ask for a mug at the coffee shop instead of a disposable plastic or paper cup. Chances are, they might thank you for your efforts, especially since it helps them cut down on costs.
Recycle everything you can and encourage your community to do the same. Research how accessible recycling is in your area. For example, does your local government offer any incentives for recycling or picking up trash in your community? And be sure to cut apart the plastic that holds a six pack together, since this contraption often fatally traps marine life.
Why is it so important to protect our oceans?
We think fish, birds, and sea turtles are cool enough to deserve our protection. Imagine your own pet in a chemical sewer, ensnared in plastic. We wouldn’t want that for our pets, so why do we treat wildlife so harshly?
How long do we have to save the seas?
Plastic has a long life, so unfortunately pollution is more or less a permanent problem. The WWF warns that ocean pollution is set to double by 2030. Even worse, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish in less than 30 years at the rate we’re going currently. Plastic physically tangles their fins, punctures their internal organs, and causes developmental damage. Basically, plastic is toxic to fish—inside and out. And once fish die off, they aren’t coming back. Not only will we be woefully without some of the world’s most interesting species, a decimation of the fish population will also perpetuate a global food crisis.
Plastic pollution affects every country around the globe and every fish in the sea. It’s estimated that nearly everyone on the planet has plastic pollution in their bodies, even infants in the womb. According to scientists, the time is now to act to stop the flow of trash. If not, we’re looking at a fishless future in an ocean of trash.
Featured Image Credit: Rich Carey, Shutterstock