The problem with plastic
David Attenborough's Blue Planet 2 exposed the shocking truth about plastic pollution.
Viewers saw heartbreaking footage of albatross parents feeding their chicks plastic waste – and other creatures like turtles and dolphins being harmed by the plastic we throw away.
It's not just marine life that suffers. Plastic waste ends up in our countryside and waterways, harming wildlife everywhere.
What is plastic pollution?
Plastic pollution is any plastic that ends up in the environment – from bottles and bags to less obvious sources like teabags and clothes.
In the past 100 years humans have produced a lot of plastic. It's cheap, strong, light and versatile. So it's not surprising we're using tonnes of the stuff. All of it eventually ends up in the ground, in the sea and even in the air.
Our plastic waste has invaded the highest mountains and deepest oceans. No one knows how long it will take to disappear – but at least hundreds of years.
Plastic in the food chain
These microplastics break off bigger plastic items, or come from products like car tyres and cosmetics. They even wash off synthetic clothes.
Once they enter our rivers, soils and oceans, they can get into the food chain. As of yet, the impacts on our health are unknown.
How does plastic harm the environment?
Plastic sticks around in the environment for ages, threatening wildlife and spreading toxins. Plastic also contributes to global warming.
Almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels (gas, oil and even coal).
Our reliance on plastic therefore prolongs our demand for these dirty fuels.
Burning plastics in incinerators also releases climate-wrecking gases and toxic air pollution.
What is Friends of the Earth doing?
There are ways to avoid pointless plastics (keep scrolling for ideas below).
But all our best efforts are in danger of being undermined. Businesses are set to churn out more plastics, making our reliance on them even harder to avoid.
We need the government to step in. We need a law to phase out single-use plastics now. That's what we're working on. How can you help? Click the green button.
How to stop plastic pollution
What is the best alternative to plastic?
The best alternative to single-use plastic is something that you can use over and over again – or something that can be easily recycled or composted.
So we've come up with a list of really good alternatives to plastic.
What happens to recycled plastic?
Plastic is usually recycled into a lower-grade product. For example, a plastic bottle is likely to be made into polyester, which may then end up in a fleece jumper. Sounds good, but that fleece will shed tiny plastic fibres that will get into the environment and spread pollutants. So recycling plastic just delays the inevitable escape of pollutants into our soils, air, seas and waterways.
That's why we're campaigning for a new law to phase out all but the most-essential plastics.
How much plastic is in the ocean?
The total amount of plastic entering the marine environment is over 12m tonnes a year – according to a report by Eunomia in 2016. For comparison, a double-decker bus weighs about 12 tonnes.
Sea creatures can get tangled in plastic or mistake it for food, and the effects are often fatal. Harmful chemicals linked to plastic have been found in species from plankton to dolphins.
Support our call for a new law to phase out pointless plastics.
Plastic pollution facts
- Only 9% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled.
- 1 million plastic bottles are bought worldwide every minute .
- Nearly 700 marine species have been found entangled in plastic.
- Over 2m tonnes of plastic packaging are used in the UK each year.
- The amount of plastic the UK throws away is set to increase by over 1m tonnes by 2030.