(Not So) Fun Facts About Plastic Pollution In The Ocean

Plastic pollution in the ocean is, without a doubt, a big problem. We have to sit up and pay attention. To help us shift from vague awareness to eyes-wide-open, we can shock ourselves with some (not so) fun facts about plastic pollution in the ocean. Seeing facts and stats can help us visualise the problem and propel us to do more. Here we reveal some startling facts and also go on to discuss how we can reduce plastic pollution in the ocean.

Plastic pollution in the ocean facts and stats

Our oceans

Each year approximately 8 million pieces of plastic enter our oceans. There are an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans in total. Floating plastic accumulates in ‘gyres’ as a result of winds and currents. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest gyre, made up of 99.9% plastic, and is twice the size of the US state of Texas. Whilst some of the plastic floats, an enormous amount does not.

Our beaches

Plastics are found on every beach around the world. Every. Single. Beach. That includes ones which are deserted. In the UK, we find 5000 pieces of plastic per mile of beach including 150 plastic bottles. 82 million tonnes of plastics are washed up on shorelines around the world. It would appear that larger macro plastics either end up in gyres, or they wash to the shores.

Micro plastics

Micro plastics have been found embedded deep within Arctic ice. 4 billion microfibers are in every square kilometre of below-surface ocean water. Ingestion of micro plastics by marine animals can pass up the food chain. This means humans may end up consuming micro plastics too, but amounts are yet to be quantified.

Marine life

Plastic pollution is found in every single marine turtle and over 50% of whales and over 50% of birds. Between 12 and 14 thousand tonnes of plastic is ingested by North Pacific fish each year, and approximately two thirds of the entire world’s fish stocks have ingested plastic. 100,000 marine animals die by plastic entanglement each year – and that’s only the ones that are found. Around 1 million sea birds are killed by plastic each year. There are 500 marine ‘dead zones’ which total the size of the UK.

Now and in the future

Plastics don’t degrade easily, on average taking between 500 – 1000 years to degrade, and that’s into polymers and toxic chemicals. Every piece of plastic ever made is still on our planet. For every person alive today, one tonne of plastic has been made. We’ve made more plastic in the last decade than we did in the entire preceding century. 300 million tonnes of plastic is made each year – that’s equivalent to the weight of the entire globe’s population. China leads the way in terms of mismanaged waste and plastics. 50% of the plastic we make is single use. Even if we stopped plastic waste today we’ll still be finding plastic pollution in the oceans for decades and decades to come. The vast majority of plastic produced is for packaging. The vast majority of plastic waste is packaging.

These are only a fraction of the facts about marine plastic pollution. It’s certainly enough to force us to turn our attention to how to reduce and solve the problem.

How can we reduce plastic pollution in the ocean?

As an individual, the above facts and stats can seem overwhelming. However, there are some key areas where you can make a difference:

  • Reducing your use of products sold in unnecessary single use packaging: Choose reusable water bottleslunch boxes (and cutlery) and coffee cups. Don’t grab yet another plastic bag at the checkout or pop an unnecessary plastic straw in your drink.
  • Develop a zero waste lifestyle: There are multiple ways in which you can cut down on the amount of highly packaged products you use, from zero waste cleaning to zero waste shopping. Follow our guide on how to shop sustainably. In this way you can ‘vote with your feet’, supporting responsible retailers and suppliers and refusing to spend your money on those who don’t take plastic pollution seriously.
  • Dispose of plastics, especially single use plastics, responsibly: Over 90% of plastic isn’t recycled. If you responsibly recycle as much single-use plastic as possible, this will keep it out of the oceans.
  • Get involved in beach clean-ups: Everyone can make a valuable impact by getting involved in a beach clean-up. Either crack on yourself, or join an organised beach clean-up. The National Trust, Sea Shepherd, and the Marine Conservation Society all run events.
  • Put pressure on those in power: The Friends of the Earth are running an important petition about plastic in our oceans. You can also see current UK parliament petitions which concern plastic waste.
  • Avoid microbeads and plastic microfibers: Microbeads are used in lots of toiletries and they end up in the ocean. Choose environmentally friendly toiletries. Plastics used in sanitary products can be replaced with a zero waste approach to periods. Microfibers from synthetic materials also become micro plastics in the ocean, so choose responsible fashion using natural fibres.
  • Spread the word: Tell others about the (not so) fun facts about plastic pollution in the ocean above and encourage them to also make changes to their lifestyle.

At Wearth, we are committed to reducing the amount of plastic we use, and ensuring that none ends up in our oceans. It’s an enormous problem, and it’s only going to change if we all do our part. We hope that, by supporting individuals to be conscious consumers who can easily shop according to their values, we can enable change in our world.


Our World in Data Surfers Against Sewage | Condor Ferries | Ocean Crusaders | Deleterious Effects of Litter on Marine Life | Natural History Museum | UNESCO Greenpeace | Oceanic Society