A turtle swims near the ocean's surface, which is polluted by plastics - including whole carrier bags.
A recycling bin filled single used plastics — namely, plastic cups with straws.

10 Shocking Plastic Packaging Statistics

We’ve all seen the levels of litter year upon year first-hand — we’ve seen discarded plastic, be it at the side of the road, on the high street, or on the beach. We’ve even seen plastic in unexpectedly remote places; in fact, microplastics are showing up in places as distant as Mount Everest.

So, with rising awareness of the ‘plastic problem’ around the world, are we as in-the-know as we think we are?

1. 300 million tonnes of plastic waste a year

Since plastic’s invention in 1907, it’s been relied upon as the safest, most reliable, and typically the most affordable material for packaging across the globe.

With that reliance has come a huge amount of waste. In fact, rather shockingly, we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.

2. Only 9% is recycled

Of those 300 million tonnes, only 9% is recycled. That means that, unfortunately, a total of 273 million tonnes of plastic is left to landfill and the natural environment. These plastics then break down into microplastics, adding pollutants into our food chains and water systems.

3. 74% of fish fillets shown to contain at least 1 microplastic

Studies have shown that around 74% of fillets and 63% of livers contained at least one microplastic. Furthermore, a whopping 99% of fish had at least one particle present in any of the three studied tissues (stomach, fillet, and liver).

As for other beloved and crucial sea animals, 100% of marine turtle species have been documented to ingest plastic debris. 59% of whales, 36% of seals, and 40% of seabird species consume plastic.

To get more insight into ocean plastic pollution, this Our World in Data page shows what plastic waste looks like around the world per capita.

4. We consume 5 grams of plastic each week

Perhaps in part as a result of the amount of microplastics ingested by animals in our food systems, us humans ingest it too.

Evidencing this is the alarming fact that recently, microplastics were found in blood for the first time.

The study done by Prof Dick Vethaak et al involved analysis of blood samples from 22 healthy anonymous donors. Plastic particles were found in 17, with the following substances:

  • Half of the blood samples contained PET (used for drink bottles)
  • A third contained polystyrene (used for packaging)
  • A quarter contained polyethylene (used for plastic bags)

And blood isn’t the only place plastics have been identified in the human body — they’ve also been discovered in breast milk.

A person holds up their hand in front of a blurred green background - their fingers are covered in microplastics.
5. Between the ‘70s and ‘90s, plastic waste generation more than tripled

Before the ‘70s, only a small amount of plastic was produced — so plastic waste itself was much more manageable. Since then, production has spiralled out of control with demand for cheap, fast delivery and preserved goods.

The ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s saw the initial acceleration in plastic production, leading in turn to plastic waste.

6. Scientists recently discovered microplastics frozen into the Arctic ice

As we touched on earlier, plastic is being discovered in the strangest of places — the places we often like to believe are so untouched by human activity that they exist as pre-humanity ecosystems.

Sadly, that’s not the case. Microplastics have been discovered embedded in the Arctic ice, deep in the ocean, and on the tallest mountains.

7. Lockdowns saw UK plastic waste increase by 26 thousand tonnes

If there’s anything that will encourage the use of plastics, it’s a global pandemic. Let’s be honest — even those of us that previously considered ourselves environmentally conscious found ourselves relying on delivery services like Amazon to get essentials, and buying foods packed in plastic packaging. 

The impact on polluting waste was quite something, with the government revealing that kerbside collection services saw plastic wastes increase by 5.2% compared to the year before.

8. Plastics take hundreds of years to break down

If microplastics themselves weren’t bad enough, the potential lifespan of most plastics is even longer than the time between its invention and today.

The many additives that are combined into plastics to extend their shelf life mean that some are estimated to take at least 400 years to degrade.

9. Microbes have started evolving to eat plastic

Interestingly enough, scientists have revealed that some microbes are evolving to break plastic down

In fact, more than 30,000 plastic-eating enzymes were found in soil and ocean samples from around the world.

By no means does this doesn’t mean we can shy away from our responsibility to resolve plastic pollution, though. Evolution simply doesn’t happen fast enough. Indeed, it is somewhat profound to think about the fact that nature has been forced to evolve to our reckless consumerism!

10. The Ocean Cleanup project could remove 90% of ocean plastics by 2040

The Ocean Cleanup is a Dutch project that makes use of an innovative, state-of-the-art floating system to remove marine plastic. To date, System 03 (their newest technology) has removed 100,000kg of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Innovations are being made around the world to tackle the very real problem we’re facing — be it through global community initiatives, educational resources, or the use of sustainable packaging materials as an alternative.

At Dufaylite, we take our commitment to the environment seriously, with our eco-friendly honeycomb boards going back 60 years. Discover more about what we do and how we’re helping beat plastic pollution here!

5 December 2022