Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Plastics Policies
2.1 Sub-National Policies (United States)
2.2 National Policies
2.3 National Policies (United States)
2.4 International Policies
2.5 Global Plastics Treaty
3. Circular Economy
4. Production-Based Solutions (Green Chemistry)
4.1 Definitions
4.2 Sources
5. Environmental Effects
6. Plastic and Ocean Health
6.1 Effects on Marine Life
6.2 Ghost Gear
7. Plastic and Human Health
7.1 Effects on Human Health
7.2 COVID-19 and Plastic Pollution
8. Plastic Pollution and Environmental Justice
9. Economic Impacts
10. Effects of the China Plastics Import Ban
11. Calls for Action
12. Commitments to Clean-up
13. How to Reduce Your Plastic Usage
14. History of Plastics
15. General Reference

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1. Introduction

What is the scope of the plastics problem?

Plastic, the most common form of persistent marine debris, is one of the most pressing issues in marine ecosystems. Although it is difficult to measure, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic are added to our ocean annually, including 236,000 tons of microplastics (Jambeck, 2015), which is equal to more than one garbage truck of plastic dumped into our ocean every minute (Pennington, 2016). It is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, 229,000 tons floating on the surface, and 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter in the deep sea (National Geographic, 2015). The trillions of plastic pieces in our ocean formed five massive garbage patches, including the Great Pacific Garbage patch which is larger than the size of Texas. In 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016). The plastic isn’t contained to our ocean either, it is in the air and foods we eat to the point where each person is estimated to consume a credit card worth of plastic every week (Wit, Bigaud, 2019). Most of the plastic entering the waste stream ends up improperly disposed of, or in landfills. In 2018 alone, there were 35 million tons of plastic produced in the United States, and of that only 8.7 percent of plastic was recycled (EPA, 2021). Plastic use today is virtually unavoidable and it will continue to be a problem until we re-design and transform our relationship to plastics.

How does plastic end up in the ocean?
  1. Plastics in landfills – Plastic is often lost or blown away during transport to landfills. The plastic then clutters around drains and enters waterways, eventually ending up in the ocean.
  2. Littering – Litter dropped on the street or in our natural environment is carried by wind and rainwater into our waters.
  3. Down the drain – Sanitary products, like wet wipes and Q-tips, are often flushed down the drain. When clothes are washed (especially synthetic materials) microfibers and microplastics are released into our wastewater through our washing machine and are too small to be captured in wastewater treatment plants. Finally, cosmetic and cleaning products with microbeads will send microplastics down the drain, against which wastewater treatment is also ineffective.
  4. Fishing Industry – Fishing boats may lose or abandon fishing gear (see Ghost Gear) in the ocean creating deadly traps for marine life.
Why is plastic in the ocean an important problem?

Plastic is responsible for harming marine life, public health, and the economy at a global level. Unlike some other forms of waste, plastic doesn’t completely decompose, so it will remain in the ocean for centuries. Plastic pollution indefinitely leads to environmental threats: wildlife entanglement, ingestion, alien species transport, and habitat damage (see Effects on Marine Life). Additionally, marine debris is an economic eyesore that degrades the beauty of the natural coastal environment (see Environmental Effects). The ocean not only has immense cultural significance but serves as the primary livelihood for coastal communities (See Economic Effects). Plastics in our waterways threaten our water quality and marine food sources. Microplastics make their way up the food chain and threaten human health (See Effects on Human Health). As ocean plastic pollution continues to grow these resulting problems are only going to worsen unless we take action. The burden of plastic responsibility should not rest solely on the consumers. Rather, by redesigning plastic production before it even reaches the end-users, we can guide manufacturers towards production-based solutions to this global problem.

Walker, I. (2020, June 27). Don’t Microwave Your Plastic Containers! Harmful Chemicals in Plastic . YouTube, Produced by Imari Walker, Duke University Student, Durham, North Carolina.

Chemicals – including chemical additives – in plastic pose a serious issue to humans. “Plastic additives are typically monomers of the polymer structures or compounds added within the processing and formation of the plastic to enhance the aesthetics, functionality, and longevity of the polymer.” These are problematic as different environmental conditions inside and outside the plastic can influence the chemical release many of which are known to negatively affect human health. Imari Walker, a Ph.D. student at Duke University studying chemicals in plastic, created these videos to bring attention to the plastic pollution problem in a lighthearted way that is accessible for those who are not in scientific fields. Related to Imari Walker’s video is a video produced by Veronique Koch that spotlights Duke students working on plastic and chemicals throughout the COVID crisis.–sshIfdftBfccy9lvQZZy5X4zuXKaCPEPQ76lsc6Nd9QJXygcwgC7M

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2. Plastics Policies

2.1 Sub-National Policies (United States)

Gibbens, S. (2019, August 15). See the complicated landscape of plastic bans in the U.S. National Geographic. Retrieved from:

There are many court battles ongoing in the United States where cities and states disagree over whether it is legal to ban plastic or not. Hundreds of municipalities across the United States have some sort of plastic fee or ban, including some in California and New York. But seventeen states say that it is illegal to ban plastic items, effectively banning the ability to ban. The bans that are in place are working to reduce plastic pollution, but many people say that fees are better than outright bans at changing consumer behavior.

Surfrider. (2019, June 11). Oregon Passes Comprehensive Statewide Plastic Bag Ban. Retrieved from:

Oregon passed one of the most comprehensive bag ban policies in the nation. The ban is meant to inspire people to use reusable bags and to reduce plastic pollution. The bill is also known as Oregon HR2509 (2019).

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2.2 National Policies

The Last Beach Cleanup. (2020, March 6). Country Laws on Plastic Products. The Last Beach Cleanup. Retrieved from:

A comprehensive list of global laws relating to plastic products. To date, 152 countries have a nationwide plastic bag ban or pledged end date, 48 countries have a nationwide plastic straw ban or pledged end date, and 54 countries have a plastic foam container ban or pledged end date. 

Moreno, E. (2019, July 20). Panama becomes first Central American nation to ban plastic bags. Reuters. Retrieved from:

Panama became the first Central American country to ban plastic bags, which the UN identifies as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges. It went into effect in July 2019 for normal retailers, while wholesale stores have until 2020 to comply. There are fines in place for noncompliance. The campaign slogan was “less bags, more life.”

Excell, C. (2019, March 11). 127 Countries Now Regulate Plastic Bags. Why Aren’t We Seeing Less Pollution? World Resources Institute. Retrieved from:

The global battle on plastic pollution has seen numerous bans and other regulations put in place in an attempt to reduce plastic waste, but significant change hasn’t been seen due to several loopholes and other reasons. Most countries fail to regulate plastic through its lifecycle and favor partial bans to full bans. Virtually no countries restrict or ban the production of plastic, so it can still enter the market, just somewhere else. Exemptions are numerous and incentives are not offered for alternatives to plastic usage.

Franklin, M. (2019, February 21). European Responses to the Plastic Pact. #breakfreefromplastic. Retrieved from:

In February 2019, France and the Netherlands both released a plastic pact aimed at addressing plastic pollution. The Netherlands’ plastic pact may lead to an increase of recycling but won’t solve the plastic pollution problem; it may be too little, too late. The French pact is voluntary and insufficient to solve the plastics problem.

Royle, J., Jack, B., Parris, H., Hogg, D., & Eliot, T. (2019). Plastic Drawdown: A new approach to addressing plastic pollution from source to ocean. Common Seas. Retrieved from:

The Plastic Drawdown model consists of four steps: modeling a country’s plastic waste generation and composition, mapping the path between plastic use and leakage into the ocean, analysis of the impact of key policies, and facilitates building consensus around key policies across government, community, and business stakeholders. There are eighteen different policies analyzed in this document, each discussing how they work, success level (effectiveness), and which macro and/or microplastics it addresses. 

Chappell, K. (2018, October 13). Jamaica takes aim at the trash crisis that is ruining paradise. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

Jamaica is amongst 20 Caribbean and Latin American countries banning the importation and manufacturing of single-use plastics (e.g. straws, bottles, bags). Jamaica’s government notes that these may be expensive to initiate, but are necessary for the preservation of beaches and the environment on which many industries such as tourism rely.

Chandrashekhar, V. (2018, August 28). In India’s Largest City, A Ban on Plastics Faces Big Obstacles. Yale Environment 360. Retrieved from:

A strict ban on the sale, manufacturing, and use of disposable plastics was put in place in Mumbai. Those in violation faced fees of up to $350 and/or jail time. In the first week, over 300 plastic bag manufacturers were forced to close, resulting in significant unemployment noting the difficulties of suddenly introducing a plastic ban. Still, the government held strong on the ban and hasn’t shown any sign of backing down. 

Thoma-Schade, B. (2018, August 28). Visiting Kenya a year into its plastic bag ban. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved from:

The plastic bag ban has been controversial in Kenya. Some citizens don’t see any problems with it and actually enjoy seeing less plastic trash, while others see it as a big inconvenience. The main problem seems to be that there aren’t many good alternatives to plastic bags. The leader of the plastic bag ban movement in Kenya suggests Kenyans embrace upcycling as a way to combat the loss.


2.3 National Policies (United States)

Senator Udall & Representative Lowenthal. (2020). Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. Retrieved from PDF

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 is the single most aggressive US nationwide bill tackling plastics to ever be proposed. It would require product producer to take responsibility for collecting and recycling waste, create nationwide beverage container refunds, phase out top polluting plastic products, a carryout bag fee, create a minimum recycled content requirement, standardize recycling and composting, and much more. 

Li, R. (2019, July 22). Lawmakers propose sweeping national plastic waste legislation. Waste Dive. Retrieved from:

The upcoming legislation aims to “prevent plastic pollution from consumer products from getting into animal & human food-chains, landscapes, and waterways across the United States and into our oceans.” It plans to do this through: extended producer responsibility, nationwide container deposit requirements, carry-out bag fee, single-use plastic bag bans, labeling requirements, and more. The initial reactions by legislators and producers are overall negative. The most important feature, however, is the language put forth by Udall that is ambitious, holistic, and the most progressive to date.

Wong, E. (2019, May 16). Science on the Hill: Solving the Plastic Waste Problem. Springer Nature. Retrieved from:

A collection of articles connecting scientific experts to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They address how plastic waste is a threat and what can be done to solve the problem while boosting businesses and leading to job growth. 

O’Hara, K. (1988). A Citizen’s Guide to Plastics in the Ocean: More than a Litter Problem. Center for Marine Conservation. Retrieved from:

This book gives an overview of the history of plastics in America, their impact on marine life, and laws relating to marine wildlife conservation and trash management. The authors divide up related laws and possible policy-based solutions into categories, such as Ocean Dumping Laws, Pollution Laws, and Wildlife Conservation Laws, as well as providing smaller-scale efforts. 


2.4 International Policy

Watkins, E., Schweitzer, J., Leinala, E., and Börkey, P. (2019, July 12) Policy Approaches to Incentivize Sustainable Plastic Design- Environment Working Paper No. 149. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Environment Directorate. English version.

Plastic is important in many aspects of today’s society but remains a hazard to the environment. The development of new technologies is only part of the solution to address plastic hazards. Policies need to be implemented to ensure sustainability is realized. Policies that can support the sustainability of plastics include: regulations, market-based instruments, resources, and voluntary tools. This report includes an analysis of some policies that can be viewed as best practices for promoting extended producer responsibility and eco-design standards.

Excell, C. (2019, July 10). Greening Governance Seminar Series: Slowing the Tidal Wave of Plastic Polluting the World’s Ocean. World Resources Institute. Retrieved from:

127 nations have adopted some form of legislation to regulate the challenge of plastic pollution, mainly against plastic bags. Bans have been shown to be effective in raising awareness globally against single-use plastics. The presentation Slowing the Tidal Wave of Plastic Polluting the World’s Oceans discusses the facts and merits of different international policies using Kenya’s plastic bag ban as a case study.

Cockburn, H. (2019, June 16). G20 agrees landmark international deal to tackle plastic waste polluting world’s oceans. Independent. Retrieved from:

Environment and energy ministers from the G20 countries agreed to adopt a voluntary framework for reducing plastic litter, which includes strategies designed to assist developing countries. G20 members will promote a “comprehensive life-cycle approach” to prevent and reduce plastic litter discharge to the oceans through various measures and international cooperation. 

Parker, L. (2019, March 25). The world agrees there’s a plastic waste crisis – can it agree on a solution? National Geographic. Retrieved from:

The only international treaty addressing marine debris is from 1988 and it banned ships from dumping plastic waste directly into the ocean. As of July 2018, 127 countries have adopted regulations regarding plastic bags, 27 of those countries have additional bans on other single-use plastic products. India announced it plans to abolish the use of single-use plastic by 2022. The EU passed bans of the single-use plastics most commonly found on beaches by 2021.

United Nations Environment Program. (2018, July). Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics: A Global Review of National Laws and Regulations. United Nations. Retrieved from:

This review of over 127 countries national legally-binding instruments on the banning and restricting, taxes and levies, and waste management legislation related to plastic. This report assesses each country’s restriction or ban on the use of plastic bags, other single-use plastics, and microbeads. 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2018, May 29-31). Considerations and Criteria for Sustainable Plastics from a Chemical Perspective: Background Paper 1. OECD Global Forum on Environment. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sustainable plastics are plastics that provide societal benefits and avoid the creation of wastes, toxins, and pollutants. Yet achieving sustainable plastics remains a challenge. When determining if a type of plastic is sustainable considerations must include: holistically designed systems, life cycle thinking, maximum resource efficiency, and the elimination and minimization of hazards. This report was intended for product designers and not the general public. The report was originally published as background for the 2018 Global Forum on Environment focusing on Plastics in the Circular Economy, along with a second background paper on technical tools.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2018, May 29-31). Technical Tools and Approaches in the Design of Sustainable Plastics: Background Paper 2. OECD Global Forum on Environment. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Eighteen tools and approaches are presented as necessary steps to achieve a sustainable circular economy. The tools and approaches include life-cycle analysis, eco-profiles, industry-developed material selection software, and eco-labels, a Plastics Scorecard (included in the bibliography below), a product design tool based on international standards, an online centralized repository of resources, identification of more plastic product categories that can be made more sustainable and more in-depth evaluations of current tools. The report was originally published as background for the 2018 Global Forum on Environment focusing on Plastics in the Circular Economy, along with a second background paper on criteria for sustainable plastic.

United Nations Environment Program. (2017, December 4-6). Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics: An assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and subregional governance strategies and approaches. United Nations. Retrieved from:

At biological, ecological, and socio-economic levels, marine plastic litter and microplastics are at unacceptable levels. This assessment examines the current legal and policy frameworks and offers three policy options to take under consideration when making policy to reduce marine litter.

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3. Circular Economy

New Plastics Economy. (2020). A Vision of a Circular Economy for Plastic.

The six characteristics needed to achieve a circular economy are: (a) elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic; (b) items are reused to reduce the need for single-use plastic; (c) all plastic must be reusable, recyclable, or compostable; (d) all packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice; (e) plastic is decoupled from the consumption of finite resources; (f) all plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals and the rights of all people are respected. The straightforward document is a quick read for anyone interested in best approaches to the circular economy without extraneous detail.

Hocevar, J. (2020, February 18). Report: Circular Claims Fall Flat. Greenpeace. Retrieved from:

An analysis of the current plastic waste collection, sorting, and reprocessing in the U.S. to determine if products could legitimately be called “recyclable”. The analysis found that almost all common plastic pollution items, including single-use foodservice and convenience products, cannot be recycled for various reasons from municipalities collecting but not recycling to plastic shrink sleeves on bottles making them unrecyclable.

Kawashima, N., Yagi, T., & Kojima, K. (2019, August 29). How Do Bioplastics and Fossil-Based Plastics Play in a Circular Economy? Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, 304(9). Retrieved from:

Plastics are a part of everyday life and consumption and usage of plastics globally is predicted to increase. Bioplastics have emerged as a potentially environmentally friendly solution to the plastic crisis. A coordinated, innovative approach through the value chain is necessary to switch from a linear economy to a circular economy that incorporates efficient resource use.

Cosgrove, E. (2019, July 10). Terracycle’s Loop expands to 5 new states. Waste Dive. Retrieved from:

Loop is a circular shopping platform. It inspired brands to design multi-use packaging to drastically reduce waste. It provides reusable packaging services that are backed by more than 40 participating brands including Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Nestle, and Unilever. Currently, Loop is available in eight states in the Northeastern region of the United States.

Keijer, T., Bakker, V., & Slootweg, J.C. (2019, February 21). Circular chemistry to enable a circular economy. Nature Chemistry, 11, 190-195. Retrieved from:

To optimize resource efficiency and enable a closed-loop, waste-free chemical industry, the linear consume then dispose economy must be replaced. To do this, a product’s sustainability considerations should include its entire lifecycle and aim to replace the linear approach with circular chemistry. 

World Economic Forum. (2018, September 24). Global Plastic Action Partnership: Shaping a circular economy for plastics – from source to sea. Retrieved from:

A circular economy needs to be created in which materials are redesigned, recovered and reused. Global Plastic Action Partnership plans to transform political commitments to address plastic pollution into circular economy solutions in coastal countries battling plastic waste.

Charter, M (Editor). (2018, August 6). Designing for the Circular Economy. Routledge. Excerpt Retrieved from:

Designing for the Circular Economy explores ‘state of the art’ research and industrial practice. The book highlights the Circular Economy as a source of: new business opportunities; radical business change; disruptive innovation; social change; and new consumer attitudes.

Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel. (2018, June). Plastics and the circular economy. United Nations Environment. Retrieved from:

Plastic is currently on a linear pattern of ‘take, make, use, and dispose’ which is the primary driver of resource depletion, waste, environmental degradation, climate change, and has adverse effects to human health. The linear pattern needs to be transformed into a circular economy within the plastics sector.

Opsomer, R. (2018, June). What is the circular economy and how does it differ from just recycling? Global Cause. Retrieved from:

The circular economy has three principles: designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials and products in use, and regenerating natural systems. It is different from recycling because in a circular economy, things are designed to be restorative and regenerative. Cleanup is still important but we need to redesign products to be ‘smarter’ to stop the problem at the source.

Spalding, M. (2018, April 23). Don’t Let Plastic Get into the Ocean. The Ocean Foundation. Retrieved from:

The keynote done for the Dialogue for Ending Plastic Pollution at the Embassy of Finland frames the issue of plastic in the ocean. Spalding discusses the problems of plastics in the ocean, how single-use plastics play a role, and where the plastics come from. Prevention is key, don’t be part of the problem, and personal action are a good start. Reuse and reduction of waste is also essential.

Jambeck, J., Hardesty, B., Brooks, A., Friend, T., Teleki, K., & Fabres, J. (2018). Challenges and emerging solutions to the land-based plastic waste issue in Africa. Marine Policy, 96, 256-263. Retrieved at:

Waste mismanagement due to lack of infrastructure is a huge problem in a lot of countries in Africa. A circular economy needs to be established to reuse plastics to prevent them from ending up in the ocean. Plastic can be turned into retail opportunities.

Brink, P., Schweitzer, J., Watkins, E., Janssens, C., De Smet, M., Lesile, H., & Galgani, F. (2018). Circular economy measures to keep plastics and their value in the economy, avoid waste and reduce marine litter. Economics Discussion Papers, 3, 1-15. Retrieved from:

There is a growing global recognition of marine litter and rethink our approach to plastic and packaging, and outlines measures for enabling a transition to a circular economy that would fight single-use plastics and their negative externalities. These measures take the form of a policy proposal for G20 countries.

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4. Production-Based Solutions (Green Chemistry)

4.1 Definitions

Bioplastic – plastic made from plant or other biological material instead of petroleum. Also called bio-based plastic. Made from either polylactic acids (PLAs) found in plants like corn and sugarcane or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) engineered from microorganisms. (National Geographic 2018)

Oxo-degradable – plastic that is neither bioplastic or biodegradable, but rather a conventional plastic mixed with additives in order to imitate biodegradation. These plastics fragment into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, but do not break down on the polymer/molecular level. (Green Dot 2019)

Biodegradable – a small subset of bioplastics that can be converted into water, carbon dioxide and biomass over time with the help of microorganisms. The biodegradability of a plastic lies with the chemical properties of the polymer and thus can be either bio or petroleum-based. (Green Dot 2019)

Degradable – something that breaks down. Technically, all plastic is degradable plastic because you can “break down” the plastic by breaking it into smaller pieces. (Ceres Organics 2017)Compostable – plastics which have been tested and certified by a third party to adhere to international standards for biodegradation in an industrial composting facility environment (Green Dot 2019)

4.2 Sources

Greenpeace. (2020, September 9). Deception by the Numbers: American Chemistry Council claims about chemical recycling investments fail to hold up to scrutiny. Greenpeace.

Groups,  such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC), have advocated for chemical recycling as a solution to the plastic pollution crisis, but the viability of chemical recycling remains questionable. Chemical recycling or “advanced recycling” refers to plastic-to-fuel, waste-to-fuel, or plastic-to-plastic and uses various solvents to degrade plastic polymers into their basic building blocks. Greenpeace found that less than 50% of the ACC’s projects for advanced recycling were credible recycling projects and plastic-to-plastic recycling shows very little likelihood of success. To date taxpayers have provided at least $506 million in support of these projects of uncertain viability. Consumers and constituents should be aware of the problems of solutions – like chemical recycling – that will not solve the plastic pollution problem.

Knott, B., Erickson, E., Allen, M., Gado, J., Graham, R., Kearns, F., Pardo, I., Topuzlu, E., Anderson, J., Austin, H., Dominick, G., Johnson, C., Rorrer, N., Szostkiewicz, C., Copié, V., Payne, C., Woodcock, H., Donohoe, B., Beckham, G. McGeehan, J. (2020, October 13) Characterization and Engineering of a Two-Enzyme System for Plastics Depolymerization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The University of Portsmouth has discovered a synergistic enzyme cocktail, a so-called super-enzyme, that can deconstruct recalcitrant polymers in nature. This breakthrough suggests that – when using this enzyme – plastic bottles can be broken down six times faster than any other method currently on the market. This discovery has the potential to revolutionize the field of recycling. The research developed after a plastic-eating bug was discovered in Japan in 2016, and an engineered version of a plastic-eating enzyme in 2018.

ChemSec. (2020). What Goes Around: Enabling the Circular Economy by Removing Chemical Roadblocks.

The Circular Economy faces a major hurtle in the form of chemicals of concern in current material flows. Re-using and recycling chemicals of concern, as well as legacy chemicals that remain in the system from previously produced material is problematic and may cause significant environmental harm. Further, “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling” is not a viable solution, instead chemicals of concern need to be designed out of products in order to achieve a truly Circular Economy.

Chasan, E. (2019, September 25). There’s Finally a Way to Recycle the Plastic in Shampoo and Yogurt Packaging. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from:

Polypropylene, a rigid plastic favored by shampoo bottles, is one of the biggest contributors to the 25 million tons of plastic that ends up in landfills each year. John Layman, a chemist who works for Proctor & Gamble, developed a process to purify polypropylene and produce clear, odorless, non-toxic pellets that can be used to make 100% recycled products.

Hosni, A., Pittman, J., & Robson, G. (2019, September). Microbial degradation of four biodegradable polymers in soil and compost demonstrating polycaprolactone as an ideal compostable plastic. Waste Management, 97, 105-114. Retrieved from:

The biodegradation of four polymers, polycaprolactone (PCL), polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), polylactic acid (PLA), and poly(1,4-butylene) succinate (PBS), were compared in soil and compost at three different set temperatures for 10 months. Degradation rates varied between both polymers and incubation temperatures. PCL showed the fastest degradation rate under all conditions. This was likely associated with PCL acting as a habitat for two species of fungi to grow on the polymer surface, helping with the PCL degradation.

Neitzert, T. (2019, August 2). Why compostable plastics may be no better for the environment. The Conversation. Retrieved from:

As the world is shifting away from single-use plastics, new biodegradable or compostable products seem to be better alternatives to plastic, but they may be just as bad for the environment. A lot of the problem lies with the terminology, lack of recycling or composting infrastructures, and the toxicity of degradable plastics. The whole product lifecycle needs to be analyzed before it is labeled as a better alternative to plastic.

Joyce, C. (2019, July 30). Plastics Or People? At Least 1 Of Them Has To Change To Clean Up Our Mess. Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved from:

One chemist is working on turning algae into raw plastic. This new “plastic” will break down in a basic compost pile within the span of 2 years. Big companies such as Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Unilever have also joined Terracycle’s project called Loop, which send people the products they need in reusable containers instead of single-use plastics. Ultimately, it is up to consumers to change how the world uses plastic.

Napper, I., & Thompson, R. (2019, April 28). Environmental Deterioration of Biodegradable, Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable, and Conventional Plastic Carrier Bags in the Sea, Soil, and Open-Air Over a 3-Year Period. ACS Publication. Retrieved from:

Single-use plastic bags are building up in the environment, this study was designed to see if the promises of the plastic alternative that they deteriorate faster and/or have fewer environmental impacts than plastic are true. The study examines biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, compostable, and high-density polyethylene in various natural environments over a 3-year period. The results showed that none of the bags could be relied upon to show any substantial deterioration over a 3-year period in all environments.

Fox, A. (2019, April 22). Just 10% of U.S. plastic gets recycled. A new kind of plastic could change that. Science. Retrieved from:

Only 10% of the plastics in the United States gets recycled because there are too many chemicals preventing reuse. There is a new type of plastic without chemical additives that can be reused and reused again, but also can be broken down with just water and acid at room temperature. This could shift the global economics of plastic recycling.

McCarthy, J., & Sanchez, E. (2019, April 9). 5 Plastic Alternatives Doing More Harm Than Good – and What to Use Instead. Global Citizen. Retrieved from:

Biodegradable single-use water bottles sometimes have plastic linings or chemicals that are unable to naturally degrade or the bottle can only degrade in highly controlled environments. Biodegradable plastic bags are still single-use and are barely different from plastic bags relating to their overall environmental impact. Bamboo straws have large carbon footprints and aren’t always completely bamboo, sometimes containing chemicals such as formaldehyde. Clothes made from ‘recycled’ plastic release toxins into the environment long-term. Plastic roads release plastic dust as they naturally erode.

Russo, D., Gómez, F., Nydén, M., & Barth, F. (2019, February 26). “New Plastics Economy” – High-calibre closing panel at the 3rd ECP with Experts from Think Beyond Plastic. Nouryon, ISC3 and World Economic Forum. Frankfurt, Germany. Press Release Retrieved from:

The development of new plastics, handling of plastics and the problem of plastic pollution on land and in the sea: for the first time the European Chemistry Partnering addresses one of the major problems of our time. Under the heading “New Plastics Economy”, four experts will engage in a critical discussion of the topic: not only about the pros and cons of developing new materials but also about the new quality in dealing with plastics in all areas of our welfare and health, and the resulting economic opportunities.

New Plastics Economy. (2019). Oxo-degradable Plastic Packaging is not a Solution to Plastic Pollution, and Does Not Fit in a Circular Economy. Retrieved from:

Oxo-degradable plastic packaging has been marked as alternatives to plastic and as a solution to plastic pollution. However, according to a lot of evidence, oxo-degradable plastic fragments into small pieces, including microplastics, with the biodegradation process occurring on a much longer timeline than advertised by the manufacturers. Oxo-degradable plastics are therefore not designed for long-term use and do not fit in the circular economy.

Bates, T. (2018, November 18). How to Convert Climate-Changing Carbon Dioxide Into Plastics and Other Products. Rutgers Today. Retrieved from:

Rutgers Scientists have developed electrocatalysts that can convert carbon dioxide into plastics, fabrics, resins, and other products. Methylglyoxal, one of the catalysts, can be used as a safer alternative to toxic formaldehyde – a substance that threatens fish, shellfish, and other creatures in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Gibbens, S. (2018, November 15). What You Need to Know about Plant-based Plastics. National Geographic. Retrieved from:

At a glance, bioplastics seems like a great alternative to plastics, but the reality is more complicated. Bioplastic offers a solution to reduce burning fossil fuels, but may introduce more pollution from fertilizers and more land being diverted from food production. Bioplastics are also predicted to do little in stopping the amount of plastic entering the waterways.

Steinmark, I. (2018, November 5). Nobel Prize Awarded for Evolving Green Chemistry Catalysts. Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved from:

Frances Arnold is one of this year’s Nobel Laureates in chemistry for her work in Directed Evolution (DE), a green chemistry biochemical hack in which proteins/enzymes are randomly mutated many times over, then screened to find out which ones work best. It could overhaul the chemical industry.

Thakur, S., Chaudhary, J., Sharma, B., Verma, A., Tamulevicius, S., & Thakur, V. (2018, October). Sustainability of bioplastics: Opportunities and Challenges. ScienceDirect, 13, 68-75. Retrieved from:

Non-biodegradable plastic causes many toxins to be released into the environment causing severe damage to inhabitants at all points of the production, use, and disposal cycle. Biodegradable plastics made with biopolymers can replace petroleum-based plastics to minimize the environmental consequences.

Vallette, J. (July 2018). Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution, Phase 1: Africa, The Americas, and Europe. Healthy Building Network.

Chlorine is a key component of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) supply chain. PVC is a plastic chemical that is used primarily in building products such as pipes, roofing, flooring, and adhesives. PVC is the world’s third-most produced synthetic plastic polymer. The United States is a leading supplier of the chlorinated feedstock of PVC worldwide. Other materials discussed include polyurethane and epoxies. Phase 1 of the report looks at Chlorine and building materials in Africa, The Americas, and Europe. The second phase of the paper, detailed below, focuses on Asia. Vallette found that a substantial number of factories continued to use highly polluting chemicals (asbestos, mercury, dioxins, and carbon tetrachloride) that find their way into the environment.

Vallette, J. (March 2019). Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution, Phase 2: Asia. Healthy Building Network.

The Phase 2 report builds on the report Chlorine and Building materials to discuss (Phase 1 is listed above). East Asia is home to three of the four largest PVC plants with India and the United States being the main destination of PVC exports from Asian countries. Vallette identifies 146 Chlor-alkali plants and chlorine sources for 112 PVC plants worldwide with an estimated capacity of 41.8 million tons of resin produced per year. These statistics highlight the scale of the problem and the significant number of chemical inputs into plastic production that may affect both human health and the environment.

Haider, T., Volker, Dr. C., Kramm, Dr. J., Landfester, Dr. K., & Wurm, Dr. F. (2018, July 4). Plastics of the Future? The Impact of Biodegradable Polymers on the Environment and Society. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 58(1). Retrieved from:

Biodegradable polymers like polylactic acid seem like suitable alternatives to traditional plastic, but they are not as environmentally friendly as they seem. Polylactic acid is basically non-degradable in seawater. Similarly, the degradation rate of “biodegradable” polymers is highly dependent on what environment they end up in, whether that be soil or marine water or other environments. Tests run on biodegradable polymers in artificial environments to “prove” their biodegradability do not have transferability to real conditions.

Franklin, K., & Till, C. (2018, April 17). Radical Matter: Rethinking Materials for a Sustainable Future. Thames & Hudson. 

The ten “Big Ideas” that will shape and inform the choice of materials, design methods, and manufacturing processes made by designers in the years to come.

Fellet, M. (2018, February 28). Improving a plastic-degrading enzyme for better PET recycling. Chemical & Engineering News. Retrieved from:

‘Normal’ plastic bottles such as water or shampoo bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET); to recycle them they are ground into small flakes, which are then used to make other products. PET degrades very slowly over time, but by adding sugars to a cutinase enzyme, it made it more effective at breaking down PET.

Brigham, C. (2018). Chapter 3.22 – Biopolymers: Biodegradable Alternative to Traditional Plastics. Green Chemistry, 753-770. Retrieved from:

Many biologically derived polymers, also known as bio-based polymers or biopolymers, have been looked at as possible replacements to petrochemically derived polymers like traditional plastic. This chapter examine many bio-based polymers and compares them to petroleum-based polymers based on their primary chemical structure, functions, and applications.

The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited. (2018). Chapter 2: Plastic pollution. Retrieved from:

Focus on how the countries around the Indian Ocean Rim are tackling plastic pollution and studying the effects of microplastics on the environment and humans. The chapter also discusses how nations are reusing plastics recovered in cleanups, for example being used to pave roads in India.

Lucia, L. (2018). Key Elements of Green Chemistry. North Carolina State University. Retrieved from:

The Key Elements of Green Chemistry provides 12 critical and well-worded principles of green chemistry, including: Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses, Designing Safer Chemicals, Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries, Design for Energy Efficiency, Reduce unnecessary steps, Design for Degradation, and Real-time analysis for Pollution Prevention.

Blake, A. and Rossi, M. (2014, July 1). Plastics Scorecard. Clean Production Action.

The Plastics Scorecard provides a methodology for analyzing and reducing chemicals of high concern in plastics (i.e., chemicals that are persistent, toxic, bio-accumulative, carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disruptor, or neurotoxicant). Products with chemicals of high concern include baby bottles made with BPA. The scorecard is intended to direct businesses, inform consumers, and catalyze manufactures to reduce the use of chemicals of high concern. The report scores chemicals from 0 (a product that primarily uses chemicals of high concern) and 100 (a product that is an ideal polymer), a score of 50 is considered acceptable. The paper concludes that to reach a closed-loop system the plastic industry needs safer chemical inputs.

Schug, T., Abagyan, R., Blumberg, B., Collins, T., Crews, D., DeFur, P., …, & Heindel, J. (2012, December 6). Designing endocrine disruption out of the next generation of chemicals. Green Chemistry, 1(15), 181-198. Retrieved from:!divAbstract

The Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruption is a tool for new chemical design that is able to measure potential hormone-like or hormone-inhibiting effects of chemicals, as well as the many possible interactions and signaling sequelae such chemicals may have with cell-based receptors. 

Tolinski, M. (2012, October). Plastics and Sustainability. Scrivener Publishing. Excerpt Retrieved from:

Tolinski provides an analysis of fossil-fuel-based plastics versus bio-based plastics, looking at how they differ economically and in terms of product requirements, disposal, and consumer satisfaction. He ultimately discusses finding a balance between the two plastics.

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5. How the Environment is Affected by Plastic Pollution

Pinheiro, L., Agostini, V. Lima, A, Ward, R., and G. Pinho. (2021, March 15). The Fate of Plastic Litter within Estuarine Compartments: An Overview of Current Knowledge for the Transboundary Issue to Guide Future Assessments. Environmental Pollution, Vol 279.

The role of rivers and estuaries in the transport of plastic is not fully understood, but they likely serve as a major conduit for oceanic plastic pollution. Microfibers remain the most common type of plastic, with new studies focusing on micro estuarine organisms, microfibers rising/sinking as determined by their polymer characteristics, and spatial-temporal fluctuations in prevalence. More analysis is needed specific to the estuarine environment, with special note of the socio-economic aspects that may affect management policies.

Brahney, J., Mahowald, N., Prank, M., Cornwall, G., Kilmont, Z., Matsui, H. and Prather, K. (2021, April 20). Constraining the atmospheric limb of the plastic cycle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 118 (16) e2020719118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2020719118

Microplastic, including particles and fibers are now so common that plastic now has its own atmospheric cycle with plastic particles traveling from the Earth to the atmosphere and back again. The report found that microplastics found in the air in the area of study (the western United States) are primarily derived from secondary re-emission sources including roads (84%), the ocean (11%), and agricultural soil dust (5%). This study is especially noteworthy in that it draws attention to the growing concern over plastic pollution originating from roads and tires.

Ross, P., Chastain, S., Vassilenko, E., Etemadifar, A., Zimmermann, S., Quesnel, S., Eert, J., Solomon, E., Patankar, S., Posacka, A., and Williams, B. (2021, January 12). Pervasive Distribution of Polyester Fibers in the Arctic Ocean is Driven by Atlantic Inputs. Nature Communications Vol. 12. No. 106  

The vast majority of microplastic found during an Arctic study were determined to be from cloth fibers originating in North America and Europe. It is believed these fibers make their way to the Arctic from domestic wastewater. Thus, as new solutions to plastic are developed, more should be done to address plastic fibers from clothes (typically found in clothes such as polyester blend fabrics).

Dibke, C., Fischer, M. and Scholz-Böttcher, B.M. (2021) Microplastics Mass Concentration and Distribution in German Bight Waters by Pyrolysis- Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry/Thermochemolysis Reveal Potential Impact of Marine Coatings: Do Ships Leave Skid Marks? Environ. Sci. Technol., Vol. 55, No 4. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c04522

Ships may leave skid marks of microplastic in their wakes. This microplastic is released into the marine environment from plastic-based coatings on ships’ hulls. The coatings are intended to be antifouling materials made from various types of plastic. This study was the first mass-related survey of microplastic related to plastic pollution originating from ships. The report suggests that more microplastics may be of marine origin than originally believed showcasing the need for more studies and possible reconsideration of the pollution levels caused by ships.

Tian, Z., Kim, S., and Hyun, J. (2020, November 5) Environmental Distribution of Styrene Oligomers (SOs) Coupled with Their Source Characteristics: Tracing the Origin of SOs in the Environment. Journal of Hazardous Materials, Vol. 398.

Plastic additives-such as those that color bottles-can leach chemicals into the environment independent of plastic polymers that make up a plastic bottle. To help determine if the materials leached from the plastic or chemical additives, a South Korean team developed a new method for assessing plastic pollution found in the environment. They found that coastal sediments contain very different levels of styrene oligomers (SO) and that SO dimers and timers dilute at different rates. This new technique allows for more accurate risk assessments for chemical leaching.

Zhao, S., Zettler, E., Amaral-Zettler, L., and Mincer, T., (2020, September 2). Microbial Carrying Capacity and Carbon Biomass of Plastic Marine Debris. The ISME Journal, Vol. 15, pages 67-77.

Ocean plastic debris has been found to transport living organisms across seas and to new areas. This study found that plastic presented substantial surface areas for microbial colonization and large quantities of biomass and other organisms have a high potential to affect biodiversity and ecological functions.

Buranyi, S. (2019, December 31). The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic? The Guardian. Retrieved from:

The plastic we see at the surface of the ocean is “maybe a half of 1% of the total” plastic in the ocean. Plastic in the ocean has been found at the deepest parts of the ocean, buried in sediment on the seafloor, floating deep in the water column, and an undetermined, but vastly abundant amount is not easily visible to the human eye, microplastics and nanoplastics. Both microplastic and nanoplastic research is still in its infancy, but scientists do know that the smallest organism can consume them and they can accumulate within organisms causing detrimental damage.

Scarr, S. (2019, September 4). Drowning in Plastic: Visualising the world’s addiction to plastic bottles. Reuters Graphics. Retrieved from:

Around the world, almost 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute, 1.3 billion bottles are sold every day, that is equivalent to half the size of the Eiffel Tower. Less than 6% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. Despite all the evidence of the threat plastic is to the environment, production is on the rise.

Lacerda, A., Rodrigues, L., van Sebille, E., Rodrigues, F., Ribeiro, L., Secchi, E., Kessler, F., and Proietti, M. (2019, March 9). Plastics in Sea Surface waters Around the Antarctic Peninsula. Scientific Reports. Nature.

To address gaps in the knowledge of plastic pollution in Antarctica, this paper looked at the prevalence of plastic in the Southern Ocean. Plastic was discovered in every sample taken by scientists across the Antarctic region, with an average of 1,794 plastic items discovered in each trawl. It is most likely that the plastic originated from locations above 58 degrees South, thus outside of the region. There was no statistical difference in the frequency of micro- and macro-plastic. Urgent action is needed to mitigate the plastic and paint fragments found in the Southern Ocean.

Harrabin, R. (2019, August 14). Plastic particles falling out of the sky with snow in the Arctic. BBC News. Retrieved from:

Scientists found microscopic plastic particles falling out of the sky in snow. They found more than 10,000 particles per liter. Some of the chemicals that the particles are made of or carry are huge threats to the Arctic ecosystems.

Joyce, C. (2019, July 9). Plastic Has A Big Carbon Footprint – But That Isn’t The Whole Story. National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

Plastic makes the news when it kills animals or there is litter in our streets. It is viewed as a trash problem (which it is), but very few people think about plastic having a large carbon footprint due to being manufactured primarily from fossil fuels. Some plastic alternatives also have large carbon footprints. Therefore, people need to solve the plastic problem without creating another one.

Trevino, J. (2019, July 3). The Relentless (and Growing) Problem of Plastic ‘Nurdle’ Pollution. Undark. Retrieved from: 

Nurdles are the pre-production plastics for nearly all plastic goods. They absorb toxic chemicals, such as DDT, and are often mistaken for food by animals which clogs their digestive systems resulting in them starving to death. There are few repercussions for the polluters causing nurdles to end up in the marine ecosystem, and there needs to be more. To stop the loss of nurdles during the production chain resulting in the polluting of waterways.

The National Academy of Science’s Polar Research Board. (2019, June 13). Plastics in the Polar Environment. Retrieved from:

This conference gathered leaders from all over the world to discuss and collaborate on the protection and study of the Arctic and Antarctic regions and how they are affected by plastics. What is being done and what can be done to protect these regions was also discussed.

Swain, J. (2019, May 14). How Plastic Became a Plague. Scientific American. Retrieved from:

A collection of articles dictating how plastics have damaged the environment and pose a threat to humans and the planet as a whole. The articles particularly focus on microplastics.

Allen, S., Allen, D., Phoenix, V., Le Roux, G., Durántez, P., Simonneau, A., …, & Galop, D. (2019, May). Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remove mountain catchment. Nature Geoscience, 12(5). Retrieved from:

Microplastics have reached the ocean via rivers worldwide and can be transmitted through the atmospheric transportation. This study suggests that microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport. 

Spalding, M. J. (2018, August 16). Our Ocean and the Future of Plastic. The Ocean Foundation. Retrieved from:

The Klosters Forum took place in the Swiss Alps and was aimed at bringing together international minds to address some of the current environmental issues. A focus of the 2018 forum was how to reduce the harm of plastic pollution in the ocean. Not only do we need to reduce plastic waste, but also humanity’s dependence on plastic. Policy and legislative solutions still need to be determined in order to begin the transition away from plastics.

Royer, S., Ferron, S., Wilson, S., & Karl, D. (2018, August 1). Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment. PLOS One, 13(8). Retrieved from:

This study shows that the most commonly produced and used plastics produce two greenhouse gases, methane and ethylene, when exposed to solar radiation. Polyethylene, which is the most produced and discarded synthetic polymer globally, is the most prolific emitter of both gases.

Rezania, S., Park, J., Fadhil Md Din, M., Mat Taib, S., Talaiekhozani, A., Kumar Yadav, K., & Kamyab, H. (2018, August). Microplastics pollution in different aquatic environments and biota: A review of recent studies. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 133, 191-208. Retrieved from:

Microplastics are generated from the fragmentation of plastics and have high negative impacts on the environment. As a result of the review of recent studies, source reduction is needed, more attention should be considered for the treatment or prevention of microplastics, and more research should be done on microplastic detection techniques. 

Peeken, I., Primpke, S., Beyer, B., Gütermann, J., Katlein, C., Krumpen, T., …,
& Gerdts, G. (2018, April 24). Arctic sea ice is an important temporal sink and means of transport for microplastics. Nature Communications, 9(1505). Retrieved from:

Increasing exploitation of Arctic resources will likely lead to a higher microplastic load in the Arctic sea ice and will enhance the release of microplastic in the areas of strong seasonal sea ice melt and the outflow getaways.

Leberton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., …, & Reisser, J. (2018, March 22). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports, 8(4666). Retrieved from:

Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s ocean.

Contrera, J., & Gibson, C. (2017, October 23). Consider the plastic drinking straw: Why do we suck so much? The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

Americans use straws persistently despite their very negative environmental impact. Although they are often used only once for a couple of hours, they take years to fully degrade and often end up in our ocean.

Geyer, R., Jambeck, J., & Law, K.L. (2017, July 19). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7). Retrieved from:

The first global analysis of all mass-produced plastics ever manufactured. They estimate that as of 2015, 6300 million metric tons of the 8300 million metric tons of virgin plastic ever produced ended up as plastic waste. Of which, only 9% had been recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% had accumulated in the natural environment or landfills. If production and waste management continue on their current trends, the amount of plastic waste in landfills or the natural environment would more than double by 2050.

Cirino, E. (2017, June 29). Freshwater Contamination: The Overlooked Source of Ocean Plastics Pollution. Oceans Deeply. Retrieved from:

Research by Dr. Sherri Mason shows that our freshwater environments are being heavily polluted with plastics, and this water is feeding into our oceans, driving ocean plastic pollution. In conclusion, most of the plastics pollution that occurs in our oceans starts with plastics pollution in our freshwater environments.

Leberton, L., Zwet, J., Damsteeg, J., Slat, B., Andrady, A., & Reisser, J. (2017, June 7). River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans. Nature Communications, 8(15611). Retrieved from:

The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.

Jambeck, J., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., …, & Law, K. (2015, February 13). Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771. Retrieved from:

This article estimates that 275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 2010. Unless waste management practices improve, this number could increase by an order of magnitude in the next decade.

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6. How Marine Life is Affected by Plastic Pollution

Zhao, S., Zettler, E., Amaral-Zettler, L., and Mincer, T., (2020, September 2). Microbial Carrying Capacity and Carbon Biomass of Plastic Marine Debris. The ISME Journal, Vol. 15, pages 67-77.

Ocean plastic debris has been found to transport living organisms across seas and to new areas. This study found that plastic presented substantial surface areas for microbial colonization and large quantities of biomass and other organisms have a high potential to affect biodiversity and ecological functions.

Gove, J., Whitney, J., McManus, M., Lecky, J., Carvalho, F. And Gareth J. Williams. (2019, October 2) Prey-size Plastics are Invading Larval Fish Nurseries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved from:

Surface slicks- areas of nutrition that often act as nurseries for small fish- have been found to accumulate prey-sized pieces of micro-plastic. This micro-plastic outnumbered number fish seven-to-one. Researchers initially intended to study fish larval off the coast of Hawaii, but soon discovered their samples were littered with micro-plastic. When scaled the researchers discovered that these slicks contained 42.3% of all neustonic larval fish and 91.8% of all floating plastics.

Ellenby, D. (2019, August 4). The five: species affected by plastic pollution. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Plastic in the ocean is affecting life all throughout the food chain. The five species particularly affected are seabirds, who ingest copious amounts of plastic killing many species. Sea turtles die from entanglements or ingestion of plastics. Toothed whales are dying from ingestion of plastic that clogs their digestive systems. Crabs ingest microplastics through their gills, which increase the chance of passing microplastics up the food chain to humans. Bacteria’s ability to photosynthesize is being affected by the chemicals in the plastic, limiting their oxygen production that humans breathe.

Krakow, M. (2019, August 17). This baby sea mammal captured people’s hearts. She just died from eating plastic. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

In Thailand, a young dugong, a relative of the manatee, named Marium has died after consuming plastic that blocked her intestines, which caused an infection in her blood and eventually led to the young mammal dying from shock. It is thought that she mistook the plastic for food. Officials in Thailand have announced the “Marium Project” whose goal is to reduce ocean plastic and conserve the dugong population.

Peterson, B. (2019, July 26). Sullivan’s Island beach is strewn with tiny plastic pellets, and cleanup isn’t likely. The Post and Courier. Retrieved from:

Small plastic pellets that resemble tiny fish eggs, called nurdles, are everywhere, especially at the high-water line at beaches of Sullivan Island South Carolina. Nurdles are used to make virtually every commercial plastic item in the market. Nurdles are frequently spilled into waterways without consequences. Now nurdles and other microplastics were found in oysters for the first time on Sullivan’s Island.

Trotter, B., Ramsperger, A., Raab, P., Haberstroh, J., & Laforsch, C. (2019, April 10). Plastic waste interferes with chemical communication in aquatic ecosystems. Scientific Reports, 9(5889). Retrieved from:

Plastic waste can have indirect effects on organisms, which may manifest at the community level.

Gregory, K. (2019, Spring). Guardians of the Waterways: Professor, student researchers find microplastics in harbor moon jellies. Channel Magazine, 23(1), 14-15. Retrieved from:

A team of students and their professor collected 10 translucent moon jellyfish from the Channel Islands Harbor and brought them back to the lab for testing. All 10 of the jellyfish had microplastics in them. This means that microplastics are present in the food chain and therefore in humans. This is a major concern because microplastics are magnets for harmful chemicals, toxins, and bacteria.

Harvey, F. (2019, February 26). Plastics ‘leading to reproductive problems for wildlife’. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Chemicals in plastics can disrupt the hormones in wildlife leading to growth and reproductive defects. Killer whales (orcas), who should have been in their prime reproductive ages were unable to produce and their hormones were at juvenile levels due to exposure to now banned chemicals, found in older plastics in the ocean.

Tanaka, K., Yamashita, R., & Takada, H. (2018, April 27). Transfer of Hazardous Chemicals from Ingested Plastics to Higher Trophic Level Organisms. Handbook of Environmental Chemistry, 78. Retrieved from:

Field observations indicate that when plastics are ingested by marine organisms, they become imbedded in their tissue. When these organisms are eaten, the hazardous chemicals from these plastics in their tissue are transferred.

Gallo, F., Fossi, C., Weber, R., Santillo, D., Sousa, J., Ingram, I., …, & Romano, D. (2018, March 28). Marine litter plastics and microplastics and their toxic chemical components: the need for urgent preventive measures. Environmental Sciences Europe, 30(13). Retrieved from:

Persistent plastics, with an estimated lifetime for degradation of hundreds of years in marine conditions, can break up into micro- and nano-plastics over shorter timescales, thus facilitating their uptake by marine biota throughout the food chain.

Isangedighi, I.A., David, G.S., & Obot, O.I. (2018, February 24). Plastic Waste in the Aquatic Environment: Impacts and Management. Environment, 2(1), 1-31. Retrieved from:

The majority of consumer products used today are comprised of or packaged in some type of plastic. Much of this plastic ends up in aquatic environments affecting at least 267 species worldwide, 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species. Plastics are a vessel for multiple threats that affect both marine environments and marine life including ingestions, entanglement and strangulation, transportation of species outside of their native habitat, and more.

Cirino, E. (2017, October 9). Report: Microplastic Can Penetrate Fish’s Brains, Altering Behavior. Oceans Deeply. Retrieved from:

Research shows that nanoplastic can be ingested by marine organisms, move up the food chain, and affect their ability to hunt.

Karami, A., Golieskardi, A., Ho, Y., Larat, V., & Salamatinia, B. (2017, July 14). Microplastics in eviscerated flesh and excised organs of dried fish. Scientific Reports, 7(5473). Retrieved from:

Research shows that due to the increase in ocean plastics pollution, microplastics are frequently appearing in edible fish tissues.

Argamino, C., & Janario, J. (2016, July). Qualitative Assessment and Management of Microplastics in Asian Green Mussels (Perna viridis) Cultures in Bacoor Bay, Cavite, Philippines. Environment Asia, 9(2), 48-54. Retrieved from:

Microplastics contain persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which pose risks to both the environment and human health. Bivalves are considered to be good indicators of marine pollution. This study analyzed mussels for the presence of microplastics and found them in the acid-digested mussel soft tissue.

Wilcox, C., Van Sebille, E., & Hardesty, B. (2015, August 31). Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Retrieved from:

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a global concern. Concentrations of plastics in are 580,000 pieces per km2 and are increasing exponentially. Compiling and standardizing data collected from studies on 135 species of seabirds from 1962 to 2012, 90% of individuals studied would have ingested plastic if the studies were done today. This study predicts that plastic ingestion by seabirds will increase and by 2050, 99% of all species will have ingested plastic.

Derraik, J. (2002, September). The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44(9), 842-852. Retrieved from:

Provides an overview of the main effects plastics pollution has on marine species. Impacts include “entanglement and ingestion of plastic litter” and the ingestion of microplastics.

Aines, A. How much do you know about ocean plastic? What can you do to stop it? The Ocean Foundation. Retrieved from:

This blog compares what most people think the problem with plastics in the ocean is to what the reality is. Most people think that the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is the main problem, but the reality of the problem is the small plastic particles are most of the issue. Small plastics are found throughout the marine ecosystem, having been found in both the stomachs of whales and plankton.

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7. The Effects of Plastic on Human Health

Ragusa, A., Svelatoa, A.,  Santacroce, C., Catalano, P., Notarstefano, V., Carnevali, O., Papa, F., Rongioletti, M., Baioccoa, F.,  Draghia, S., D’Amorea, E., Rinaldod, D., Matta, M., and Giorgini, E. (2021, January). Plasticenta: First Evidence of Microplastics in Human Placenta. Environmental International, Vol. 146.

For the first time microplastics were detected in human placentas, showing that plastic can affect humans before birth. This is particularly problematic as microplastics may contain chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors that can cause long-term health problems for humans.

Ranjan, V., Joseph, A., and Goel, S. (2021). Microplastics and other Harmful Substances Released from Disposable Paper Cups into Hot Water. Journal of Hazardous Materials. Vol 404, Part B.

Paper cups, commonly used to serve coffee, hot tea, and other beverages, are often lined with a hydrophobic film – polyethylene and sometimes copolymers – to prevent drink leakage. Ranjan, Joseph, and Goel determined that when hot drinks were poured into paper cups the cup’s film lining bled microplastics, ions, and heavy metals into the beverage. Approximately, 25,000 micron-sized microplastic particles were found in every 100 mL of water, assuming the cup held the hot beverage for 15 minutes. Thus, while paper cups may be seen as an alternative to plastic cups, paper cups may also cause ingestion of microplastic and lead to increased health risks in humans.

Flaws, J. (2020, December). Plastics, EDCs, & Health: A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy-Makers on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals & Plastic. The Endocrine Society. PDF.

Many of the most common chemicals that leach from plastics are known Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), such as bisphenols, ethoxylates, brominated flame retardants, and phthalates. Chemicals that are EDCs may adversely affect human reproduction, metabolism, thyroids, immune system, and neurological function. In response the Endocrine Society released a report on the links between chemical leaching from plastic and EDCs. The report calls for more efforts to protect people and the environment from potentially harmful EDCs in plastics.

Teles, M., Balasch, J., Oliveria, M., Sardans, J., and Peñuel, J. (2020, August). Insights into Nanoplastics Effects on Human Health. Science Bulletin, Vol. 65.

As plastic degrades it is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces that may be ingested by both animals and humans. Researchers found that ingesting nano-plastics affect the composition and diversity of human intestinal microbiome communities and may affect the reproductive, immune, and endocrine nervous system. While up to 90% of plastic that is ingested is excreted quickly, the last 10% – usually smaller particles of nano-plastic – may penetrate cell walls and cause harm by inducing cytotoxicity, arresting cell cycles, and increasing expression of immune cells reactivity at the onset of inflammatory reactions.

Zanolli, L. (2020, February 18). Are plastic containers safe for our food? The Guardian. Retrieved from:

There isn’t just one plastic polymer or compound, there are thousands of compounds found in plastic products using in the food chain, and relatively little is known about most of their effects on human health. Some chemicals used in food packaging and other food plastics can cause reproductive dysfunction, asthma, neonatal and infant brain damage, and other neurodevelopmental issues. 

Muncke, J. (2019, October 10). Plastic Health Summit. Plastic Soup Foundation, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Retrieved from:

Presented at the Plastic Health Summit, Toxicologist Jane Muncke discusses the hazardous and unknown chemicals in plastic that can seep into food through plastic packaging. All plastic contains hundreds of different chemicals, called non-intentionally added substances, that are created from chemical reactions and plastic breakdown. Most of these substances are unknown and yet, they make up the majority of chemicals leaching into food and drinks. Governments should establish an increased study and food oversight to determine the health effects of non-intentionally added substances.

Photo Credit: NOAA

Plastic Health Coalition. (2019, October 3). Plastic and Health Summit 2019. Plastic Health Coalition. Retrieved from:

At the first Plastic Health Summit held in Amsterdam, Netherlands scientists, policymakers, influencers, and innovators all came together to share their experience and knowledge on the problem of plastic as it relates to health. The summit produced videos of 36 expert speakers and discussion sessions, which are all available for public viewing on their website. Video topics include: an introduction to plastic, scientific talks on microplastics, scientific talks on additives, policy and advocacy, round-table discussions, sessions on influencers who have inspired action against excessive use of plastics, and finally organizations and innovators dedicated to developing tangible solutions to the plastic problem.

Li, V., & Youth, I. (2019, September 6). Marine plastic pollution hides a neurological toxicant in our food. Retrieved from:

Plastic acts like a magnet to methylmercury (mercury), that plastic is then consumed by prey, which humans then consume. Methylmercury both bioaccumulates within the body, meaning it never leaves but instead builds up over time, and biomagnifies, meaning the effects of methylmercury are stronger in predators than prey.

Cox, K., Covrenton, G., Davies, H., Dower, J., Juanes, F., & Dudas, S. (2019, June 5). Human Consumption of Microplastics. Environmental Science & Technology, 53(12), 7068-7074. Retrieved from:

Focusing on the American diet, an evaluation of the number of microplastic particles in commonly consumed foods in relation to their recommended daily intake.

Unwrapped. (2019, June). The Health Risks of Plastics and Food Packaging Chemicals Conference. Retrieved from:

The conference discussed the Plastic Exposed project, which is an international collaboration to expose the human health threats of plastics and other food packaging.

McVeigh, K. (2019, March 11). Pathogens hitchhiking on plastics ‘could carry cholera from India to US’. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Pathogens can move great distances and survive for a long time on plastics in the ocean. Dangerous sewage diseases have the capability to cross the ocean now and some have been found on plastics on the shores of Scotland. This may introduce new threats to humans, but more research needs to be done on the survivability of pathogens on plastics in the open ocean.

Center for International Environmental Law. (2019, February 1). Plastic & Health: The HIdden Costs of a Plastic Planet. Retrieved from:

The impacts of plastics on human health is still not fully understood. This report gives a detailed overview of human health effects associated with plastic at every stage of its supply chain and lifecycle.

World Wildlife Fund. (2019). No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion From Nature to People. Retrieved from:

Plastic is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Studies are currently underway on how the ingestion of plastic affects human health, because that is still unknown. Humans consume as much as 1769 plastic particles each week just from water. Plastic is threatening entire ecosystems and global action needs to be taken immediately.

Antão Barboza, L., Vethaak, A., Lavorante, B., Lundebye, A., and Guilhermino, L., (2018). Marine Microplastic Debris: An Emerging Issue for Food Security, Food Safety, and Human Health. Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 133.

Microplastics have long threatened marine wildlife, but new studies are expanding that notion by proving microplastics also threaten human health. This study gives a scientific overview of the health risks of consuming seafood that have been exposed to plastic. More studies will be needed in the long-term to prove plastic’s effect on human health.

Royte, E. (2018, June). We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life: What About Us? National Geographic. Retrieved from:

Scientists know little about the effect of plastic on human health. Nanoplastics are smaller than microplastics–virtually invisible–and scientists lack technology to detect and thus measure these plastics. However, they could have the ability to move into cells, causing damage.

Liebmann, B., Köppel, S., Königshofer, P., Bucsics, T., Reiberger, T., & Schwabl, P. (2018, June). Assessment of Microplastic Concentrations in Human Stool Preliminary Results of a Prospective Study. Medical University of Vienna. Retrieved from:

There is little research on microplastic contamination in food and how it affects human health. This study took samples of human stool from 8 different geographic regions along with food logs and looked at the levels of microplastics that were present in each sample.

Earth Day Network. (2018, April 22). Fact Sheet: The Plastic Threat to Human Health. Retrieved from:

Recent studies suggest the health impacts of different plastic components on human health and the extent to which these plastics have been found in human bodies. The article gives a very brief overview of such study results.

Plamondon, C., & Sinha, J. (2017). Life Without Plastic. Page Street Publishing Company. Excerpt Retrieved from:

Life Without Plastic provides an overview of the toxicity of plastics and their threat to human health. Action-oriented, the book gives readers a guide to alternatives to plastic-containing items and steps in reducing their dependence on plastic.

Demirel, A., Coban, A., Yildirim, S., Dogan, C., Sanci, R., & Ince, Z. (2016, September 1). Hidden Toxicity in Neonatal Intensive Care Units: Phthalate Exposure in Very Low Birth Weight Infants. Journal of Clinical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology, 8(3), 298-304. Retrieved from:

Flexible plastic tubes used in neonatal care units break down as they are used, reportedly releasing phthalates into the bloodstream, endangering babies already undergoing critical care.

Shute, N. (2014, November 13). Preemies May Be Exposed To High Levels Of Phthalates In The NICU. National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

The chemical DEHP used to make some medical supplies is known to be toxic, but usually not enough to affect humans. A very small preemie though is affected at a rate of 160,000 times the level to avoid liver damage. The goal of the study is not to worry parents, but alert hospitals to the problem and inspire change.

Freinkel, S. (2011) Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Excerpt Retrieved from:

This book is a discussion of the impact of plastic on our lives through the lens of eight objects: comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. The section on the IV bag (start pg. 85) speaks to the impact on human health; without exposure limits, the PCV in blood bags proved dangerous. This ubiquity of industrial plastics continues into today.

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8. Calls For Action

Changing Markets Foundation (2020, September) Talking Trash: The Corporate Playbook of False Solutions to the Plastic Crisis. Changing Markets Foundation. PDF.

The growing public pressure to address the plastic pollution crisis has spurred many “nice-sounding initiatives” and commitments, but the plastic industry for years has obstructed and undermined proven legislative solutions. This report is necessary reading for those working on solutions and for those seeking to understand why many of the proposed recycling solutions and voluntary commitments have failed to solve the plastic crisis thus far. The major plastic producers and major NGOs working on plastic pollution are individually analyzed to show what has been (or has not been) effective in addressing the plastic crisis.

Pew Charitable Trust and SYSTEMIQ. (2020). Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Toward Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution

Breaking the Plastic Wave is a science-driven, comprehensive roadmap that lays out the steps needed to drastically reduce ocean plastic pollution by 2040. The report shows that plastic leakage can be reduced by approximately 80 percent through expert analysis and engaging infographics laid out in a way that can be understood by leaders, policymakers, and the general public alike. Key findings of the report include: the inflow of plastic to the ocean is expected to triple by 2040, no single solution to end plastic pollution, a systems change scenario is economically viable though it requires major initial investment, and addressing plastic pollution will benefit the climate, human health, working conditions, and the environment.

Leahy, S. (2019, July 26). This common plastic packaging is a recycling nightmare. National Geographic. Retrieved from:

The growing public pressure to address the plastic pollution crisis has spurred many “nice-sounding initiatives” and commitments, but the plastic industry for years has obstructed and undermined proven legislative solutions. This report is necessary reading for those working on solutions and for those seeking to understand why many of the proposed recycling solutions and voluntary commitments have failed to solve the plastic crisis thus far. The major plastic producers and major NGOs working on plastic pollution are individually analyzed to show what has been (or has not been) effective in addressing the plastic crisis.

Clamshell plastic packaging, two pieces of identical plastic shaped around an object then heat sealed, was voted the worst design ever because they are impossible to open without tools. The plastic clamshells are made out of, PET, is highly recyclable, but usually isn’t recycled properly. Product packaging generates more plastic waste than any other industry. In 2018, up to six times more plastic was burned in the United States than was recycled. There needs to be a global discussion on how to tackle this problem before it gets more out of hand.

Pinksy, D., & Mitchell, J. (2019, June). Packaging Away the Planet: U.S. Grocery Retailers and the Plastic Pollution Crisis. Greenpeace. Retrieved from:

Twenty different grocery retailers in the United States were ranked on sustainability which was measured in several ways, every single one of them failed. Aldi had the highest score, meaning it was the most sustainable, and HEB had the lowest score. Recycling plastics is not a viable solution, as only 9% of plastics ever made have actually been recycled.

Peters, A. (2019, March 1). Is the fight against ocean plastic distracting us from bigger, deadlier problems? Fast Company. Retrieved from:

The growing attention on plastic pollution has led many large corporations to change their packaging and ditch straws. But the increased focus is distracting us from real threats such as sea level rise, ocean temperatures melting and more acidic oceans. We aren’t acting quick enough on climate change or the massive loss of wildlife.

Stafford, R. (2019, February 27). Why plastic pollution shouldn’t distract from other environmental challenges. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from:

We all know plastic is a huge problem, but governments and industry addressing plastic pollution could be a way of distracting people from real environmental threats such as climate change. Some of the real issues we need to focus on are biodiversity loss, nitrogen flows, and climate change.

Young, K. (2019, February 11). Why Amazon’s new streamlined packaging is jamming up recycling centers. The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

Amazon has shifted from using recyclable cardboard boxes for the majority of shipments to plastic envelopes that are not recyclable to save on cost and pack more shipments into trucks. As a huge corporation, Amazon is one of the worst abusers of single-used plastic packaging and needs to set a better example in recycling and shifting away from single-use plastic.

Coe, J., Antonelis, G., & Moy, K. (2019, February). Taking Control of persistent solid waste pollution. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 139, 105-110. Retrieved from:

The different types and environmental impacts of solid waste pollution continually overwhelm the people who are trying to fix the problem. All nations must take steps towards preventing and eliminating solid waste pollution. We all must change our behavior now, before it is too late.

Abbing, M. (2019). Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution. Island Press.

If the world continues on its current path, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Worldwide, every minute there is the equivalent of a truckload of trash dumped into the ocean and that rate is on the rise. Plastic Soup looks at the cause and consequences of plastic pollution and what can be done to stop it.

Muthiah, W. (2018, September 27). Call to ban import of plastic waste. The Star. Retrieved from:

There has been a push to ban plastic waste imports into Malaysia. Malaysia–previously acting as a recycling center for foreign trash–has expressed concerns over public health and its environment over additional waste and related dumping problems.

Scherer, S. (2018, September 1). Pope urges action against ‘endless fields’ of plastic in oceans. Reuters. Retrieved from:

Pope Francis addressed the issue of plastic waste in the oceans, calling for both attention and action towards the problem.

Nugraha, R., & Purwaningsih, A. (2018, June 14). Indonesia combines Islam with environmental activism. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved from:

Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), together with Greenpeace and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment cooperated on an awareness campaign during Ramadan to solve the problem of plastic waste in Indonesia.

Spalding, M. (2018, June). How to stop plastics polluting our ocean. Global Cause. Retrieved from:

Plastic in the ocean falls into three categories: marine debris, microplastics, and microfibres. All of these are devastating to marine life and kill indiscriminately. Every individual’s choices are important, more people need to opt for plastic substitutes because consistent behavior change helps.

Svensson, Dr. L. (2018, June). It’s time to get drastic on plastic! Global Cause. Retrieved from:

Unless action is taken now, plastics will destroy the ocean for future generations. Plastic should not be thought of as something used once then thrown away, but something with real value. This is something that cannot be reversed by one person; everyone collectively needs to get behind change.

Attenborough, Sir D. (2018, June). Sir David Attenborough: plastic and our oceans. Global Cause. Retrieved from:

Sir David Attenborough discusses his appreciation for the ocean and how it is a vital resource that is “critical for our very survival.” The plastics issue could “hardly be more serious.” He says that people need to think more about their plastic usage, treat plastic with respect, and “if you don’t need it, don’t use it.”

Luk, S. (2018, June). Our seas are under immense pressure. Global Cause. Retrieved from:

Plastics that are ‘biodegradable’ will last well beyond our lifetimes are we have yet to understand their total impact on individuals and populations of animals. Urgent action needs to be taken to stop the plastic tide that is entering our ocean.

Cohen, D. (2018, June). Plastic is clogging up our oceans: here’s how we stop it. Global Cause. Retrieved from:

Cleanup is an important way to address the problem of plastics in our ocean, but stopping plastics at the source during manufacturing and distribution is crucial. People need to look for plastic alternatives and consciously thinking about food and where it comes from before they buy them. The planet needs to shift towards a more sustainable way of living.

World Environment Day Outlook 2018. (2018). The State of Plastics. UN Environment; India; Beat Plastic Pollution; World Environment Day. Retrieved from:

It is not possible to remove all plastic from today’s society nor should we completely eliminate plastic goods. We need to change our dependency on plastics. We need to change our dependency on plastics by having bans or fees in place, educating everyone on the concept of a circular economy, and developing better, more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics. There is no single solution to the plastic crisis, it will take governments, corporations, and consumers to wean society away from single-use plastics.

Siegle, L. (2018). Turning the Tide on Plastic: How Humanity (And You) Can Make Our Globe Clean Again. Trapeze. 

Siegle presents her devastating truth about plastic pollution. She links production and consumption to the crisis and offers a ‘record, replace, refuse, refill, rethink’ guide to change. Anyone can become part of the solution all it takes is a few simple lifestyle changes that could end the reign of the plastic problem.

Allen, K., Cohen, D., Culver, A., Cummins, A., Curtis, S., Eriksen, M., …, & Wilson, S. (2017, November). Better Alternatives Now (B.A.N. List 2.0). 5Gyres. Retrieved from:

In this two-year study it was proven that in the United States, single-use plastic products and packaging does not degrade and continually pollutes our environment. The producers of the plastic waste are not held accountable for the environmental and economic harm it causes. For the health of people and the planet, plastic packaging and single-use plastics need to be redesigned and the producers of the waste much be held accountable.

Surfrider. (2013). Federal Actions to Address Plastic Marine Pollution. Retrieved from:

Plastic litter is a serious threat to the marine environment and produces significant economic costs to both governments and industries. Congress should act now and draw up a strategy that addresses the problem of plastic marine pollution.

Moore, Capt. C., & Phillips, C. (2011). Plastic Ocean. Penguin Group.

In 1997, Charles Moore set sail from Honolulu to his California home, his crew decided to take a shortcut and realized they were sailing through plastic ‘soup’ and had stumbled upon what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In Plastic Ocean, he recounts his startling discovery and his research inspired a massive global reassessment of plastics’ invasiveness and impacts. Plastic Ocean reminds us that the ocean is vital to life and calls for a rethinking of the choices we have made during Plastic Age.

National Research Council. (2009). Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century. The National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

This report assesses the effectiveness of national and international efforts to reduce the presence and impact of marine debris to date. It identifies overall areas that need to be addressed in solving the debris problem and provides recommendations to do so.

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Peak Plastic Foundation. (2021). Waste Pickers . Not Disposable Series. Only One.

All over the world informal waste pickers serve as the backbone for recycling projects by collecting and sorting materials. The waste pickers are excellent at identifying materials, but have found recently more and more products that have little to no value. This short film brings attention to waste pickers role as they conduct a global brand audit to determine what products are most commonly discarded. More should be done to bring knowledgeable waste pickers into the discussion of plastic pollution.

9. Commitments to Clean-Up

Hohn, S., Acevedo-Trejos, E., Abrams, J., Fulgencio de Moura, J., Spranz, R., and Merico, A. (2020, May 25). The long-term Legacy of Plastic Mass Production. Science of the Total Environment.

Many solutions have been presented to collect plastic from rivers and the ocean, however, their effectiveness remains unknown. This report finds current solutions will have only modest successes in removing plastic from the environment. The only way to truly reduce plastic waste is via a reduction of plastic emissions, and reinforced collection with an emphasis on collections in rivers before the plastic reaches the ocean. Plastic production and incineration will continue to have significant long-term effects on the global atmospheric carbon budget and the environment.

Dickinson, T. (2020, March 3). How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from:

Per week, the average person across the globe consumes nearly 2,000 particles of plastic. That’s equivalent to 5 grams of plastic or one whole credit card’s worth. More than half the plastic now on Earth has been created since 2002, and plastic pollution is on pace to double by 2030. With the new social and political movement to address plastic pollution, corporations are starting to take steps to leaving plastic behind after decades of abuse.

Ibukun, Y. (2019, November 13). Nigeria Enlist Big Beverage Companies to Fight Plastic Waste. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from:

Lagos, Nigeria, the most populous city in Africa, uses over 75,000 metric tons of plastic bottles annually. Over eighty percent of them are never reused or recycled. Representatives of large bottle-making companies met in Lagos in October to change the standards on packaging to boost investment in recycling and create a market for recycled bottles.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2019, August 15). NOAA awards $2.7 million in grants for marine debris removal and research. U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from:

NOAA committed $2.7 million in grants supporting fourteen different projects across ten U.S. states that address the harmful effects of marine debris on wildlife, navigation safety, economic activity, and ecosystem health.

United Nations Environmental Assembly. (2019, February 5). Report of the North America Major Groups and Stakeholders Regional Consultations in Preparation for the Fourth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. Retrieved from:

107 participants from eight major groups and other stakeholders virtually met to discuss a single-use plastic free future. Consumer pressure is the driver for innovation and creating market demand.

Roston, E. (2019, January 11). There’s a Tiny Plastic Enemy Threatening the Planet’s Oceans. Bloomberg. Retrieved from:

Nurdles, tiny pellets of plastic resin, are lost from production and end up spilling or washing into waterways. Operation Clean Sweep, is a voluntary industry-backed effort to keep plastics out of the ocean. More companies are meeting to discuss solutions that can be made to keep plastics out of our environment.

Summers, H. (2018, December 20). Great Pacific garbage patch $20 million cleanup fails to collect plastic. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

The Ocean Cleanup Project is an ambitious plan to clean up the island of trash in the Pacific using a solar-powered 600m long floating barrier. The barrier moves too slow to hold plastics though. Tests are being made to improve the barrier. The inventor agrees that plastic pollution needs to be stopped at the source and the barrier is not a permanent solution.

Global Cause. (2018, June). How tankers are working to minimise plastics at sea. Retrieved from:

Many people in the tanker industry are moving towards plastic free fleets and hope to set an example for other industries. They say there are three key points that cannot be managed by the tanker industry alone: stop packaging with plastics, onshore waste management needs improving, and waste segregation is needed onshore. The tankers are reporting on the plastic problem at sea to collect data that can help improve cleanup measures.

Tullis, P. (2017, October 18). Designers Take Plastic Packaging off the Streets and out of the Ocean. Oceans Deeply. Retrieved from:

The MacArthur Foundation launched a Plastics Economy design challenge that gave $1 million to companies that took the plastic out of their packaging. This initiative supports the idea of a circular economy.

Cirino, E. (2017, August 1). Citizen Scientists Pick up Tons of Ocean Trash–and a Lot of Data. Oceans Deeply. Retrieved from:

The participation of millions of U.S. citizens in beach cleanup has generated vast data on pollution and marine plastic debris. The government faces problems assessing the accuracy and usage of that data, as these efforts have increased awareness of such problems, but may not lead to policy change.

Stokstad, E. (2017, May 19). Sea trash traps face doubts. Science, 356(6339), 671. Retrieved from:

The Ocean Cleanup uses a fleet of trash collectors with booms attached designed to funnel the trash into central tanks that ships would empty. The original design for these booms raised concerns with experts who said it would be as efficient as collecting trash closer to the shore. As a result, The Ocean Cleanup redesigned the booms to be cheaper, faster, and able to collect more trash. But experts still say that we should collect trash before it even has the chance of reaching the ocean.

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10. Effects of the China Plastic Import Ban

Minter, A. (2019, June 29). China’s War on Trash Is the World’s, Too. Bloomberg. Retrieved from: 

China has a new plan that requires citizens to sort their trash into separate bins and can only dispose of trash and food waste so that everyone can see who is sorting and who is not and how much food people are wasting. This new system will hopefully reduce waste and promote better recycling.

Winn, P. (2019, June 13). America’s grungy ‘recycled’ plastic is creating wastelands in Asia. Public Radio International. Retrieved from:

In Malaysia, plastics are being constantly burned, creating huge plumes of black smoke and fumes that are potentially cancerous. Most of the plastic is food packaging from the United States. Malaysians view this as a foreign invasion that poisoned their homeland. Malaysia refuses to become the world’s next dumping ground after China banned the importation of foreign trash.

Corkery, M. (2019, March 16). As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

The cost of recycling in the United States has skyrocketed as an aftereffect of China banning most imports of trash. Now cities are canceling their programs because it’s too expensive and there’s nowhere for the trash to go. Most cities now are burning their recycling, releasing harmful fumes.

Joyce, C. (2019, March 13). Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It? National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

Seventy percent of the world’s plastic waste used to go to China, but now they stopped buying it. Recycling is hard, a lot of it clogs the machines and cannot be recycled, the number one contaminate is film plastic. Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam became new dumping countries, but that won’t last, they are already fighting back.

Dell, J. (2019, March 6). 157,000 Shipping Containers of U.S. Plastic Waste Exported to Countries with Poor Waste Management in 2018. Plastic Pollution Coalition. Retrieved from:

A discussion of the influx of waste and “recycled” waste to lesser developed countries from the U.S.

Wilson, M. (2018, December 26). The answer to plastic pollution is to not create waste in the first place. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Waste is more likely to end up in a landfill or an incinerator than ever be recycled. China closed their doors to imports of the world’s waste, refusing to be the world’s dumping ground for any longer. This has made people talk about improving recycling and re-evaluate products and packaging. Necessity is the mother of invention, and China’s closed doors are making the plastics problem a necessity.

Hook, L. (2018, June 13). Plastic waste export tide turns to south-east Asia after China ban. Financial Times. Retrieved from:

Current recycling policies in the UK disregard the location of recycling processes or where that recycled product might end up. Recently a vast amount of UK plastic waste has been exported to south-east Asia, as China–the previous destination for such exported waste–no longer accepts it. This is an unsustainable practice.

Albeck-Ripka, L. (2018, May 29). Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

The United States usually outsources some of its recycling to foreign countries, namely China. However, a new policy enacted by the Chinese government to halt the trade of “foreign waste” is forcing many recycling centers in the United States to put recyclables in landfills.

Kaufman, H. (2018). No Such Place as ‘Away’: Plastic Pollution in the Oceans, Why We Should Care, and What to Do About It. InterAction Council. Retrieved from:

Most plastic pollution comes from developing countries, particularly in Asia. The plastic and the chemicals they contain are very harmful to marine and human life as well as the environment. Waste collection and management needs to be improved so that less plastic pollution goes into the ocean. Urgent action needs to take place and everyone needs to work together to solve this epidemic.

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11. Economic Effects of Plastic Pollution

Burt, A., Raguain, J., Sanchez, C., Brice, J., Fleischer-Dogley, F., Goldberg, R., Talma, S., Sypoz, M., Mahony, J., Letori, J., Quanz, C., Ramkalawan, S., Francourt, C., Capricieuse, I., Antao, A., Belle, K., Zillhardt, T., Moumou, J., Roseline, M., Bonne, J., Marie, R., Constance, E., Suleman, J., and Turnbull, L. (2020) The costs of Removing the Unsanctioned Import of Marine Plastic Litter to Small Island States. Scientific Reports, Nature.

Small Island States (SISs) are receiving disproportional and unprecedented amounts of the world’s plastic waste. The report found that in one remote island – Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World heritage site – plastic clean-up costs the state 10,000 USD per day, and will likely require 4.68 million USD and 18,000 hours of labor to complete the clean-up, assuming no more plastic enters the atoll. Due to the high financial costs, international funding should be made available to SISs to combat the transboundary marine plastic pollution problem.

Denning, L. (2020, January 22). For Oil, There’s a Green Swan Lurking in This Plastic Bag. Bloomberg. Retrieved from:

Petrochemical companies are currently thriving in an economy that depends on plastics. China’s proposed ban on the use of non-degradable plastic bags, is a major threat to the petrochemical industry. If all the countries in world phased out single-use plastics entirely by 2040, the global demand for oil would have peaked in the late 2020s. The “price” for certain plastics needs to be dramatically increased, some (like single-use plastics) increased to infinity in the form of an outright ban.

Holmyard, N. (2019, June 12). Asia top opportunity, plastic pollution biggest threat to UK shellfish sector. SeafoodSource. Retrieved from:

Discusses how Asia’s dependency on seafood is growing meaning more market opportunities, but plastic is a huge threat to that. Most plastics are land-based, single-use, and exist in the entirety of the water column in the ocean. There is not yet a good knowledge on the effects of microplastics from seafood in humans.

Paben, J. (2019, January 9). Lack of demand could sink ocean plastics recycling program. Plastics Recycling Update. Retrieved from:

Envision Plastics had been successful in integrating marine plastics into the supply chain, but people are not purchasing it. Customers who do buy the plastics are doing well at integrating it and advertising it to others. Envision Plastics is financially struggling, just trying to get people interested in the sustainable plastic so they are selling it at the price to just cover the cost of production.

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13. How to Reduce Your Plastic Usage

Greenpeace. (2021). Shopping for Plastic: The 2021 Supermarket Plastics Ranking. Greenpeace.

Greenpeace has ranked 20 of the largest grocery retailers in the United States from best to worst based on the retailer’s efforts to combat plastic pollution and reduce their reliance on plastic. While all grocery stores failed to receive passing marks, the highest ranked (who was making the most effort to reduce their reliance on plastic) was Giant Eagle, followed by #2 Aldi, and #3 Sprouts Farmers Market. Please note this ranking is an update of Greenpeace’s 2019 Supermarket Plastics Ranking, this report can be accessed at

Surfrider. (2020). Beware of Plastic Fake Outs. Surfrider Europe.

Solutions to the problem of plastic pollution are being developed, but not all “environmentally friendly” solutions will actually help protect and preserve the environment. It is estimated that 250,000 tons of plastic float on the ocean’s surface, but this makes up only 1% of all plastic in the ocean. This is a problem as many so-called solutions only address floating plastic (such as the Seabin Project, The Manta, and The Ocean Clean-up). The only true solution is to close the plastic tap and stop plastic from entering the ocean and marine environments. People should put pressure on businesses, require local authorities to take action, eliminate plastic where they can, and support NGOs working on the issue.

DeNisco Rayome, A. (2020, August 3). Can We Kill Plastic? CNET. PDF.

Author Allison Rayome explains the plastic pollution problem for a general audience. More and more single-use plastic is produced each year, but there are steps that individuals can take. The article highlights the rise of plastic, issues with recycling, the promise of a circular solution, the benefits of (some) plastic, and what can be done by individuals to reduce plastic (and promote reuse). Rayome acknowledges while these are important steps to reducing pollution, achieving true change requires legislative action.

Earth Day Network. (2018 March 7). Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit. Earth Day Network for the End Plastic Pollution Campaign, 2018. PDF.

The plastic pollution problem can be difficult to understand. This primer provides basic information about plastic pollution, helps readers assess their current plastic consumption, and take steps to reduce plastic pollution. Each plastic subtopic (such as microplastics, refusing plastic, removing plastic, etc.) includes a summary of the subtopic, basic plastic facts, related news stories, blogs, and YouTube videos. The primer is best for someone new to plastic who may be looking for additional resources. The primer is intended for a general audience.

Rolen, E. (2018, September 18). Stop recycling takeout containers, Philadelphia – but go ahead and leave caps on water bottles. Philly Voice. Retrieved from:

In this interview with the Philadelphia Street Department’s Scott Graph, reporter Emily Rolen discovers that 1) yes, you can recycle plastic bottle caps, 2) yes, you should wash plastic containers that once contained food before disposing of it, 3) yes, you can rip the top off the pizza box to recycle (no grease), 3) papers and cardboard are better recycled if they are DRY, 4) plastic cups, cutlery, and styrofoam cannot be recycled because there is no market for it, and 5) don’t recycle plastic bags, clothing tags, or cassette tapes.

Spheres of Influence. (2015, April). Managing Marine Plastic Pollution: Policy Initiatives to Address Wayward Waste. Environmental Health Forum, Vol 123, No. 4.

Marine plastic debris is increasing. To fight the growing levels of pollution more needs to be done to manage the waste from the rapidly growing megacities in China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The report provides relevant advice on extended producer responsibility and notes the build-up of China’s policies that were later codified in the 2018 plastic ban (after this paper’s publication), Operation National Sword. The article does not mention much about the origin of plastic in the countries and how much of the world’s plastic pollution is shipped to the three featured nations.

Terry, B. (2012). Plastic-Free. Skyhorse Publishing. Excerpt Retrieved from:

Beth Terry details her tips and advice on avoiding the use of plastic in day-to-day life, and why more people should reduce their plastic footprint.

Currents. (2018) #DIVEIN: Six easy choices you can make each day to curb ocean plastics. The Ocean Foundation. Retrieved from:

Six easy choices to help keep plastic out of the ocean: get a refillable water bottle, always carry a reusable shopping bag, avoid plastic straws, don’t use microbeads, don’t buy synthetic clothing, wash synthetic clothing carefully.

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14. History of Plastics

Ostle, C., Thompson, R., Broughton, D., Gregory, L., Wootton, M., & Johns, D. (2019, April). The rise in ocean plastics evidenced from a 60-year time series. Nature Communications. Retrieved from:

This study presents a new time series, from 1957 to 2016 and covering over 6.5 nautical miles, and is the first to confirm a significant increase in open ocean plastics in recent decades.

Taylor, D. (2019, March 4). How the U.S. got addicted to plastics. Grist. Retrieved from:

Cork used to be a main substance used in manufacturing, but was quickly replaced when plastic came into the scene. Plastics became essential in WWII and the U.S. has been dependent on plastic ever sense.

Ryan, P. (2015, June 2). A Brief History of Marine Litter Research. Marine Anthropogenic Litter: p 1-25. Retrieved from:

This chapter dictates a brief history of how marine litter has been researched in each decade beginning in the 1960s to the present. In the 1960s the rudimentary studies of marine litter began which focused on entanglement and plastic ingestion by marine life. Since then, the focus has shifted towards microplastics and their effects on organic life.

Hohn, D. (2011). Moby Duck. Viking Press.

Author Donovan Hohn provides a journalistic account of plastic’s cultural history and gets at the root of what made plastics so disposable in the first place. After the austerities of WWII, consumers were more eager to gorge themselves on products, so in the 1950s when the patent on polyethylene expired, the material became cheaper than ever. The only way the plastic molders could make a profit was by convincing consumers to throw out, buy more, throw out, buy more. In other sections, he explores topics such as shipping conglomerates and Chinese toy factories.

Bowermaster, J. (Editor). (2010). Oceans. Participant Media. 71-93.

Captain Charles Moore discovered what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997. In 2009, he returned to the patch expecting it to have grown a little bit, but not the thirty times as much that it actually did. David de Rothschild built a 60-foot-long ocean-going sailboat constructed entirely from plastic bottles that carried him and his team from California to Australia to raise awareness of marine debris in the ocean.

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15. General Reference

Law, K., Starr, N., Siegler, T., Jambeck, J., Mallos, N., and Leonard, G. (2020, October 30) The United States’ Contribution of Plastic Waste to Land and Ocean. Science Advances, 2020 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd0288

For many years it was believed that developing countries are the ones responsible for plastic pollution in the ocean, but a recent study found this idea to be both misleading and incorrect. The report shows that the United States is one of the top three countries in the world that contribute the most to coastal plastic pollution and, in 2016, the United States generated the largest amount of plastic waste of any country in the world. It was determined that up to 0.41 Megatons of plastic waste was illegally dumped and another 0.15 to 0.99 Megatons of plastic was inadequately managed. Understanding the true sources of plastic pollution is imperative to ending the plastic pollution crisis.

National Public Radio. (2019). Plastics: What’s recyclable, what becomes trash – and why. National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

Every year, the average American produces 250 pounds of plastic waste, most of it is from plastic packaging. Recycling is a key way you can help reduce your plastic waste, but only if it is done properly. This is an extensive guide explaining what is recyclable, what is not, and why.

Wilkins, M. (2018, July 6). More Recycling Won’t Solve Plastic Pollution. Scientific American. Retrieved from:

This article provides an overview of the plastics problem, specifically the uninhibited acceleration of plastics production. It then states that recycling is not enough – we must find production-based solutions, such as the circular economy approach and zero-waste lifestyles.

Parker, L. (2018, June). We Made Plastic. We Depend on It. Now We’re Drowning in It. National Geographic. Retrieved from:

Provides an overview of the plastic pollution crisis globally, including how it began, its current environmental impact, and potential solutions. This article focuses mainly on the environmental impact, noting that in the United States less than 10% of plastic gets recycled, resulting in the killing of millions of marine mammals every year. There are some great pictures and graphics – one from UC Santa Barbara effectively displays the exponential growth of plastic production since 1950.

Renewable Energy Caribbean. (2018, February 20). Waste-to-energy plant under construction in Haiti. Renewable Energy Caribbean. Retrieved from:

The lack of a public waste program in Haiti means that its urban and natural environments tend to be littered with waste. This makes it a good candidate for a waste-to-energy plant, which will convert municipal waste to electrical power and cooking fuel.

Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency. (2016, February 9). Caribbean Regional Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Technology Expo and Conference frames main pillars for a regional waste to energy programme. Global Network Regional Sustainable Energy Centres. Retrieved from:

A conference was held in Grenada to talk about the feasibility of different waste to energy solutions for small island nations.

Street, A. (2013, February 1). The Answer for Remote Islands. Waste Management World. Retrieved from:

Due to their small size, the development of on-island waste treatment centers that meet legislative code has always been a struggle, especially when it comes to strategies for environmental protection.

Jeftic, L., Sheavly, S., & Adler, E. (2009, April). Marine Litter: A Global Challenge. United Nations Environment Programme. Retrieved from:

This report looks at the issue of marine debris with respect to affected regions. For each region, it provides an assessment of the litter’s origin as well as its environmental and human impacts, programs in place to reduce such impacts, and recommendations for improvement.

Center for Environmental Education. (1987, February). Plastics in the Ocean: More Than A Litter Problem. Retrieved from:

This book represents the formalized report prepared by the Center for Environmental Education for the EPA regarding the adverse effects of plastics in the oceans. It was rendered more reader-friendly in 1988 with “A Citizen’s Guide to Plastics in the Ocean…” It details a broad scope of topics: environmental impacts, economics and safety, types and quantities of plastic debris, sources of plastics debris, regional analysis, legal authorities, and programmatic solutions.

The Recount (2020, December 6) Plastic Recycling Isn’t Happening . Flipboard.—4.0-styling

Plastic pollution is a growing problem and Americans generate more plastic waste per capita than any other country. The United States generates 35,630,000 tons of plastic waste per year, the vast majority of which goes directly to landfills. Far more plastic is incinerated each year than is recycled. Plastic production is growing exponentially and many types of plastic have no value to recyclers. More information on some of the more nuanced aspects of the pollution problem needs to be considered such as the redesign of plastic and issues with biodegradable plastic as solutions to the plastic problem are sought out.

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