7 Pictures to Put Plastics in Perspective

by Sybil Bullock

February 5, 2018

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, here’s another way of telling the story of plastic pollution - because I am just speechless.

1. There are more pieces of plastic in our oceans than stars in the galaxy.

Imagine this beautiful starry night sky… as a giant plastic-filled ocean.

There are as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in the sea, 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy.  In other words – a LOT of plastic is in the ocean, and the fish sure didn’t put it there. Humans can be such pesky neighbors.

2. Almost all bottled water contains plastic particles.

You can’t see them, but now you know they are there… 

In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that 93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination. They tested 259 individual bottles from 27 different lots across 11 major bottled water brands like Nestle, Dasani, and Aquafina. On average, you can count on gulping down about 10 plastic particles per litre, each larger than the width of a human hair. Yuck!

3. The world’s biggest soft drinks companies pump out 2 million tons of plastic bottles every year – the same weight as over 10,000 blue whales.

It’s easy to feel a bit… overwhalemed.

Yep, it’s a lot. And that doesn’t even include the #1 largest soft drinks company of them all, Coca Cola, which produces over 110 billion single-use plastic bottles every year all on its own. That’s a whale of a lot more unnecessary plastic.

4. A diaper will outlive the baby wearing it for more than five generations.

Environmentally-conscious baby ditches the diaper to save the ocean! That’s the spirit!

That’s right, even diapers are made out of plastic. And those are definitely meant to be used only once! So why are we making so many disposable products from a material that lasts forever? Every piece of plastic ever made is still on the planet in some form or another. As any parent out there will tell you – that’s way too many stinky diapers.

5. There’s enough plastic on the ocean’s surface to go to the moon and back – TWICE.

Hello there astronaut! Fine day for a lunar trash pickup, isn’t it?

To put it another way, it would take you about 9 years to walk across all that plastic floating on our beautiful blue planet. And that’s just the plastic on the surface of the oceans! Let’s not forget that 94% of the plastic that enters the ocean ends up on the seafloor. Gross.

6. The world’s plastic could bury Manhattan 2 miles deep.

Imagine the Big Apple as the Big Plastic Pile instead.

Since the 1950’s, the plastics industry has produced more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic – all of which still exists, since plastic doesn’t break down like other man made materials. If we piled it all up, you’d be looking at 8 Empire State Buildings of plastic.

7. A single plastic bag lasts 22 million times longer than the time it is used.

Less of this, please. Just… stop.

The average lifespan of a plastic bag is 12 minutes, yet every plastic bag we produce will continue to exist for roughly 500 years. When you throw a plastic bag away, it’s important to remember that there really is no such thing as “away.” Thankfully, many are taking action to curb their use of plastic bags – and you can, too! Click here to become part of the solution instead of the problem. 

… Have I mentioned how much plastic is in the ocean?

An earlier version of this blog contained the fact: “The United States alone produces enough microbeads to cover more than 300 tennis courts every day,” citing this 2015 article in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology.  On December 28, 2015, Congress amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) by passing the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. This law prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. It began to take effect on July 1, 2017.


Sybil Bullock

By Sybil Bullock

Sybil Bullock is a digital organizer at Greenpeace USA. She works to educate, empower and engage supporters to take action against single-use plastics and ocean pollution.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.