This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge.
The world has a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action.
Each year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean from coastal regions. That’s about equivalent to five grocery bags of plastic trash piled up on every foot of coastline on the planet. All that plastic is causing harm to the creatures that live in the ocean, from coral reefs smothered in bags, to turtles gagging on straws, to whales and seabirds that starve because their bellies are so jammed with bits of plastic that there’s no room for real food.
New research is emerging apace about the possible long-term impacts of tiny pieces of plastic on the marine food chain—raising fresh questions about how it might ultimately impact human health and food security.
About 40 percent of all plastic produced is used in packaging, and much of that is used only once and then discarded. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled, though many countries and businesses are trying innovative solutions to increase that number.
National Geographic magazine devoted a special cover package to plastic in June 2018, and since then, the issue has received more attention from the media, public, and politicians the world over. Here, we track some of the developments around this important issue. We will update this article periodically as news develops.