|Estimates for how long plastic endures range from 450 years to forever.

It’s not unusual to see an iceberg on the cover of National Geographic. But take another look at this month’s cover, and you’ll see there’s something else beneath the surface. Plastic. A lot of plastic.

18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean each year.
And stays there.

National Geographic

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|More than 40% of plastic produced is used once. And then tossed.

The first plastics – a legacy of World War II – are just over a century old. The largest market for plastics today is in packaging materials. Once disposed of, it breaks down into smaller fragments that linger for centuries.

To ride currents, seahorses clutch natural debris. But in the polluted waters off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, this seahorse latched onto a plastic cotton swab.


|Around the world, nearly a million plastic bottles are sold every minute.

Plastic takes a tragic toll on our wildlife. They eat it, get stuck in it and die from it. In the Mediterranean off Spain, this loggerhead turtle was snared in an old plastic fishing net. It was able to stretch its neck above water to breathe, but would have died had the photographer not freed it.


|100 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, each for just 15 minutes.

China is the largest producer of plastic – accounting for more than a quarter of the global total – much of it exported to the world. Shops like this one in Zhejiang province sell everything from inflatable pools to artificial flowers.

At a landfill in Spain, a stork entangled with a plastic bag was freed by the photographer. Sadly, a single bag can kill more than once.


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