We are producing plastic at an alarming rate. In 2010, global primary production of plastic was 270 million tons, and plastic waste was an alarming 275 million tons. Much of that plastic waste either ends up in landfills or into our oceans, endangering marine life and destroying our beaches.
Here are the top 5 types of plastic polluting our oceans, based on what has been recovered during beach and ocean cleanup efforts.
The number one item found during beach cleanups for years has been cigarette filters. Over 2,177,000 cigarettes and filters were recovered during a 2012 international beach cleanup event. Not only do cigarette filters contain harmful, non-biodegradable plastics, they are also full of toxins from the cigarette. Marine birds and other animals often mistake these filters for food, and end up with intestinal blockages or other health issues from these toxic plastics.
According to an investigation done by The Guardian in 2017, it is estimated that annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to exceed half a trillion in 2021. This production of plastics far outpaces our current recycling capabilities, and as a result, most plastic bottles end up in landfills or directly in our oceans. This means millions of plastic bottles will continue to flood our ocean unless a better circular economy is put in place for these plastics.
In 2019, food wrappers surpassed cigarette filters as the number one plastic collected during beach cleanups. The problem with food wrappers is that unlike plastic bags or bottles, consumers have little choice when it comes to the packaging covering their food. They can certainly try to choose un-packaged food, but ultimately, to remove food wrapper waste from the oceans, companies need to take drastic steps to rethink how they package and transport food to reduce their plastic footprint.
Plastic Lids/Bottle Caps
Plastic lids and bottle caps have remained one of the top 5 items found during beach cleanups for many years. A Dutch beach cleanup found that 80% of the bottle caps they retrieved came from consumer drink bottles. The pollution of plastic lids and bottle caps is directly tied to the overproduction of consumer plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. To reduce your plastic footprint, try using a reusable tumbler instead of grabbing a plastic bottle with your on-the-go meals.
Plastic bags have long been a scourge on our water systems. We produce around 100 billion plastic bags each year, and each plastic bag can take 500 years to break down, but no one knows for sure. Until that happens, they enter our sewage systems and create millions of dollars in costly blockages before entering our oceans and wreaking havoc on ocean life.
This is why RIO and other companies are committed to not only cleaning up our beaches and oceans in big ways, but also to producing plastic-free, sustainable products that we can use in our everyday lives.
You can read more about RIO’s mission to end ocean plastic pollution and how we are making products that promote a cleaner, more sustainable future for everyone.