A seagull picks a plastic crisp packet from the sea

Plastic pollution How to reduce plastic in the ocean

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents

How long does plastic "live" for?

Plastic pollution is any plastic that ends up in the environment – from bottles and bags to less obvious sources like teabags and clothes.

In the past 100 years humans have produced (and used) a lot of plastic. It's cheap, strong, light and versatile, but all of it eventually ends up in the ground, in the air, and in the sea – which is where marine animals like albatross, dolphins and turtles ingest it.

Our plastic waste has invaded the highest mountains and deepest oceans. No one knows exactly how long it will take to disappear, but it's at least hundreds of years.

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents

Put a stop to pointless plastic.

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Underwater image of plastic pollution in the ocean

How does plastic harm the environment?

Plastic sticks around in the environment for ages, threatening wildlife and spreading toxins. Plastic also contributes to global warming.

Almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels (gas, oil and even coal).

Our reliance on plastic therefore prolongs our demand for these dirty fuels.

Burning plastics in incinerators also releases climate-wrecking gases and toxic air pollution.

Underwater image of plastic pollution in the ocean
Close-up of a woman's hand and mouth as she eats a dressed mussel from its shell

Plastic in the food chain

Scientists have detected tiny plastics (smaller than 5mm) in salt, beer, seafood and human stools.

These microplastics break off bigger plastic items, or come from products like car tyres and cosmetics. They even wash off synthetic clothes.

Once they enter our rivers, soils and oceans, they can get into the food chain. As of yet, the impacts on our health are unknown.

Close-up of a woman's hand and mouth as she eats a dressed mussel from its shell
Male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) with neck grown through a piece of plastic litter

What is Friends of the Earth doing?

There are ways to avoid pointless plastics (keep scrolling for ideas below).

But all our best efforts are in danger of being undermined. Businesses are set to churn out more plastics, making our reliance on them even harder to avoid.

We need the government to step in. We need a law to phase out single-use plastics now. That's what we're working on. How can you help? Click the green button.

Male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) with neck grown through a piece of plastic litter
Plastic pollution on a beach

How much plastic is in the ocean?

The total amount of plastic entering the marine environment is over 12m tonnes a year – according to a report by Eunomia in 2016. For comparison, a double-decker bus weighs about 12 tonnes.

Sea creatures can get tangled in plastic or mistake it for food, and the effects are often fatal. Harmful chemicals linked to plastic have been found in species from plankton to dolphins.

Support our call for a new law to phase out pointless plastics.

Plastic pollution on a beach
Alternatives to plastic include these soap nuts for washing laundry – soap nuts spilling from textile bag on wooden background

What is the best alternative to plastic?

The best alternative to single-use plastic is something that you can use over and over again – or something that can be easily recycled or composted.

But it isn't always easy to know when you're buying plastic. It can be present in crisp packets, coffee cups and even teabags.

So we've come up with a list of really good alternatives to plastic.

Alternatives to plastic include these soap nuts for washing laundry – soap nuts spilling from textile bag on wooden background

Help us reduce plastic pollution.

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