Plastic pollution is a global crisis causing extensive public health and ecological adversities. Given the fossil fuel origins of plastic materials, the extraction and refining processes for those petrochemicals create hazardous air and water conditions, particularly for community members who reside in proximity to these sites. Within plastic materials can exist hazardous substances such as Bisphenol A and PFAS, which have been associated with degrading health. As these materials are managed post-consumer use, they can end up incinerated, landfilled, and exported – causing additional health and environmental challenges. Examples of the effects to the oceans include reports of whale deaths due to plastic, the discovery of plastic at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and reports of the amounts of plastic in the oceans tripling by 2050. The impacts on freshwater are evident by the fact that microplastics have been found in cities’ tap water, bottled water, and throughout the Great Lakes and our rivers.
To address the full extent of the plastic pollution crisis, comprehensive policy strategies are needed. Strategies that reduce and eliminate these materials at the source, strengthen material recovery processes to improve the recyclability of materials through effective recycled content strategies, eliminate the use of hazardous substances in these materials, and require producers of the materials to steward their end of life all work together to advance zero waste and a circular economy.
NCEL Point of Contact
Zero Waste CoordinatorContact
Plastic pollution has reached every part of the planet, from the Arctic to the depths of the Mariana Trench. There are even microplastics found in the food we eat and the water we drink.
Each year nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans.
Plastics are derived from fossil fuels – primarily oil, gas, and coal – therefore creating more carbon emissions.
Plastic Pollution and Environmental Justice
Action against plastic pollution should recognize the complex and disproportionate intersections of human health, racial, and environmental justice.