Issue Area

Plastic Pollution

Overview

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
Yinka N. Bode-George

Environmental Health Manager

Contact
Key Facts

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.

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Resources

NCEL Resources

Online Resources

Clean Water Action: Facts About Styrofoam

Clean Water Action has compiled facts about styrofoam, alternative options, and the negative health effects from styrofoam.

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Background Information on Regulating Plastic Bags

The Massachusetts Sierra Club compiled background information on laws proposing a ban on plastic bags.

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Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics: A Global Review of National Laws and Regulations

This UN report provides a global overview on the progress of countries in passing laws and regulations that limit single-use plastics.

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Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of Plastic Pollution

This first-of-its-kind report highlights the health implications of plastics throughout its entire lifecycle.

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Fueling Plastics - Fossils, Plastics, & Petrochemical Feedstocks

This report outlines the origins of plastics and traces its roots to the fossil fuel industry.

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