Plastic Waste Kills and Harms Marine Life

What is going on?

Every hour, an amount of plastic ends up in the ocean that could fill 11 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That is 11 million tons of plastic per year and this amount is increasing all the time. We have produced as much plastic in the past 20 years as in the previous 80 years. This will double in 2050 if we don’t act now. Litter in the oceans sometimes comes from containers that fall from ships during storms or consists of fishing gear that is lost. But the biggest problem is garbage that flows from the streets to the rivers and to the sea. A lot of litter also comes from landfills that leak into rivers or from landfills that are even located directly by the sea.

A large part of all waste consists of plastic. Once in the sea, it hardly breaks or breaks off very slowly and can float with the current for years. This accumulates in large “plastic islands” and washes up on beaches. The plastic that ends up in the seas does not get digested. It gradually breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, and in doing so becomes more toxic. Due to all those small particles of plastic in the water, the oceans are turning into a plastic soup.

Plastic soup. © Emieck de Goede / WWF-NL

More than 100 million animals die every year due to plastic

Plastic at coral reefs

Plastic at coral reefs

Plastic waste can get trapped in coral and affect their health.

Stomachs full of plastic

Stomachs full of plastic

Several mammals are regularly found with stomachs full of plastic.

Microplastics in our food

Microplastics in our food

Microplastics are consumed by almost all marine animals. If we eat fish for example, it ends up in our bellies as well.

What do you know about plastic?

How much single-use plastics do we use?

How much single-use plastics do we use?

Half of what we produce.

How fast does a toothbrush decompose?

How fast does a toothbrush decompose?

It takes roughly 500 years.

How harmful are cigarettes for our planet?

How harmful are cigarettes for our planet?

Cigarette filters are made of plastic and contain a toxic cocktail of thousands of chemicals.

What does WWF do?

Plastic is found in the deepest reaches of the ocean and even in remote Arctic ice. It’s a sobering example of our footprint on Earth. We work locally to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy sea, for example, by organizing special ocean days, with beach and river clean-ups and the sale of local products made from recycled materials. We also run local campaigns that make people aware of the need to keep the sea clean.

WWF-NL has taken action against plastic pollution and has set up projects worldwide in the Netherlands, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, from mobilizing individuals to tackling the plastic problem in a large coastal city.

Taking Action

Historic reefs

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