'How Plastic Affects ...' (FAQ Guide)

‘How Plastic Affects …’ (FAQ Guide)

This is a short guide that outlines answers to some commonly asked ‘How Plastic Affects …’ questions.

We are mainly referring to plastic waste and pollution that is either littered or inadequately disposed of, but also how plastic use directly impacts humans for example.


How Plastic Affects The Environment

The impact of plastic on the environment includes the water, air, soil and eco-systems and habitats that make up the environment:

  • Fresh water – plastic gets in rivers, lakes and other fresh water sources. Rivers can carry plastic from inland to coastal areas, and into the ocean from coastal populations. Plastic can leach chemicals into water (BPA, and phthalates amongst them), and carry organic pollutants and toxins from one location to another.
  • Salt water – we are referring to the ocean here. Leaching, carrying of organic toxin and pollutants, and microplastics in particular are issues in the ocean with plastic.
  • Air – plastic is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than first thought. Plastic that is burnt for energy also emits air pollutants that may or may not be processed by incineration technology.
  • Soil – leachate from landfills can leach out and contaminate soil where there is not a proper landfill liner or leachate management system in place.
  • Eco-systems and habitats – plastic has the ability to interact with and damage eco systems and habitats, with one example being dumped fishing gear on coral and seabeds.

Read more on the above issues in these guides:


How Plastic Affects Animals

Plastic can impact land, air, and aquatic (fresh and salt water) life.

The three main ways plastic impacts animals is via:

  • Ingestion- inhaling or swallowing of large plastic items (like straws), or small plastics like microplastics.
  • Entanglement – plastic based items restricting movement of, or tangling up animals. Fishing nets and fishing lines are a common example of this for seals, whales, dolphins, turtles and so on.
  • &, Interaction Or Abrasion – collision with or interaction with plastic that leads to harm.

Read more in this guide:


How Plastic Affects Marine Life (Turtles, Seals, Whales, Fish, Birds Etc.)

Plastic affects marine life in the ways we described above.

Specifically, marine life is affected by land based plastic waste like fishing gear and fishing equipment such as fishing lines, fishing nets, hooks, and other discarded and dumped gear.


Marine Animals In General

  • Entanglement – The entrapping, encircling or constricting of marine animals by plastic debris. Entanglement cases have been reported for at least 344 species to date, including all marine turtle species, more than two-thirds of seal species, one-third of whale species, and one-quarter of seabirds. Entanglement by 89 species of fish and 92 species of invertebrates has also been recorded
  • Ingestion – Ingestion of plastic can occur unintentionally, intentionally, or indirectly through the ingestion of prey species containing plastic and it has now been documented for at least 233 marine species, including all marine turtle species, more than one-third of seal species, 59% of whale species, and 59% of seabirds. Ingestion by 92 species of fish and 6 species of invertebrates has also been recorded

– ourworldindata.org


  • 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and these are the ones found.
  • Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic.
  • At least two thirds of the world’s fish stocks are suffering from plastic ingestion.

– oceancrusaders.org


  • Globally, 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic pollution. This includes whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions.
  • There are two principle ways that encountering marine debris can be fatal for these creatures: ingestion (eating) or entanglement in plastic-based fishing gear.

– wwf.org.au


  • … plastic pollution affects at least 700 marine species, while some estimates suggest that at least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year from plastic pollution
  • [turtles, seals and sea lions, seabirds, fish, and whales and dolphins are some of the marine animals most affected]

– onegreenplanet.org


  • According to the United Nations, at least 800 species worldwide are affected by marine debris, and as much as 80 percent of that litter is plastic.

– pewtrusts.org



  • Once a turtle had 14 plastic items in its gut, there was a 50% likelihood that it would die.
  • Globally it’s estimated that approximately 52% of all sea turtles have eaten plastic.

– wwf.org.au


How Plastic Affects The Ocean

We’ve listed the different ways above – large plastics and micro plastics affect the ocean, marine life, and marine eco systems.

Read more in these guides:


How Plastic Affects Humans & Human Health

There’s several key ways that plastics may have the potential to cause harm to human health (different sources and studies indicate differing levels of risk):

  • Via BPA leaching
  • Via Phthalates leaching
  • Via leaching of other chemicals 
  • Via the ingestion of micro plastics

Other issues may include the economic impact of plastic waste, and the issues to do with the disposal and waste management of plastic

Read more in this guide:


How Plastic Affects The Economy

Positive Impact

There’s a few different ways plastic positively affects the economy:

  • The value added by the plastic industry itself (production of plastic, employees at plastic production companies etc.)
  • Value added by plastic to other industries with the important tasks it allows us to perform. For example, packaging for the food and agricultural industries

Triplepundit.com outlines the value of the plastic packaging industry in the hundreds of billions in America, whilst Ptonline.com identifies that the estimated value of total plastic shipments in the US is over $500 billion, and plastics employ millions of people in America. 


Negative Impact

The main ways plastic negatively affects the economy are:

  • The cost to physically clean up plastic waste and pollution in the environment (such as in the ocean and in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch)
  • The cost of plastic to in terms of lost income to other industries (such as the tourism industry), and the cost of plastic in terms of lost economic value overall to various parts of society

The cost to clean up the ocean is roughly about $5 to gather a kilo of plastic (and it’s usually not profitable to re-use or dispose of this plastic afterwards), and some estimates put the cost of plastic pollution in just the ocean alone at around 2.5 trillion a year.

This is an interesting estimate given that ‘Of the 260 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the Ocean, according to a Greenpeace report … Seventy percent of the mass eventually sinks, damaging life on the seabed’ (plastic-pollution.org).

So, we’d have to ask what the cost of plastic might be that ends up on land and both in and out of landfills, recycling or incineration/waste to energy facilities.



1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/potentially-harmful-effects-of-plastic-on-the-environment-wildlife-humans-health-the-economy/

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/plastic-in-the-ocean-faq-guide/

3. https://www.ptonline.com/articles/lets-talk-about-the-economy

4. https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2016/new-plastics-economy-thriving-plastic-world/56486

5. http://plastic-pollution.org/

6. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Plastic Pollution”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’ [Online Resource]

7. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/09/24/plastic-pollution-affects-sea-life-throughout-the-ocean

8. https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-pollution-is-killing-sea-turtles-heres-how#gs.1cb4lv

9. http://oceancrusaders.org/plastic-crusades/plastic-statistics/

10. https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-in-our-oceans-is-killing-marine-mammals#gs.1cbbig

11. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/marine-animals-are-dying-because-of-our-plastic-trash/

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