Plastic & Trash Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind

By now, most people know that trash and plastic are bad for the environment. Our household waste is mostly plastic, and it’s choking the planet like a fishbone in your throat.

What some people may fail to recognise is the sheer magnitude of the trash epidemic and the enormity of what modern plastics are doing to the environment.

Hold onto your hat as we take a look at some statistics that are sure to blow your mind, and hopefully inspire you to take action to reduce your consumption of single-use plastics and unnecessary packaging.

Plastic Bags

  • Globally, approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags are used in the retail sector – That equates to around 150 bags every year for every single human on the globe. If you joined all those plastic bags together, it would go around the globe 4200 times.
  • If you were shopping weekly for your family, it would take just 1 month to amass about 60 plastic bags.
  • Plastic bags do not break down completely. They break up into smaller and smaller pieces, which are eaten by sea creatures and leach chemicals into the ocean.

Wildlife & Oceans

  • 100,000 marine animals die every year from being entangled in plastic bags. Keep in mind that this is the number of deceased animals that are found and recorded. It doesn’t take into account the ones that aren’t found or decompose before they’re recorded.
  • Picture a line of garbage trucks filled to the brim with trash, all in a row, end to end stretching for 3200 kilometres. That’s the equivalent amount of trash that ends up in our oceans every year. 6.4 MILLION tonnes of garbage every year end up in our oceans.
  • Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic. They choke, suffocate or become entangled and starve.
  • One plastic bag can become a serial killer, taking the lives of several creatures before breaking down into smaller pieces. The plastic bag’s first victim will die and decompose, and the plastic bag is then free to float off and find another victim.
  • Huge amounts of fish are suffering from ingesting plastic; approx. two-thirds of all fish have plastic in their stomachs. That plastic leaches chemicals into the fish which will likely end up on someone’s dinner plate at some point.
  • There are 200 known areas that scientists have declared as “dead zones.” This is because the amount of marine pollution and toxicity means that no organisms can grow there.

Bottled Water

There are over 1 billion people in the world that don’t have regular access to clean running water. What’s mind-boggling is that the countries that have access to clean tap water are the ones that consume the most bottled water. It’s actually bonkers. Here are some stats on how bottled water is impacting our environment.

  • Plastic water bottles can take up to 450 years to biodegrade.
  • Tap water costs around $3 per 1000 litres. Bottled water costs approx. $3 for just one litre.
  • Australia only recycles 36% of PET plastic drink bottles. Australia’s use of bottled water each year results in more than 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Some brands of bottled water in Australia are more expensive than petrol.
  • Aussies spend more than half a billion dollars on bottled water every year. Based on the amounts that Australians buy, and the number of bottles that end up being recycled, 373 million plastic bottles will end up as trash in landfills or the ocean every year.
  • About 52 million litres of oil were used to produce the PET bottles that Australians consumed in 2009-2010. This doesn’t even take into consideration the petrol, fossil fuels, and the gas emissions used to transport and refrigerate it.
  • Statista reports that 12.8 billion gallons of bottled water were purchased in the U.S. in 2016. Compare that to the 10.87 billion gallons were purchased in 2014 and the 8.76 billion bought in 2010… The problem is getting worse.

The solution for those countries that have access to clean running water straight out of the tap? It’s not rocket science. For the cost of a few bottles of water, you can purchase a reusable drink bottle that you can safely refill. Choose a glass or stainless steel bottle that you can take with you to work, school, or the gym. In the current environmental climate, there is no reason for first world countries to be buying bottled water.

Global Responsibility

When things are going sideways, it’s easy to point the finger at certain countries and blame each other. The fact is that some countries are responsible for more mismanaged waste than others. But nothing will be achieved by playing the blame game. As individuals, we can only control what we do, and how we respond to the trash and plastic epidemic. And the countries that are doing better than others should continue to lead by example.

This graph shows the annual output of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean.

Figure 1- Image Sources from

Living in the Land Down Under, it’s easy to look at this graph and think, “Phew! Not my problem!” Australia didn’t even make the list! But before you start high fiving each other, check this out.

  • Only 10% of Aussies take their plastic bags to be recycled.
  • The Australian Government spends over $4 million bucks every year cleaning up plastic bags and other trash that has been dumped in public areas.
  • Aussie’s dump approx. 36,700 tonnes of plastic bags into landfills every year. If you break that down, that’s 230,000 plastic bags going into Australian landfills every HOUR.

The stark reality is that we are all collectively responsible for the current state of the environment. Each person has the ability to make good choices. Those good choices will result in small changes. And together, those small changes made by millions of individuals can result in a real environmental transformation.

After the doom and gloom of the statistics above, have a quick look at this more positive data. Thankfully the world is slowly starting to wake up and take a stance on the plastic trash crisis. This is the information we should be focusing on to inspire us all and keep up the momentum.

National Geographic reported:

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced plans to ban single-use plastics by 2021. This is likely to include plastic straws, stir sticks, plastic cups, and plates.
  • In 2018 India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Midi said that India will get rid of all single-use plastics by 2022. India is the world’s second most populated country, so this type of commitment should make a real impact.
  • Peru’s government has passed a law that will see single-use plastic bags phased out in the next three years.
  • San Diego has also jumped on board, banning all Styrofoam food and drink containers.

The problem that we’ve all created through consumerism and convenience has caused so much damage. But all is not lost. There is a way to come back from this or at least slow the rate of the damage. It won’t be easy, and there is no quick fix. It will take the commitment of governments to implement real change to manufacturing and industry, and enforcing real consequences for those that don’t comply. From the government all the way down to the individual; remember to take your reusable water bottles and shopping bags wherever we go.