Plastic pollution

Other Names:
Non-biodegradable plastic waste
Abuse of single-use plastics
Overconsumption of disposable plastic products
Discarded oil-based plastics
Non-recyclable plastic packaging
Unrecycled throw-away plastic products

Plastic wastes present formidable problems as they are at present not biodegradable, are bulky and can resist incineration. Incineration in fact may not be possible due to production of noxious or toxic fumes. Inadequate levels of recycling aggravate the waste problem. In addition, plastic waste is a major loss of an important commodity.


Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, a third of which is leaked into nature.

In 2013, the world produced 299 million metric tons of plastic.  By 2020, annual production was more like 400 million metric tons of plastic, with roughly 40 percent of it being disposable – used once and then chucked. Every year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans and waterways where it poisons, maims, strangles and chokes a wide variety of marine life.

In 2017, the world consumed more than 1 million plastic water bottles per minute or roughly 20,000 per second.  In India, companies such as Coca Cola and Pepsi have captured major market shares, but have not taken any interest in ensuring the plastic bottles (made of PET) are recycled (the old glass bottles were reused.)  PET scrap is not worth enough to ensure recovery because the two PET recyclers are importing subsidized scrap from Europe and the USA. As a result, plastic bottles and thin-film bags are littered everywhere in India, blighting heritage areas, blocking drains and killing cows. Laws requiring use of virgin materials and thicker bags have not solved the problem.

In Somalia, nylon bags discarded by purchasers of Qat (the narcotic-like green leaf which most Somali males buy and chew) cause severe problems for native vegetation. The bags become wrapped in their branches and around their roots. The plants cannot get adequate air and water to sustain themselves and many die.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
28.07.2021 – 06:46 CEST