Plastic pollution

And why it’s a problem


Plastic pollution has quickly become one of the biggest environmental challenges facing us today. We once thought of our deepest oceans, our highest mountains and our planetary poles as the final frontiers; unexplored, unknown, and in some places, unreachable. Research has shown this is no longer the case – we’re living in the age of plastic pollution, where even the Antarctic is floating in an invisible plastic soup. These are sad times for our big blue planet.

So how on earth did we get here and what do we need to do to turn off the tap? And how does the production of plastic connect with the other huge threat to our planet – the climate crisis? We’ve delved deep into some of the wider issues around plastic and brought back some plastic-free pearls for you to digest. Read on to discover what we’ve learned…

Why recycling doesn’t cut it

Bioplastics, not fantastic

Plastic and the climate crisis

Plastic in the ocean

The worst offenders

It’s a really big problem

Globally we’ve already created over 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic. That’s a LOT. Think of the biggest animal in the world – the Blue Whale. A Blue Whale grows up 173 tonnes. So, we’ve produced the same amount of plastic as roughly 50 million Blue Whales.

Let that sink in for a second … Now add to that the fact that plastic production is expected to double over the next 20 years, and nearly quadruple by 2050. Enough already. It’s time to turn off the tap. And that’s where we (and you) come in!


Lightweight, cheap to produce and virtually indestructible, plastic has been seen as a miracle material across countless industries. The big problem though, and the one we’re tackling, is single-use plastic. The stuff you use once and throw away – the stuff we’ve only recently become addicted to, but which now covers our beaches, rivers and floods our oceans. It’s the everyday items we use at home, in the city – but that end up in the sea.  

Single-use plastics are reported to make up around half of all global plastic production and in 2018 ‘single-use’ was crowned as word of the year by Collins Dictionary showing the level at which they’ve crept into our lives. Thanks to the tireless work of lots of NGOs, great media attention and programmes like Blue Planet with the legend that is David Attenborough, public awareness and concern have never been so high.  


So, when it comes to tackling single-use plastics where do I start? 

Well, we thought it made sense to start with the ones that are ending up on our beaches, in our rivers and oceans to find a way to stop them from getting there in the first place. That’s how our first campaigns, Refill and #SwitchTheStick started life – after our founder kept finding plastic bottles and cotton bud sticks on beach cleans and came up with a cunning plan to stop them ending up there. It’s this beach and river clean data that shapes our campaigns and challenges us to come up with creative and practical ways of tackling these items

Recycling old myths

For decades now weve been told that it’s all fine – just use whatever you want and put it out in your recycling. It will disappear and get magically turned into something new. Unfortunately – as we’re all starting to realise  we can’t recycle our way out of our plastic pollution nightmareOne study found that only 9of all plastic produced has ever been recycledThat means a MASSIVE 91%of all the plastic, ever made is now in landfill, has been incinerated, or made its way into the natural environmentYep, we were shocked too! 

At the moment, the UK’s official plastic recycling rate is just 45and the EU’s 2020 recycling target is just 50%. Pretty low right? We can definitely do better. It’s time we bust the old recycling myths and get talking about how to reduce plastic pollution at source.  

Are Bioplastics the answer?

Compostable bioplastics are another invention that has been touted as the solution to our single-use, throw-away lifestyle – allowing us to enjoy our takeaway coffees guilt-free. Turns out, it’s more than likely they’re a load of rubbish. 

Most bioplastics can’t be put in your home composted; they can’t be put in your plastic recycling boxes and they don’t break down in the natural environment. This means they might actually be contributing to – not helping – the plastic pollution crisis we’re facing.  


Ocean plastic pollution isn’t the only problem with plastics – theyre also a major contributor to the climate crisis. It’s thought that 4–8% of the world’s oil production is used to make plastics. and experts reckon that plastic production will account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if consumption trends continue. It’s time to bring this trend to an end, friend. 


Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering our oceans every year – that’s a whole rubbish truck full every minute. From plankton to pilot whales, algae to albatross – no ocean life remains free from the effects of this plastic waste. It’s estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by plastic pollution annually. We don’t think this is ok.

It was actually the plight of the albatross which inspired our founder Natalie Fee to set up City to Sea back in 2015. She wasn’t ok with the problem either, so decided to do something to try to make it stop. But now it’s bigger than plastic pollution. The emissions from the plastics industry are also having a devastating impact on our oceans. According to the UN, climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it’s threatening the very existence of coral reefs, fuelling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts.

Donate and help make this a thing of the past

Help us turn the tide on plastic in our oceans by donating to fund our vital campaigning work. Every penny donated goes directly into powering our campaigns.  

See how we’re campaigning to make a difference

From reducing single-use plastic bottles with Refill and the rise of reusables inside and outside of the home! See what you can do to reduce this in your lives.

Think before you flush

Wet wipes, menstrual products, cotton buds and dental floss are casually flushed down the UK‘s loos. They block sewers, pollute rivers and litter our coastlines. Our Unflushables campaign re-educates and encourages people to stop using toilets for plastic waste disposal. 

Switch the Stick

Millions of cotton buds get flushed down UK loos, slipping through sewage filters to pollute the sea. In 2016 we petitioned UK retailers to switch to cotton bud sticks made of biodegradable paper rather than plastic. Major names like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Lidl and Boots all pledged to #SwitchtheStick.

Putting a tax on plastic

Remember when you got a plastic carrier bag every time you went to the supermarket? Now, thanks to a simple 5p charge, carrier bag usage has fallen by 80%. We are lobbying the government to introduce a similar charge on throwaway items like straws, takeaway boxes and coffee cups.

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