You search Plastic waste statistics, facts, figures and studies? Then you've come to the right place. By 2050, there could be more plastic swimming in the ocean than fish. In Germany, we consume about 320,000 disposable coffee cups every hour. Frightening numbers, aren't they? That's why the results from plastic studies, as well as the statistics and facts about global plastic waste, are crucial to making people aware that we have a massive problem with our plastic waste. For the fact that it is not biodegradable, we simply make too much of it. Since we have not yet mastered the proper handling of the material, a significant portion of our Plastic waste in the environment.
In this article I would like to share with you the most important plastic waste facts, figures and statistics from scientific studies. From consumption data, to environmental impact figures, to alarming predictions for the future. Let's go!
Here is another short Table of contents about this statistics article:
Notice: Even though many of the facts mentioned are based on the underlying studies, you can find all the exact sources again in the bibliography. Please share this article if you use statistics and facts from it. You can use the address of this page or the following source citation. Thank you for your support!
Schulz, C.; CareElite.de (2019): Plastic waste statistics, facts, figures & studies 2018/2019. https://www.careelite.de/plastik-muell-fakten
Plastic waste consumption data
These facts about plastic waste consumption and the types of plastic waste should give you an idea about the consumption patterns of our (global) society within a few seconds:
How much plastic waste do we leave behind?
- In 2016, Germans generated around 38 kilograms of plastic packaging waste per capita. Only in Luxembourg (50.5), Ireland (46.2) and Estonia (42.2) is consumption in Europe even higher.₁
- On a global average, each person produces 0.74 kilograms of waste per day. The amount increases with increasing prosperity.₂
- A total of 11.8 million tons of plastic were consumed in Germany in 2016.₃
What plastic waste are we leaving behind?
- Every year, 2 billion plastic bags are consumed in Germany.₄ This corresponds to about 24 plastic bags per capita.₅
- The average usage time of a plastic bag in Germany is 25 minutes.₆
- In Germany, around 320,000 Coffee2Go cups are consumed every hour. That's nearly 3 billion disposable cups per year.₇
- Worldwide, about one million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute.₈
- Every year, around 36.4 billion single-use plastic straws are consumed worldwide.₉
- The fishing industry alone generates around 640,000 tons of plastic waste in the sea each year.₅₂
- 16 billion Coffee2Go cups are used worldwide per year.₁₀
How long do plastic goods last on average?
Different plastic products also have different average service lives. Here you can find the appropriate figures and statistics. This is how long the items from the respective area last on average:
- Packaging: 0.5 years
- Consumer goods: 3 years
- Textiles: 5 years
- Electronics: 8 years
- Transportation & Traffic: 13 years
- Industrial machinery: 20 years
- Construction sector: 35 years
Notice: These plastic statistics come from the 2019 Plastic Atlas₁₁, which is published by the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland.
Statistics on the production of plastic
Here you will find facts and figures on the production of plastics as well as on their recycling.
How much plastic is produced?
- In Germany, more than 14 million tons of plastic were produced in 2017.₁₂
- By 2015, more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste was generated globally.₁₃ Of this, about 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated, and 79 percent was landfilled or disposed of in the environment.₁₄
- More than half (56 percent) of the plastic ever produced worldwide has been produced since 2000.₁₅
- The production of Plastic required around 8 percent of global oil production in 2016.₁₆
- About 36 percent of global plastic production results in packaging material. 14 percent is used for textiles and about 16 percent for buildings and other construction.₁₇
- 1950 saw the launch of the first plastic product on the market. In that year, about 1.5 million tons of plastic were still produced globally.₁₈
- Today, 407 million tons of plastic are produced every year. Of this, 146 million tons is packaging material alone, most of which is used only once. 65 million tons are used in the construction sector, 47 million tons are used for textiles. Consumer goods account for 42 million tons and transport & traffic for 27 million tons. 18 million tons are used for electronics and 3 million tons for industrial machinery.₁₉
How much plastic waste is recycled, landfilled and shipped abroad?
- Of the 5.2 million tons of plastic waste generated in Germany in 2017, just 810,000 tons were recycled. This corresponds to a recycling rate of only 15.6 percent.₂₀
- Around 11 percent of German packaging waste was exported abroad in 2016.₂₁ In 2018, the figure was even just under 13 percent.₂₂ 740,606 metric tons went to the 14 largest waste recipients from Germany alone - 132,106 metric tons of which was shipped to Malaysia alone.₂₃
- Of the 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste generated globally in 2015, about 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated, and 79 percent was landfilled or disposed of in the environment.₂₄
- Top exporters of plastic waste in 2018 were the United States (16.2 percent), Japan (15.3), Germany (12.7) and the United Kingdom (9.5). The top importers of plastic waste during the same period were Malaysia (10.7 percent), Thailand (5.5), Vietnam (5.2) and the U.S. (4.2).₂₅
- The average, global recycling rate is 14 percent.₂₆
- In Europe, only about 7% of plastic bags are recycled on average.₂₇
Statistics on plastic waste in the environment/ocean
You have now learned the facts about plastic waste in countries. With the following facts, you will become aware of the impact of excessive plastic consumption on the environment:
How much plastic waste is in the environment?
- The total amount of plastic waste in the ocean is estimated at 86 million tons. Of this, only 0.5 percent is said to be floating on the ocean surface. 39 percent is said to be already suspended in the water column or in the depths of the open ocean. 33.7 percent is accounted for by coasts and the seabed, and 26.8 percent is said to be floating in coastal waters.₂₈
- Every year, around 10 million tons of waste end up in the sea. Around 75 percent of this is plastic.₂₉
- About 82 percent of the plastic waste in the sea comes from Asian countries such as Thailand, China, Indonesia, India or Vietnam.₃₀
How quickly do objects decompose into microplastics?
Among the most important plastic waste statistics is knowing how long plastic waste stays in the environment. A plastic bottle in the ocean takes at least 450 years to decompose. In the process, however, the plastic waste dissolves only into smaller, barely visible plastic particles. To find out how long it takes a tin can, a fishing line and many other things to decompose, take a look at this graphic from the Federal Environment Agency.₃₁
How many animals die from plastic waste?
Because plastic waste is not biodegradable, it causes massive damage to our natural world. Here are the relevant plastic waste statistics on the impact on wildlife:
- Every year, about 1,000,000 seabirds and 135,000 marine mammals die from contact with our plastic waste.₃₂
- The plastic waste in the ocean harms more than 600 marine creatures.₃₃
- At least 15 percent of all species are at risk from ingestion or strangulation in plastic items.₃₄
- A fulmar has an average of 34 plastic pieces in its stomach, weighing 0.31 grams.₃₅
What are the statistics on the major trash swirls?
Worldwide there are at least 5 huge Plastic waste swirl. The ocean currents make sure that the garbage from all parts of the earth collects and circulates there. Here you can find statistics about it:
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 1.6 million km² in size. For comparison: That is about 3x the area of France and 4.5x the area of Germany.₃₆
- There are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, weighing about 80,000 kg.₃₇
- Fishing nets left in the ocean account for 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.₅₃
- 92% of the 1.8 trillion plastic particles in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch originated from larger pieces of plastic in the ocean.₃₈
- On average, each person in the world has accounted for 250 pieces of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is the largest of the plastic waste whirlpools in our oceans.₃₉
Microplastic & Health Statistics
What consequences Plastic in our meals for our health is still largely unexplored.₄₀ What is clear, however, is that small microplastics have already led to inflammation, physiological disorders and higher mortality rates in marine animals.₄₁
Here you will find among other things facts about Microplastics in cosmetics and the plastic in our mineral water:
- More than every 3rd sunscreen tested contains Acrylates/ C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer (ACS).₄₂
- At least every 5th face cream tested contains Acrylates/ C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer (ACS).₄₃
- More than every 10th body scrub examined contains polyethylene (PE). But polyethylene is only part of the big microplastic problem.₄₄
- Researchers studied 38 different mineral waters and found microplastic particles in each.₄₅
- In addition, human stool samples were also examined. On average, 20 microplastics were found per 10 grams of stool.₄₆
Helpful studies with statistics about plastic waste
Here you will find an overview of the most important and significant studies that have been conducted in Germany and globally on the plastic waste problem:
- The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, ELLEN MACARTHUR FOUNDATION.
- The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM.
- MARINE PLASTIC DEBRIS AND MICROPLASTICS - Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change, UNEP, 2016.
- A EUROPEAN STRATEGY FOR PLASTICS IN A CIRCULAR ECONOMY, European Commission.
- SINGLE-USE PLASTICS - A Roadmap for Sustainability, UNEP, 2018.
- PLASTIKATLAS 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastics, Heinrich Böll Foundation and the German League for the Environment and Nature Conservation, 2nd edition, July 2019.
- Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic, Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F.. et al.
- Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, Science Advances, July 2017.
- SEAS AT RISK - for the protection and restoration of the marine environment, June 2017.
- Invisibles - The Plastic inside us, Tyree, C., Morrison, D., Orbmedia.
Notice: Take a look at the studies to find out even more accurate statistics, facts and figures about plastic waste. If you know of any other studies about plastic waste, feel free to comment below this post.
Plastic waste figures & forecasts for the future
Again and again we hear about scientific forecasts as a consequence of our plastic mania. Here I have recorded the estimates, which are of course to be taken with a grain of salt, but are by no means unrealistic:
- Researchers estimate that another 34 billion tons of plastic will be produced by 2050.₄₇
- If plastic consumption continues at the current rate, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. However, in making this projection, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation assumes that the fish population in 2050 will be as large as it is today. Due to human Overfishing of the seas is the point at which there is more plastic than fish swimming in the sea, so it can be expected even earlier.₄₈ See also Statistics on the overfishing of the seas.
- By 2050, at least 99 percent of all seabirds will have plastic in their stomachs.₄₉
- If plastic production continues unchecked, plastics alone will have generated around 56 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050. This means that between 10 and 13 percent of the remaining CO2 budget for the 1.5 degree target would be attributable to plastics.₅₀
- By 2050, the production of plastics could already require 20 percent of global oil production.₅₁
Conclusion on the plastic waste figures 2018/2019
Plastic has advantages - and Plastic has disadvantages. The plastic waste statistics, figures, data, facts of different studies reveal that we are facing an incredibly big task both in Germany and, of course, globally: We must change our behavior and learn to deal with plastic in such a way that no living being on this suffers as a result. Because plastic has become one of the biggest environmental problems of our time developed. Learn in the article about a possible plastic free lifehow you can really avoid plastic waste in your everyday life.
If we do nothing, we will only continue to saw the branch on which we are sitting. The plastic waste we dispose of in the environment ends up back on our plates. It is time to rethink. By informing yourself and others about important figures on plastic waste, you are already on the right track.
PS.: If you like, you can also use the 30 Days To Zero Waste Online Course online. I'll show you step by step how waste prevention works in everyday life.
If you use plastic waste statistics from this post, please credit the following source. Thank you for your support!
₁ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.13.
₂ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.33.
₃ German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU): BMU provides clarification on plastic recycling (26.11.2018). https://www.bmu.de/meldung/das-bmu-klaert-auf-zum-thema-plastikrecycling. [23.10.2019].
₄ Umweltbundesamt (2019): Plastic bags (as at: 12.06.2019). https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/umwelttipps-fuer-den-alltag/haushalt-wohnen/plastiktueten. [23.10.2019].
₅ Deutsche Umwelthilfe (2019): 3,700 plastic bags per minute: Deutsche Umwelthilfe supports ban demand by Development Minister Gerd Müller (as at: 17.05.2019). https://www.duh.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilung/3700-plastiktueten-pro-minute-deutsche-umwelthilfe-unterstuetzt-verbotsforderung-von-entwicklungsmin. [23.10.2019].
₆ Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V. (DUH, 2015): Einweg-Plastikkommt nicht in die Tüte! (As of: 25.04.2015). , http://www.duh.de/uploads/media/Einwegplastiktueten_Hintergrundpapier_2015_01.pdf.[23 OCT. 2019].
₇ Deutsche Umwelthilfe (2019): Problem Coffee Cup. https://www.duh.de/becherheld-problem. [23.10.2019].
₈,₁₄ National Geographic: 10 Scary Facts About Plastic. https://www.nationalgeographic.de/10-erschreckende-fakten-uber-plastik. [22.10.2019].
₉ Seas at Risk (2017): for the protection and restoration of the marine environment (as of June 2017). Brussels, p.4.
₁₀ Seas at Risk (2017): for the protection and restoration of the marine environment (as of June 2017). Brussels, p.7.
₁₁,₁₅,₁₉ BUND (2019): Plastikatlas 2019 - Daten und Fakten über eine Welt voller Kunststoff, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.15.
₁₂ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.11.
₁₃ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.8.
₁₆ The Guardian (2016): From oil use to ocean pollution: five facts about the plastics industry. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jan/20/from-oil-use-to-ocean-pollution-five-facts-about-the-plastics-industry. [22.10.2019].
₁₇ UNEP (2018): SINGLE-USE PLASTICS - A Roadmap for Sustainability, https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf, p.4.
₁₈ European Comission (2018): A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. PG. 6. https://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/plastics-strategy-brochure.pdf. [22.10.2019].
₂₀ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.9.
₂₁ P. Große (2018): What's happening to Germany's waste (as of 26 November 2018). https://www.dw.com/de/das-passiert-mit-dem-deutschen-müll/a-46458099. [22.10.2019].
₂₂,₂₆ BUND (2019): Plastikatlas 2019 - Daten und Fakten über eine Welt voller Kunststoff, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.36.
₂₃,₂₅ BUND (2019): Plastikatlas 2019 - Daten und Fakten über eine Welt voller Kunststoff, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.39.
₂₄ National Geographic: 10 Scary Facts About Plastic. https://www.nationalgeographic.de/10-erschreckende-fakten-uber-plastik. [22.10.2019].
₂₇ Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences: Facts and figures on plastic bags. (As of May 30, 2016). https://designoekologie.com/2016/05/30/7504. [23.10.2019].
₂₈ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.29.
₂₉,₃₂ NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V.: Plastikmüll und seine Folgen. https://www.nabu.de/natur-und-landschaft/meere/muellkippe-meer/muellkippemeer.html. [22.10.2019].
₃₀ Ellen MacArthur Foundation: The New Plastics Economy - Rethinking the Future of Plastics & Catalysing Action, January 2016, p.32.
₃₁ Federal Environment Agency (2016): UBA Infographic. https://twitter.com/umweltbundesamt/status/710842494473392128. [23-10.2019].
₃₃,₃₄ UNEP (2018): SINGLE-USE PLASTICS - A Roadmap for Sustainability, https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf, p.13.
₃₅ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.28.
₃₆,₃₇,₃₈,₃₉ The Ocean Cleanup (2018): The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Explained. YouTube, Mar. 22, 2018, web, Oct. 22, 2019 at 2:10 p.m., in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EyaTqezSzs.
₄₀ Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - German GFZ: Microplastics could start at the base of the food chain. https://www.eskp.de/schadstoffe/mikroplastik-koennte-an-der-basis-der-nahrungskette-ansetzen. [22.10.2019].
₄₁ Bayerisches Landesamt für Umwelt (2014): Mikroplastik in der Umwelt, Statuskolloquium, 03.07.2014, p.17.
₄₂,₄₃,₄₄ CodeCheck (2016): Mikroplastik-Studie 2016 - CodeCheck study on microplastics in cosmetics, Germany, 2016.
₄₅ Münsterland-Emscher-Lippe Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office: Investigation of microplastics in food and cosmetics (as of 15.01.2018). https://www.cvua-mel.de/index.php/aktuell/138-untersuchung-von-mikroplastik-in-lebensmitteln-und-kosmetika. [23.10.2019].
₄₆ Tyree, C., Morrison, D.; Orbmedia: Invisibles - The Plastic inside us. https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics.[23 Oct. 2019].
₄₈ Westdeutscher Rundfunk Cologne: Will there really soon be more plastic than fish in the sea? (As of Mar. 13, 2019). https://www.quarks.de/umwelt/muell/plastikmuell-mehr-plastik-als-fisch-im-meer. [23.10.2019].
₄₉ UNEP (2018): SINGLE-USE PLASTICS - A Roadmap for Sustainability, https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf, p.13.
₅₀ BUND (2019): Plastic Atlas 2019 - Facts and figures about a world full of plastic, 2nd edition, July 2019, p.9.
₅₁ The Guardian (2016): From oil use to ocean pollution: five facts about the plastics industry. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jan/20/from-oil-use-to-ocean-pollution-five-facts-about-the-plastics-industry. [22.10.2019].
₅₂ Bayerischer Rundfunk: Fishing causes 640,000 tons of plastic waste in the sea every year (as of 07.11.2019), https://t1p.de/b9nv. [23.04.2021].
₅₃ Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F.. et al. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Sci Rep 8, 4666 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w.