This section provides facts and figures, which can be used to build your case. The following list was included in the 2019 Surfrider Foundation’s Plastic Bag Law Activist Toolkit for U.S. Cities & States, which was written and compiled by Jennie Romer, Esq., Founder of PlasticBagLaws.org, in partnership with Surfrider Foundation. Many of the examples listed below are pulled from Surfrider’s Beachapedia page,  which provides updated pollution facts and figures with footnotes

Plastic in the

  • Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide.
  • An estimated 5-13 million tons of plastic enter our oceans each year from land-based sources.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break up into small particles that persist in the ocean, adsorb toxins, and enter the food chain through fish, seabirds and other marine life.
  • Studies have shown that most bioplastic products persist in the marine environment just like their petroleum-based plastic counterparts.
  • Therefore, the same argument made for restricting traditional single-use plastic products should apply to bioplastic products.
  • The most commonly used plastics, when exposed to the elements, releases methane and ethylene—two powerful greenhouse gases that can exacerbate climate change.

Plastic and Health

Harms to Marine Life

  • Impacts of marine debris have been reported for 663 marine wildlife species and the majority of encounters reported were with plastic debris.
  • Plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish, are the most commonly found synthetic item in sea turtles’ stomachs, and 34% of dead leatherback sea turtles were found to have ingested plastic.
  • Researchers found that 80% of seabird species that spend most of their time at sea (of the order Procellariformes), which include petrels, albatrosses, and shearwaters, have plastic in their stomachs.
  • Recent studies estimate that fish off the West Coast ingest over 12,000 tons of plastic a year.

Production of Plastic

  • Globally we’ve produced an estimated 3 billion metric tons of plastic as of mid-2017.
  • Globally we’ve generated an estimated 6,300 metric tons of plastic waste as of 2015 and it’s estimated that only 9% of the plastic waste generated globally has been recycled.
  • In 2015, about 730,000 tons of high density poly-ethylene (HDPE) plastic “bags, sacks and wraps” of waste were generated in the United States, but only 5.5% of this total was recycled.
  • Traditionally made from petroleum byproducts, plastic in the United States is now most commonly sourced from the nation’s production of natural gas.

Land-Based Plastic Pollution & Economic Damage Caused By Plastic

  • Plastic bag litter can pose a potentially lethal threat to grazing cattle, because ingested plastic bags have been known to block all liquid to the rumen. If a cow is known to ingest a plastic bag a rancher might slaughter the animal early or risk its developing septicemia, which renders the carcass valueless to the rancher.
  • Plastic bags mistakenly disposed of in curbside recycling bins end up clogging recycling machinery, costing municipal recycling processors money.
  • Cleanup of plastic bags is costly. According to one study, West Coast communities are spending more than $520,000,000 – over one half billion dollars – each year to combat litter and curtail marine debris.
  • Plastic bag litter harms the economic value of the cotton crop, by sticking to cotton bolls, causing contamination that can be traced back to individual cotton farmers and deducted from their profits.

Plastics on Your Plate

  • UC Davis researchers found plastic and fibrous debris in 25% of individual fish and in 67% of all species of the fish sold in California markets.
  • Researchers who analyzed sea salt sold in China found between 550 and 681 microplastic particles per kilogram of sea salt.

Microplastics are Everywhere

  • With the exception of the small percentage of plastics that are incinerated, all of the 7800 metric tons of plastic resins and fibers produced over the last 65 years have or will become microplastics.
  • Each year the US emits enough microbeads to wrap around the world 7x
  • Countless billions of nurdles/pellets are used each year to make nearly all our plastic products but many end up washing up on our shores.
  • Microfibers are one of the most common microplastic pollutants along shorelines, in surface waters along the coast and in the open ocean globally.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING STATISTICS SHOULD NOT BE QUOTED: These statistics were debunked and have been referenced in lawsuits by the plastics industry to show that environmentalists were not using well-vetted facts. There are plenty of good statistics supporting plastic bag laws, so debunked statistics like these should never be quoted.

“100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.” Or “According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals annually, as well as millions of birds and fishes.” This is the most commonly cited inaccurate claim.

“[This] figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating island of trash twice the size of Texas.” This claim was challenged by a University of Oregon professor and has been raised in lawsuits by plastics industry groups against plastic bag laws.

Plastic in the ocean should be more accurately described as smog. Explanation by 5Gyres:

“No, the plastic island in the North Pacific Gyre doesn’t actually exist. . . . This myth actually perpetuates the plastic pollution problem, positioning it as something that we can sweep up and “away,” while continuing to use plastic without consequence. There are concentrations of plastic in the gyres, but the material is constantly in the process of breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, which permeate all waters. In the ocean, plastic is less like an island, and more like smog.

Note: Additional facts and figures will be added to this page on a quarterly basis.