Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution Countdown to April 22


David Ayer and Valeria Merino

Plastic pollution is a pervasive problem that has negative impacts felt around the globe.

In addition to the deleterious effects on marine life, the decreased cleanliness of our living environment, and contribution to climate change, the production, use, and disposal of plastics is now impacting our water systems.

One of the more recent developments in the understanding of the problem of plastic pollution is the existence of microplastics.

These tiny plastic particles are either produced intentionally for use in other consumer products or are created when larger plastic debris is broken down by erosion and sunlight into increasingly smaller pieces.

One of the most pervasive forms of microplastic is known as microfiber: small strands of plastic used to produce synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon.

When clothing made from these fabrics is washed, some of the microscopic fibers are shed. A recent inquiry into the phenomenon revealed that as many as 250 thousand fibers can be released within a single wash.

So what do all these microplastics do? Their impact comes from their size and their resulting ability to evade most filters and even enter the bloodstreams of organisms by which they are consumed.

Recent studies into water contamination have found microplastics in 83% of tap water samples from major cities around the world and in 93% of samples from the world’s top 11 bottled water brands.


It is inherently difficult to establish a definitive causal link between a contaminant and the potential health impacts of exposure; to do so would require intentionally exposing humans to potentially harmful chemicals and observing the response.

However, we can and have shown that there is an observable correlation between the presence of plastic substances in the blood (specifically BPA and phthalates) and higher rates of certain health issues.

Some of these health issues include chromosomal and reproductive abnormalities, early puberty, childhood obesity, and increased blood pressure.

The result of this lack of hard causal evidence is part of the reason there remains no FDA regulation setting a limit of microplastic contamination in bottled water.

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The lack of government and policy action in this realm is frankly appalling. We have shown that our drinking water supply is heavily contaminated with microplastics.

We have shown that those who have been exposed to certain forms of plastic contamination have a higher likelihood of developing certain serious health issues.

We have even shown that these plastic chemicals directly cause these health impacts in lab animals. Given all this circumstantial evidence, the lack of proof for direct causation seems to be a pretty week argument for delaying regulation.

Certain countries, especially in Europe, have banned the use of certain plastics in packaging that comes in contact with food and drink, so why have so few other governments taken the step?

Policies have been created to reduce the distribution and consumption of several single-use plastics, so why haven’t policies been passed to call for stronger water treatment systems that ensure fewer particles of microplastic make it into our drinking water?

Why hasn’t more effort been put into removing existing microplastics from the streams and waterways that supply our water? People should know the potential risks their drinking water poses to them and governments, national and local, must do more to come up with solutions.


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From the perspective of improving the quality of our drinking water, we need to focus on three things: prevention – limiting the amount of plastic that reaches any body of water;  innovation – finding new ways to remove plastic that is already in our waterways and water supply; and activism – making citizens part of the solution by building a culture in which people actively think about and participate in reducing plastic consumption and contamination.

Microplastics in our water is a compelling problem and while systemic solutions are being developed, here are a few things we can do to reduce our own contribution to the problem of microplastic contamination of drinking water and to limit the risk of plastic related health issues:

  • Prevent the creation of microplastics by properly disposing of plastic products and being careful not to toss plastic products near waterways, beaches or in open spaces.
  • Pick up trash -especially plastics- whenever you see it, especially in ponds, streams, rivers, and beaches whenever possible.
  • Participate in organized clean-up activities as much as you can.
  • Look up products on the Internet and choose not to buy products containing microbeads. Choose products that have natural exfoliators instead.
  • Consider changing the way you wash your clothing to reduce the number of microfibers that are released:
    • Wash synthetic clothes less frequently;
    • Use front loading washing machines as they produce fewer fibers than top loading washing machines;
    • Consider using a fiber filter whenever you wash synthetic clothes;
    • Consider switching to liquid laundry soap. Powder soaps loosen more microfibers;
    • There are also bags and other devices you can use in your washing machine to collect the fibers;
    • Do not wash lint from your dryer down the drain. Dispose of it in the trash.
  • Consider purchasing items made of natural fibers, when possible.
  • Avoid consuming bottled water, which is also a way to reduce your consumption of single-use
  • Look for a filter that you can use at home that can eliminate all microfibers and other microplastics from your drinking water.

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Fact Sheet: Single-Use Plastics

The billions upon billions of items of plastic waste choking our oceans, lakes, and rivers and piling up on land is more than unsightly and harmful to plants and wildlife.

Plastic pollution is very real and single-use plastics are small but have a large impact.

The following 10 facts shed light on how single-use plastic is a large problem that most people are a part of.  To learn more about the threat and impact of plastic pollution and get tips to reduce your plastic consumption, download our Plastic Pollution Primer and Toolkit today!

FACT #1 In 2016, world plastics production totaled around 335 million metric tons.[1] Roughly half of annual plastic production is destined for a single-use product.[2]
FACT #2 Humans buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total.[3] Only about 23% of plastic bottles are recycled within the U.S.[4]
FACT #3 Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S.! That means by using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.[5]
FACT #4 It is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling.[6] Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That’s about 307 bags per person! All that waste can be eliminated by switching to reusable shopping bags.[7]
FACT #5 Half a million straws are used in the world every day.[8]  Refusing straws is becoming a trending practice!
FACT #6 500 billion disposable cups are consumed every year.[9] Americans alone throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups every year. Styrofoam cannot be completely recycled. Most of the Styrofoam disposed of today will still be present in landfills 500 years from now.[10]
FACT #8 The main cause for the increase in plastic production is plastic packaging. Plastic packaging was 42% of all non-fiber plastic produced in 2015, and it also made up 52% of plastics thrown away.1
FACT #9 Single-use-plastics frequently do not make it to a landfill or are recycled.[11] A full 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans; the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute. This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. By 2050, this could mean there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.[12] Choosing to buy products with less packaging or no packaging altogether makes a big difference.
FACT #10 Even when single-use plastics are sent to landfills (there are 3,091 active landfills in the U.S. alone), they aren’t harmless. Landfill liners can leak harmful pollutants into the watershed and plastics on the tops of landfills can be carried away by the wind.[13] The best way to curb single-use plastic pollution is to reduce your personal plastic consumption!3
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[11] Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Tookit, Earth Day Network, 2018





by Meryl M