Petroleum-based plastics pollute the Earth on a massive scale.

Problems with Plastic

Conventional plastics are manufactured from 20 different petroleum-based resins with 20 different levels of recyclability and toxicity. When discarded, plastic products can only be recycled if they are first sorted by resin type. This sorting is an imperfect and labor-intensive process that results in an average plastic recycling rate at U.S. municipal solid waste facilities of only 8%. The remainder of discarded plastic – nearly 30 million tons each year – is sent to landfills and incinerators.1

Plastics do not disappear from our environment when they are sent to landfills and incinerators. Debris escapes from landfills. Smoke and ash escape from incinerators. The resulting pollution and toxins that plastics contribute to our environment by way of landfills and incinerators then combine with the pollution and toxins that plastics contribute directly by way of litter. A 2009 study by Keep America Beautiful, Inc. found that 19.3% of roadside waste was plastic, resulting in an average of 1,300 pieces of plastic litter beside every mile of roadway throughout the United States.2

Plastic litter does not wait patiently on roadsides either. Plastic is uniquely able to travel on currents of air and water for thousands of miles and generally ends these journeys as ocean pollution. The vast majority of the ocean’s litter begins on land (80%). Moreover, the vast majority of the ocean’s litter is plastic (also 80%), and half of that plastic floats.3

Please explore the links above to learn more about these issues.


Polystyrene is a type of plastic manufactured from non-renewable fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals into two main forms:

  1. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, which is typically used for cheap, disposable food ware (cups, plates, ‘clamshells’, etc.) and for packaging to protect goods during shipment.
  2. Solid polystyrene, which is often used for a variety of things including disposable cutlery, plastic models, CD and DVD cases, and smoke detector housings.
There is a growing movement to ban polystyrene, focusing on EPS (often called Styrofoam).  For more information on the issues surround EPS, visit the link above: "Styrofoam: A Special Case".

Page Notes

  1. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010; United States Environmental Protection Agency; December 2011.
  2. Litter in America: 2009 National Research Findings and Recommendations; P. Wesley Schultz and Steven R. Stein; Keep America Beautiful, Inc.;; December 2009.
  3. Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans; Michelle Allsopp, Adam Walters, David Santillo, and Paul Johnston; Greenpeace;; November 2, 2006.