Plastics

Overview

plastic on a beach Greg Armfield WW275057

Every day, plastic waste flows into nature at an unprecedented rate—more than a dump truck load every minute into our oceans alone. And it’s choking our planet, polluting the air, water, and soil both people and nature need to survive.  

As this crisis spreads to every corner of the globe, WWF is leading the charge to help reimagine how we reduce, source, design, and reuse the plastic materials that communities depend upon. This includes eliminating the single-use plastic that we don’t need, shifting to sustainable sources for the plastic that we do need, and improving our material system to collect, reuse, recycle, and compost all plastic that we use. Because while plastic can help make our hospitals safer, our food last longer, and our packages more efficient to ship, it has no place in nature.  

WWF is fighting for a world with no plastic in nature, and we’re not alone in this fight. We are witnessing a groundswell of support from the American public and business in reducing plastic pollution. A majority of Americans—85%—think that plastic waste pollution is a serious problem that requires immediate political action to solve. Major companies are also supporting collaborative efforts to address plastic pollution. 

Together, we can create a world where our oceans teem with life, not discarded nets, bottles, and bags. Where no communities breathe harmful pollutants from plastic production or burning. Where we are better stewards of the earth and move away from single-use plastics, and where every indispensable plastic product is used to make another. 

It’s a world where people and nature thrive together.

Ending plastic pollution

We spoke with WWF activists from across the US who are advocating for practical solutions to the plastic pollution crisis about what motivates them to build a world with no plastics in nature.

Thousands of pieces of colorful plastic float in the ocean

Why It Matters

  • The Cost of the Broken Plastic System

    Plastic production has more than doubled in the past 20 years. In the US alone, it is estimated that the annual volume of plastic waste produced is over 42 million metric tons—only 8.7% of which is recycled. Landfilled plastics result in significant losses to the US economy: an estimated average of $7 billion in market value in 2019. Our current waste management system and recycling infrastructure cannot properly manage the volume of virgin plastic. To solve this, we are going to need everyone—policymakers, industry leaders, consumers, and others—to do their part to reduce unnecessary plastic and reuse the plastics we discard. 

  • “One Planet” approach is critical

    Tackling the plastic pollution crisis shouldn’t come at an environmental cost and any solution we take to reduce plastic waste must take a “One Planet” approach. That means ensuring that plastic reduction strategies consider the impacts on the planet as a whole and don’t lead to unintended consequences for other critical environmental efforts.

  • Impact on wildlife

    While researchers are only just beginning to understand the scope and scale of plastic’s impact on wildlife, we know that at least 2,144 species so far have been found to encounter plastic pollution in their natural habitats. It is estimated that up to 90% of seabirds and 52% of sea turtles have mistakenly eaten plastic.

    In addition to ingestion, entanglement and habitat loss are two other significant outcomes threatening wildlife.

  • Impact on People

    Plastic pollution impacts people and their communities. Without global regulation and standards, communities in low- and middle-income countries are being exposed to the most harmful effects of plastic production and pollution, including air pollution, increased risk of flooding, disease, threats to livelihoods, and unsafe working conditions. And in the US, we generate the most plastic waste in the world, recycling only 9% while 70% ends up in a landfill. Plastic waste is polluting American rivers, coastlines, landscapes, and communities.

  • A global treaty will be a turning point

    A majority of Americans (82%) feel positive about a new global agreement to stop plastic pollution. They see the trash in their parks, waterways, and neighborhoods. They want the government to lead in addressing plastic pollution at home and abroad.

    The good news is that in March 2022, the United Nations Environmental Assembly agreed to negotiate a global treaty to end plastic pollution by 2025 and the US government has an important seat at the table. WWF urges all world leaders to act strongly and decisively in developing an effective agreement—one that is both ambitious and fair.

What WWF Is Doing

collecting plastic WW170012

At WWF, our vision is for No Plastic in Nature by 2030. This means being better stewards of the Earth, and that starts by taking less and being smarter about the resources that we do take. This future is not only possible but required for the health of our planet. Our global initiative takes a holistic approach to enable action, engaging our networks of activists, policymakers, industry leaders, and other collaborators and rights holders in ways that transform the world’s plastic systems.

MOMENTUM CONTINUES FOR A GLOBAL PLASTICS TREATY

WWF will be advocating for a robust and legally binding global treaty on plastic pollution by 2025 to ensure that nations address the crisis of plastic waste before it's too late. Ending plastic pollution is within our grasp, but only if we can match the level of ambition that we know is necessary to deliver on this once in a generation opportunity.  

Aligning on plastic policy

To address the plastic pollution crisis at the scope and scale necessary, we need to target the root of the issue: a broken system. Achieving broader goals will require advancing smart plastic policy that drives holistic system change and enables the frameworks for success. WWF is advocating for government action at every level to address plastic pollution:

Executive action: WWF is calling for federal agencies to use all existing authorities to reduce plastic waste and in 2024, led a letter from a coalition of non-governmental organizations to President Biden calling on him to take executive action to advance a whole-of-government approach to the problem.

Congressional action: WWF is advocating for bipartisan legislative solutions and increased federal funding to address plastic pollution, including for reduced reliance on single-use plastics as well as Extended Producer Responsibility measures to ensure that companies creating plastic waste are responsible for reducing their plastic footprint.

State-level action: WWF is engaging in priority states to help advance legislation that would reduce plastic waste and supporting strong implementation of existing laws that were passed in Colorado and California.

Global action: WWF is advocating for the negotiation of a legally binding global treaty on plastic pollution that is bold, ambitious, and effective. Such a treaty must embed specific and unambiguous rules at every point in the plastic life-cycle, as well as target all high-risk plastic products, like single-use plastic, lost or discarded fishing gear (known as “ghost gear”), and microplastics. Throughout the treaty’s negotiation process, which is set to conclude in 2025, WWF will be on the ground for the major treaty milestones and rally other partners and collaborators around our calls for a lasting solution.

Stopping Ghost gear

Underwater view of abandoned fishing nets caught on a coral reef

A major threat to marine biodiversity, abandoned fishing gear, or ghost gear, is estimated to comprise up to 10% of plastic waste in our oceans, by volume. While this may seem like a small number, ghost gear is the most harmful form of plastic pollution to marine species. Ghost gear continues to capture wildlife well after it’s abandoned, pollute habitats, and enters the food web as it degrades. Ghost gear impacts 45% of all marine mammals on the Red List of Threatened Species.

ENCOURAGING AMBITIOUS CORPORATE ACTION

Major companies support collaborative efforts to address plastic pollution. These industry leaders are also calling for federal government action to enact policies that incentivize good behavior and level the playing field for companies that want to do more to address this problem. 

Large-scale corporate action is a necessary lever for change, and WWF is tapping into this potential by helping the world’s biggest companies make impact within and beyond their supply chains.

WWF’s flagship program, ReSource: Plastic, is helping companies translate their large-scale commitments into meaningful, measurable impact through an innovative framework that brings transparency and collaboration to the forefront of corporate action.

Through Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), we are advancing thought leadership on responsibly sourced bio-based plastic, so companies are equipped with the best science and sourcing practices as they shift to sustainable inputs for their new plastic needs.

We are mobilizing companies to support the policy solutions that will unlock circularity on the global stage through the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, and in the US with OneSource Coalition.

WWF has also compiled years of work with companies into a step-by-step guide for others to align with the ambition to get started on a journey toward circularity. Releasing next month, the Blueprint for Credible Action on Plastic Pollution will be a helpful tool both for companies initiating a new plastic strategy and those seeking to maintain leadership or expand existing strategies and plans. Companies with strategic plans in place to address plastic pollution can use the Blueprint to identify gaps in existing programs and pinpoint opportunities for expansion and collaboration.

Learn more about opportunities for corporate engagement.

Harnessing individual action

An overwhelming majority of US consumers—85% of the American public—think that plastic waste pollution is a serious and concerning problem that requires immediate political action to solve. Individually, we can't solve this problem, but we can all contribute in ways to help build a world without plastic pollution in nature. We need strong policies to keep producers of plastic accountable, and at the same time, there are daily steps we can take within our own lives to help, including advocating for change.

At WWF, we are engaging with supporters across the US to advocate for global and domestic improvements in infrastructure, as well as, holding producers responsible for sourcing non-virgin plastic materials.

Projects

  • Blueprint for Credible Action on Plastic Pollution

    The Blueprint for Credible Action on Plastic Pollution is a tool for companies as they set priorities to achieve maximized, measurable impact on the journey towards circularity.

  • Stopping Ghost Gear

    Fishing feeds billions of people and is vital to the economies of countless coastal communities. But unsustainable practices litter the ocean with deadly traps that needlessly kill marine mammals, turtles, and seabirds.

    Abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear, commonly referred to as ghost gear, contribute significantly to the problem of plastic pollution in our ocean. These gillnets, traps, and other types of fishing gear are particularly harmful because they can continue to catch target and non-target species indiscriminately for years. This impacts important food resources as well as endangered species. Because of this, ghost gear has been coined as the most deadly form of marine plastic debris, damaging vital ocean habitats, aquatic life, and livelihoods.

Experts