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Impact of plastic pollution on the environment

The impacts on the environment due to plastic pollution are severe. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, leaving tiny pieces behind that end up in animals, in our nature and in our food chains.

Impacts on nature

When plastic is thrown into nature it causes pollution, harm the environment and all living organisms in it.In addition, it pollutes the soil.  Plastic also causes air pollution when it is incinerated.


Plastic waste also diminishes the attractiveness of destinations if there is too much plastic litter lying around.

Impacts on animals

There are lots of documented reports and studies on the severe impacts of plastic pollution on animals. However, the full extent of the effects are not yet known.


There are three different key pathways by which animals can get in touch with plastic waste:


Entanglement of animals happens quite often, it mostly involve plastic ropes and netting or abandoned fishing gear.

However, animals (e.g. often turtles) can also get entangled in plastic bags or single-use gloves.



Either unintentionally, intentionally or indirectly – animals ingest plastic. Sometimes they mistake plastic bags for food or ingest plastic by drinking from a stream.

The ingested plastic debris can have multiple effects on the organism health, e.g. it leads to the false sense of satiation or it can cause internal injuries of the gut or other organs.



Animals get in interaction with plastic waste via collisions, abrasions or obstructions. E.g. fishing gear can cause abrasion and damage to coral reef ecosystems when it collides with the corals.


Micro plastics

By definition, micro plastic are tiny little plastic pieces, usually they have a diameter of less than 5 mm.


Micro plastics arise from two processes.

  1. Primary process: production of these tiny little plastic pieces
  2. Secondary process: Breakdown of plastic into smaller pieces (e.g. by sunlight)


Micro plastics are ingested by various animals, e.g. fish or zooplankton by accidents and can have detrimental effects on the wildlife and its health but also on us as humans.