How does plastic impacts environment pollution?

08 Sep, 2022

After reading this article, you’ll know:

  • What is environment pollution?
  • What are the effects of plastic pollution to the environment?
  • How does it influence human’s health?
  • How much does human activity contributes to that?
  • Why does the packaging industry have an impact on the environment’s state?

    Environment pollution

    zanieczyszczenie środowiska plastikiem

    Environment pollution is a state when too much of harmful substances have entered water, soil or air, which might negatively impact how the whole environment works but also life and health of humans and other living organisms [1].

    It can have natural sources such as volcanic activity or forest fires, but also artificial one resulting from human activity [1]. With civilisation’s development and increase in human’s population on Earth, there is more and more artificial pollution.

    In this case, environment pollution is a result of constant and systematic human activity. Excessive production and usage of plastic as well as its wrong utilisation have become a huge problem.

    Plastic – the poisoner of environment

    Plastic is everywhere

    Plastik - największy truciciel środowiska

    Industrial plants worldwide have so far produces over 8 billions tonnes of plastic [2]. It can be calculated as over one tonne of plastic per person! Globally, only 9% of that has been recycled, the rest has become simply waste [3].

    According to a report “Plastics – the Facts” made by Plastics Europe and EPRO, just in 2020 as much as 367 tonnes of plastic were produced globally. Additionally, the demand for this material is constantly increasing. In some countries it’s as high as over a dozen millions annually.

    More than half of that produced waste end up on already overfilled dumping grounds or in the environment.

    Plastic pollution is a serious global problem. It poses a huge challenge for the environment and brings upon many harmful changes especially for marine ecosystems. According to research, over 9 million tonnes of plastic enters world’s marine ecosystems [4]. There is also another thing to add here – an additional 1,5 tonne of microplastic which also contributes to the general plastic mass that poisons sea waters [4].

    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    Pacyficzna wyspa śmieci

    Oceans are drowning in plastic. It can be seen on the form of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s made from around 87 000 tonnes plastic and currently is 3 times bigger than France [4].

    Plastic poses a great threat to marine fauna. Animals often mistake it as food, fish eat the smallest plastic particles which looks like plankton to them. Also, animals can easily get trapped in plastic bags or abandoned fishing nets. Deprived of escape and oxygen, they can die.

    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only that part of plastic that we can see. In reality, there is much, much more plastic in the oceans. Only 1% of plastic waste stays on the water surface. The rest disappears under the water’s surface or goes to the bottom where it stays invisible [5].


    Plastic pollution is not only caused by plastic object that are visible to the naked eye. You have to know that plastic can take many forms. One of those is microplastic.

    Microplastic is what we call tiny, often invisible plastic particles. Their size doesn’t exceed 5mm [5]. The tiniest that are less than 1 µm in size are called nanoplastic. These substances should be regarded as one of the most dangerous type of environment pollution.

    Substances such as microplastic and nanoplastic can be found everywhere already. They have become a part of soil and waters of the Earth. They have been found even in our food – in drinking water, honey, fish etc.

    Where does microplastic come from?

    Microplastic can originate from degradation of plastic waste of a bigger size or can be a result of mechanical wearing down of everyday usage items (e.g. tires wearing down, synthetic fibre wearing down during washing etc.).

    However, it can be intentionally made. It’s produced for the cosmetic industry or cleaning agents industry. In such cases, microplastic has a form of very small particles that can rub off stuff or of microfibre in textile industry.

    Effects of polluting the environment with plastic

    1) Climate

    Plastic production industry emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases, which impacts the global warming. In 2015, plastic production was a cause of 3,8% of global greenhouse gases emission such as carbon dioxide [8]. A key factor here is that plastic is mainly produced on the basis of fossil fuels (petroleum).

    If both production and demand for plastic keeps increasing as rapidly as it is now, by 2050 plastic will be responsible for 20% of total oil usage and 15% of carbon dioxide emission [8].

    2) Life and health

    Plastic also impact the life and health of humans and other living organisms on Earth.

    Plastic can already be found in our food and drinking water. This way, it enters our bodies easily. As a result of unintentional consumption, it’s hard to tell how much plastic enters our bodies under various forms every day. So far there is no proof of negative impact eaten plastic on health, but considering its petrochemical origins it’s certainly not anything neutral. WHO points out that more research has to be done in this area [11].

    Plastic endangers not only health but also lives of animals. They often mistake plastic for food. The most worrying part of it is plastic in water environment. A lot of animals die when they e.g. get caught in abandoned fishing nets or foil.

    3) Air pollution

    Air gets polluted by plastic mostly when it gets burnt. Globally, 25% of plastic goes to incineration plants [8].

    Lots of people aren’t aware of harmful effects that improper utilisation of plastic products can cause. This is why they dispose of them on their own by burning them in, for instance, chimneys or in open air. It causes more air pollution. A lot of harmful substances enter the atmosphere and then get inhaled into our lungs. Sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides – these substances negatively impact our health. Moreover, during incomplete combustion in low temperatures, huge amounts of fine dust is generated, which can harm the respiratory system.

    Is recycling a solution?

    Recycling is one of the methods which is said to help contribute to environment protection and the development of circular economy concept. Re-processing and re-using is a good practice, but unfortunately, not in the case of plastic.
    Recycling of plastic simply doesn’t work.

    Globally, only 9% of plastic was recycled [3].

    In Poland, only 40% of packages gets recycled [6]. Some packaging can’t get recycled at all despite the development of new technologies in this area.

    Globalna produkcja plastiku

    Although recycling is very popular and is widely supported socially, it practically doesn’t work. According to the aforementioned “Plastics – the Facts 2021” we can easily say that although more plastic gets recycled, its production is still increasing.

    What makes plastic recycling hard is a quite high price of recycled products and their low quality (compared to the original products). Beside that, there are a lot of types of plastic which have way different characteristics. They can’t be recycled together. For instance, not every type of plastic is suitable for packing food. Another problem is that, realistically speaking, it’s hard to collect, divide and deliver it to proper institutions in a reasonable way [7].

    In reality, recycling is a way to shift who is responsible for environment protection – making the consumers guilty instead of producers.

    Recycling is producing waste from plastic. It can only belate the moment it enters the ecosystems. Plastic can’t be recycled infinitely. They’ll eventually end up in incineration plants, on dumping grounds or in the environment, while people will still have to produce a new batch of plastic. It’s not an effective way of protecting the environment.

    Packaging branch

    Zużycie plastiku przez branżę opakowań

    Unfortunately, the most plastic is used by the packaging branch. Nowadays, we pack everything. Even the smallest thing bought in a shop is often packed in plastic, very often single-use boxes, bags etc. It’s really no surprise. Plastic is cheap and durable, it can be shaped into anything you want. It can have various characteristics, owing to which it has a lot of ways to be used. Plastic has proved to be so useful that it has become an inseparable part of economy.

    Is it possible to pack in an eco-way?

    Yes! It is possible. Running a factory or a business should be connected with responsibility for environment protection nowadays. This is why you can hear more and more about replacing classic harmful plastic with so-called bioplastic.

    Bioplastic is a term for biodegradable polymer materials. They are made from materials of natural origin. Usually they are produced from potato starch, sugar cane or cellulose from trees and straw. They can functional characteristics similar to those of conventional plastic. Very often they look very alike.

    The difference is that the materials used for the production and the way they were processed allow for them to be 100% biodegradable and compostable when their life cycle ends. In appropriate conditions a package made from such a material degrades to natural compounds that aren’t harmful to the environment.

    ZNIKA’s packages

    Opakowania ekologiczne Znika

    We at ZNIKA are aware of the growing problem of plastic pollution of the environment. Our mission is to replace regular single-use plastic packaging with alternative packages from bioplastic.

    All our products we offer were made from materials of plant-based origin. They are 100% biodegradable and compostable.

    Of course, the best solution would be to not pack at all. However, ZNIKA’s packages have less impact on the environment compared to regular plastic ones, so they’re a good choice.

    See our solutions!


    1. Encyklopedia PWN, zanieczyszczenie środowiska przyrodniczego.
    2. Our World in Data - Plastic Pollutions.
    3. OurWorldinData - Global Plastic Waste Disposal.
    4. Serwis monitorowania środowiska morskiego Copernicus,
    5. Od plastiku do zanieczyszczenia obszarów morskich,
    6. Deloitte, Sektor opakowań to branża, która w pierwszej kolejności będzie musiała znaleźć sposób na skuteczny recykling odpadów z plastiku.
    7. Parlament Europejski, Odpady z tworzyw sztucznych i recykling w UE: fakty i liczby.
    8. Zheng, J., Suh, S. Strategies to reduce the global carbon footprint of plastics. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 374–378 (2019).
    9. Science Direct, Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta.
    10. Plastics Europe, EPRO, Plastics – the Facts 2021.
    11. World Health Organization, WHO calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution.