Five things you can do to end plastic pollution


This page in:

Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they’re generally not recyclable. © Kanittha Boon/Shutterstock
Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they’re generally not recyclable. © Kanittha Boon/Shutterstock

The news headlines are grim. A male pilot whale dies on a Thai beach having swallowed 80 plastics bags; images of turtles stuck in six-pack plastic rings; a sad photo of a tiny seahorse clinging to a plastic ear-bud goes viral. Plastic products wash up daily on beaches worldwide –from Indonesia to coastal west Africa, and waterways in cities are increasingly clogged with plastic waste. 

But the world is taking note and countries, the private sector, and communities are starting to act. From bans and taxes on various single-use plastics, to investments in waste collection, and policies on reduced plastics packaging, to beach clean-ups. We are trying to break the addiction to plastics, and contribute to healthier lives and a healthier planet. 

This year, World Environment Day focuses on “Beating Plastic Pollution”. ­­The World Bank is contributing to this effort, using our suite of lending instruments and policy dialogue with key countries and cities to help identify and finance solutions to address the marine plastics issue. For example, the World Bank is a long term strategic investor in the improvement of municipal solid waste management systems that, if not correctly managed, are a major contributor to the ocean plastics problem.  Since 2000, the World Bank has invested over $4.5 billion to help improve more than 300 solid waste management programs to reduce pollution leakage, including plastics, into our environment. The Bank is also studying the flow of plastics into the ocean through a series of plastics pollution hotspot analyses to prioritize investments and look for quick wins.
But it is going to take more than building better solid waste management systems. Everyone needs to be on board to solve this problem and individual actions count.
Here are five things YOU can do—starting TODAY ­—to end plastic pollution­­:

  1. Say NO to Plastic Bags 
There are an estimated 1 million plastic bags used every minute, and a single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Over the last two decades, more and more countries and cities are either banning plastic bags (examples include Rwanda, California, ) or introducing levies and taxes on them (examples include Ireland, Washington D.C.) to discourage people from the plastic option. These actions have had varying degrees of success, but you can set an example by bringing your own reusable bag when you shop. Not the nylon or polyester kind because they're also made from plastic –choose cotton ones instead.
  1. Bottle your Own Water  
Did you know that humans now buy an estimated million plastic bottles per minute, and that most of this plastic is not recycled ? How many did you buy this week? Here is a quick win … bottle your own water or whatever you are drinking.  Keep a recyclable bottle in your bag, place two on your desk – a mug for the hot drink; a tumbler/glass for something cold. Plastic bottles –typically made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) –take over 400 years to naturally decompose.
  1. Skip Plastic Straws  
Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they’re generally not recyclable. As a customer, use your voice at restaurants, cafes and eateries to refuse straws and plastic stirrers. Help a movement towards paper straws, as Starbucks and McDonalds are starting to do, or give up straws entirely. If you are desperate to use straws, carry your own. There are metal and bamboo straws that are now more widely available.
  1. Avoid Plastic Cutlery  
Ordering take-out? Tell the vendor to skip the plastic cutlery. Catering events? Use reusable cutlery (and plates and cups). France became the first country to pass a law that will go into effect by 2020 to ban plastic plates, cups and cutlery–hoping to spur on innovation in biodegradable products. Shop around, and change your own attitude towards choosing more ocean-friendly practices.
  1. Make Better Choices at Home  
Make Green choices at home in choosing products with less plastic packaging. Move away from the throwaway culture. Avoid cosmetics and personal hygiene products with microbeads.  Microbeads, a type of microplastic, are the little dots in your toothpaste, and facial scrubs. New research shows increasing amounts of damage from microbeads to marine life, leading to potential harm to human health. Shop around before investing in clothing that has synthetic microfibers. Often when these items are washed, they release microfibers into the water, which make their way to oceans, and may then be ingested by fish and other marine creatures.

Today, on World Environment Day 2018, please join the Plastics Detox movement.  These five, relatively simple, actions can revolutionize our relationship with plastic. Let’s use our voice, and behavior to stem the tide of plastics pollution. Maybe then we’ll read stories about pristine beaches and happy turtles. 


Anjali Acharya

Senior Environmental Specialist

Join the Conversation

Steve Danyo
June 05, 2018

Will do, ma'am - great stuff

June 05, 2018

For me the most importance is to adress strong politics among plastics pollution. In african context the problem is not only peaople behaviours but legal actions. Governements are not very envolved to avoid plastics production and to educate people on the human been dangers according to plastics used.

Jan Freed
June 05, 2018

My friend, Morey Wolfson, almost single handedly convinced the Pasadena City Council (CA) to ban foam cups. These cups are not recycled and end up in the landfill or oceans. NO more

June 05, 2018

Thanks for this reminder and guide. This will be helpful for me and for others. I wish to be updated regarding on this matter. Thank you and God bless!:)

June 05, 2018

Industry makes, we use is an excuse. Change shall begin at both ends. Let's stop using plastic, industry makes things we would love to use. Behavioural change brings better products.

June 05, 2018


Gajadhar Choudhary
June 06, 2018

Sunderbans a UN Heritage Site for Biosphere reserve in India will replace Plastic by Two Cotton Bags for every villagers and Soil Utensils( Bhar) for Sweet and Tea shops.

Jenni Rauhala
June 06, 2018

I live in Finland and am happy to say that recycling quite well managed here compared to many other countries. Finland has had recycling for plastic and glass bottles for as long as I can remember (and that is quite a long time :D )
My family recycles everything that is possible: paper, cardboard boxes, plastic, metal, glass, clothes and organic waste.
I was very happy to hear that plastic cutlery, straws etc are going to be banned. Just would hope that people would throw them (or anything else for that matter) to the trash bins, not to where ever they happen to be at the time.

June 06, 2018

I am in agreement and we must individually take responsibility for better marine life and much more for marine food sustainability.

Robert Bagayawa
June 06, 2018

Landscaping has a great challenges in order to develop equivalents to plastics. Used, functions, technologies and innovation only if we can create a centralized approvals from WB to CENTRAL BANKS and to commercials Bank's modules done by Strategic Planner.

June 07, 2018

i so much appreciate the awareness on plastic pollution.

Solomon G. Melka
June 07, 2018

Hope this would be a good start to end plastic pollution. However, we need some bold measures and mandatory and regulatory measures in the near future. In Ethiopia more than 80% of the popolation depends on agriculture and allied activities plastic pollution will be a major challenge in the near future. Until recently plastic wastes were seen in the capital- Addis Ababa- few regional cities albeit all the wastes are washed and run with the rivers to rural areas. Rural and semi-urban areas have been using traditional jute bags and others made of biodegradable fibers. Currently those practices are abandoned and people are using plasic bags and even using plastic bottles as a container for local drinks and oils and fuel. In my view it would be difficult to change this through campain and strike since plastics bags are much cheaper and bottles are almost freely available. So beating plastic pollution is more challenging in poor countries--either we have to make a prohibition by law or we have to promote traditional bags starting from local community level and substituting plastic bottles with glass using fiscal measures. This, of cource, has to be taken at all levels including in the imultinational chemical industries that produce the raw materials. Any way, it is great to the topic since the ultimate solution at a global level depends on environmentally conscious consumers and market based solutions. Many thanks! Solomon G. Melka.

Abiodun Ekebafe MBA
June 07, 2018

Interesting article. We need more advocacy and enlightenment in this regard. I am willing to both form and join one.

Emmanuel Chidong'oi
June 07, 2018

They are very good ideas and solutions to help limiting the spread of plastic materials. In my country, Tanzania many efforts have been made to hinder the use of plastic bags during shopping and marketing but, still the problem is rising high.
I guess, if the government take serious measures and steps on this issue, the problem can be solved smoothly.

June 07, 2018

Makes the plastic not to be any manufacturer...that brings no availability.
Levy heavy taxes on plastic goods... So affordability becomes hard.
These are steps which seems to be harsh...people though explained with the negatives of using plastics still continue using them... In my view as a last step we need to compel people by stringent rules
One thing......... Alternative to this need to be provided to the people

Divya prakash
June 07, 2018

These are good ideas and the government of all countries should promote using of reusable bags and implement those laws strictly that were made for avoiding uses of plastic bags.

June 07, 2018

Hello..Why aren't the alternatives to plastic brought into the market? If they are brought into the market, people would use definitely as they would have no choice other than using them. Why don't the governments slowly ban single use plastic? I agree all the people should take part in it to save the nature, but the initiative should be supported by the governments. If not, who will encourage the initiative?

Eddie Miller
June 07, 2018

Fortunately people are collecting plastic objects from the sea and I hope the plastic is recycled by heat compression and not burned. Wikipedia says this: "Heat compression takes all unsorted, cleaned plastic in all forms, from soft plastic bags to hard industrial waste, and mixes the load in tumblers (large rotating drums resembling giant clothes dryers). The most obvious benefit to this method is that all plastic is recyclable, not just matching forms."

ESV. Salam Oyewumi
June 07, 2018

in addition to the above measures, I wish to emphasise that obviously developing countries still heavily depends on poly-product packaging materials. Therefore, sorting waste in to 4 categories (Namely; poly-product waste materials - packaged for recycling), glass bottled waste materials - packaged for recycling, tin /iron waste materials - for recycling and bio- degradable materials - for decomposition in to soil as manure) which greatly reduce environmental pollution for adequate management can not be over emphasised. hence, the need for aggressive public enlightment programmes through appropriate Government agencies for compliance to classification of waste management and disposal.

June 07, 2018

There should be a practical plastic packaging substitute.....

Pwayirane chrysostom
June 07, 2018

This is very good, we need to protect our eco system which supports our very survival.

K P Sharma
June 07, 2018

India should ban manufacturing of small single use plastic carry bags, small pouch packing of Gutka, milk, plastic water bottles below 1.25 litre. Start as a temporary measure and results will generate mass support

K P Sharma
June 07, 2018

We have to promote economic substitutes to polyester (environment unfriendly) wears. Cotton, jute, Viscose. Promote Re-use of discarded clothes

Melina Malla Nepali
June 07, 2018

In my opinion,next thing what we can do to control plastic pollution is that instead of dumping plastic bottles in dustbins we can use them for plantation. It can be the better use of plastic bottles we have in our homes. Since plastic bottles take millions of years to decompose and as it is very harmful to environment we should stop manufacturing these products and other products of plastics but those plastics products that we already have should be utilized in a effective way to make it environment friendly because if things can be best utilized in proper way then it is better to use instead of dumping.

sunila [email protected]/NRM
June 08, 2018

Nice article. The message contained in this article need to be spread at all levels.

peter pradeep
June 08, 2018

why not just reign in the plastic industry and go for tighter regulation. This is an easy way out, which is not what is required now. We dont have much time left to get these habits to take effect.

Moses Ndjarakana
June 08, 2018

I am young a Namibian , with a Recycling Company , one of our fight is on unmanaged waste and plastic is the main problem.

Shakeel Zaidi
June 08, 2018

Good initiative to control plastic pollution. Besides the actions suggested , I suggest to take the shops and the shopping stores in the loop as those are the points of spreading pollution. Some participation , some incentive , some rewards for them shall make a big difference. Some economical alternatives to plastic bags should also be introduced by giving tax rebates etc.

Olamide Olawepo
June 08, 2018

These tips are quite useful, simple and doable. I will spread the word... We really need to declare an emergency on plastic usagae.

Sharon Chanda Musambo
June 08, 2018

Great piece of advice. I am education my children on the importance of environmental sustainability. I now want to go out in schools and preach about it. Great piece of information. Thanks.

Olufisola Agboola
June 08, 2018

How "simple" are these steps. I think there should be more fundamental steps aimed at the source of one-way plastics.

Jamil Sa'ad
June 10, 2018

We have risen to the occasion of reducing, reusing and recycling plastic through waste segregation practice.

Pankaj Yadav
June 10, 2018

generally not recyclable Plastic is a real problem. We also says Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Plastic generally. Your suggestions are good but according to me we need to put focus on developing entrepreneurship for waste recyclers globally. Governments can give subsidy for startups and behaviour change campaign can be launch at large level to ensure people participation in plastic waste management. I am a Researcher at Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar. I am happy to became a team member for dealing Plastic waste.

Bot Emmanuel Tok
June 10, 2018

I believe that when all hands are on deck concerning plastic pollution, we will achieve more. If governments can bring in polices that would enforce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), It would go a long way in reducing production and usher in new funding and support for vibrant research in the area of plastics.
We are doing our little in the university of Jos, Nigeria through starting a UJ Waste Management Project in the faculty of environmental science, where staff and students are involved. Our aim is to sensitize and find lasting ways of reducing, recycling, and reusing waste.

Dan Boyce
June 11, 2018

MC Building needs to stop using plastic cups with the blue water dispensers. Ask the vendor for paper cups. Or better, can MC get water filters like the I building? Those save thousands of paper cups every year

Shahnawaz Chachar
June 12, 2018

"Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they’re generally not recyclable."

Geoff Beacon
June 13, 2018

Microplastic pollution from car tyres is polluting our oceans.
Why no mention?

June 15, 2018

Or do one thing: pressure your government to adopt laws to prohibit all plastic packing and condemn all companies not abiding. Write letters to Members of Parliament, ministers and share with shops and concerned industries. Then you'll skip forever the five things to do as they'll be simply outdated.
The damage is already pathetic, i'm traveling extensively and I can tell that in 30 years we went form paradise places to dumping areas. Act now.

July 04, 2018

Act now to end the plastic pollution. Move to an eco-friendly living by using natural products replacing the plastic disasters.

Moffat watts kaluba
August 01, 2019

I m a social worker and I want to be part of this campaign.

Moffat watts kaluba
July 01, 2019

I m a social worker and I want to be part of this campaign.

August 01, 2019

nice article! it turns out that used plastic bottles can be used as useful tools rather than being thrown away in vain and making the environment dirty. this is a simple action to protect our earth
and used plastic bottles can also be used as plant pots! check here yes:…
thanks for sharing!

Jude Tamba Allieu
February 26, 2020

i'm an up coming environmentalist and i want you to help me with some of your publications on plastic bottles waste, because it is my project topic. and i want to know your discoveries.
thank you very much
feel free to email me

February 26, 2020

Good advice , can be followed by people at day-to-day activity. Thank You.

February 26, 2020

wow this was an amazing article i just need some tips to write about plastic pollution so if you would kindly give any tips to write about in this article then it would be great from you