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Data Visualization: Plastic Pollution
Behance.net
What a Waste  –​​​​​ ​ ​Plastics in Numbers

Global production of plastic materials has steadily increased in recent years. Because of their versatile and resilient nature, plastics play a critical role in many aspects of our lives including food quality and safety. However, mounting evidence shows that accumulation of plastic waste in oceans has detrimental effects on marine wildlife. The following infographics help visualize trends in waste generation, including plastics, for 192 coastal countries. Data is based on the works of Jambeck et al. (2015) and Schmidt et al. (2017). A detailed entry on plastic pollution and its consequences is available here.


Overview

Mismanaged plastics  that is, inadequately disposed of or littered – end up in waterways such as rivers, which ultimately discharge into oceans. There, they accumulate and degrade into particles that are harmful to biodiversity and are extremely difficult to remove. The visuals below show the daily amount of mismanaged plastic waste that was generated by each country in 2010. Red lines represent coastal population density (i.e, living within 50 km of a coast), indicated in millions, and circles correspond to daily mismanaged plastic waste. Overall, we observe a strong correlation between population size and plastic generation. In the next section, we'll dive into waste generation in greater detail and see how it relates to income levels.
Detailed Statistics

Jambeck et al. estimated that 275 million metric tonnes (MT) of plastic waste were generated globally in 2010, of which 1.7 to 4.6% entered oceans: "Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025."​​​​​​​

In the following infographics, daily loads of waste are presented for each coastal country and sorted by mismanaged plastic (red circles, values indicated in MT). For each continent, the outlined circle represents the largest regional producer of waste. Also indicated are the 200 most polluted rivers (blue squiggles, each represents a river) based on the study from Schmidt et al..

We see that, although high-income countries tend to generate more plastic waste per person (yellow), the fraction that enters rivers (purple) is low. As an example, in 2010 the coastal population of the United States produced 38 MT of plastic waste every day, of which 0.75 MT (2%) were mismanaged and at risk of polluting marine environments. This is because, in this country, discarded plastics are stored in secure landfills and littering is the only source of mismanaged waste. By contrast, China generated similar amounts of plastic waste that year (32 MT daily), but the mismanaged fraction was 24 MT (76%) including 5 MT that were found in river streams every day.
To Go Further

Because of high population densities and low-efficiency waste management systems in Asian countries, oceans surrounding the region are by far the most polluted in plastic debris. It is estimated that Asian rivers contribute to 86% of the total inland plastic inputs to oceans. In 2013, nearly 100 000 MT of plastics were floating in the North Pacific ocean, creating what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This structure is the largest plastic accumulation in surface waters worldwide and spans an area that is larger than the state of Alaska.

To conclude, this work is merely an overview of trends in plastic waste management. If you'd like to learn more on the topic, especially how to contribute to reducing plastic accumulation in the environment, this FAQ by Hannah Ritchie is a great start.


Data Visualization: Plastic Pollution
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Data Visualization: Plastic Pollution

This information design project focuses on waste generation and more specifically plastics, for each coastal country in 2010. I created the infog Read More
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19.4k
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Published: