Plastic Pollution

We have a global plastic pollution crisis. About 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, half of which was produced in the last 15 years. Unfortunately, 91% of plastics are not recycled. Instead, they are incinerated or end up in landfills or the environment.

Plastic is the top litter found in our local waterways. How does it get there? When it rains, trash is washed from our streets and neighborhoods  — mostly plastic — and into our local streams and rivers, or it is washed into storm drains and carried to our streams and rivers. Then it travels to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Large pieces of plastic (bottles, bags, etc) break down into smaller pieces call microplastics. Microplastics are loosely defined as plastic particles ranging from a microscopic 1 nanometer to 5 millimeters—about the length of a short grain of rice. A study in 2019 found microplastic in the stomachs of 89 smallmouth bass sampled from the mainstem of the Susquehanna River. A 2017 study in the Potomac River around Washington, DC, found microplastics accumulating in underwater grasses. In 2014, they were found in 59 of 60 water samples taken from the Patapsco, Magothy, Rhode and Corsica rivers. From 2017–18, the U.S. Geological Survey found microplastics in two streams in Virginia, two in DC and the Susquehanna River.

In June 2020, the Chesapeake Bay Program launched a Plastic Pollution Action Team, which is working on establishing a full ecological risk assessment of microplastics in the Bay watershed. A first effort may focus on effects of microplastics on striped bass in the Potomac because it has a lot of freshwater and saltwater habitats, and multiple possible pollution sources.

Local Waterkeeper Trash Programs

Plastic Pollution Resources:

Latest News

Urge Your Virginia State Senator to Support a Ban on Foam!

The Virginia Senate is gearing up to vote on Delegate Betsy Carr’s HB 1902, which bans single-use polystyrene foam cups and food containers. Most everyone can agree that plastic pollution is a huge problem, and nothing that we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our rivers and oceans for hundreds of … Read more

Take Action to Stop Chemical Conversion Plants in Virginia!

The Virginia legislature is considering HB2173/SB1164, a bill that would weaken environmental oversight and permitting of chemical plants that melt down plastic waste to turn it into fuel, or often more plastic. The chemical and plastics industries have branded this “Advanced Recycling”, but the truth is that this bill would give these polluting industries a … Read more

The Story of Plastic Panel Discussion with Potomac Riverkeeper Network

On Thursday, January 21, 2021, 7:00pm – 8:30pm Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Potomac Riverkeeper Network are co-hosting a virtual film screening and panel discussion on the new documentary, The Story of Plastic. Register for this event today and receive a login link! You’ll receive a streaming link for the film 2 weeks before the panel discussion. Stories and … Read more

The Story of Plastic Panel Discussion with Waterkeepers

On May 21, 2020 Waterkeepers Chesapeake hosted a virtual film screening and panel discussion on the new documentary, The Story of Plastic. During this unprecedented pandemic, it’s critical to ensure the voices of activists and marginalized communities are heard to stand up to big oil and businesses perpetuating the plastic crisis. Stories and film have … Read more

The Story of Plastic Film Screening & Virtual Discussion

Waterkeepers Chesapeake invites you to a virtual screening and panel discussion on the new film THE STORY OF PLASTIC During this unprecedented pandemic, it’s critical to ensure the voices of activists and marginalized communities are heard to stand up to big oil and businesses perpetuating the plastic crisis. Stories and film have a unique ability … Read more