Which Countries Pollute the Most Ocean Plastic Waste?
Visualized: Ocean Plastic Waste Pollution By Country
Millions of metric tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year. While half of this plastic waste is recycled, incinerated, or discarded into landfills, a significant portion of what remains eventually ends up in our oceans.
In fact, many pieces of ocean plastic waste have come together to create a vortex of plastic waste thrice the size of France in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.
Where does all of this plastic come from? In this graphic, Louis Lugas Wicaksono used data from a research paper by Lourens J.J. Meijer and team to highlight the top 10 countries emitting plastic pollutants in the waters surrounding them.
Plastic’s Ocean Voyage
First, let’s talk about how this plastic waste reaches the oceans in the first place.
Most of the plastic waste found in the deep blue waters comes from the litter in parks, beaches, or along the storm drains lining our streets. These bits of plastic waste are carried into our drains, streams, and rivers by wind and rainwater runoff.
The rivers then turn into plastic superhighways, transporting the plastic to the oceans.
A large additional chunk of ocean plastic comes from damaged fishing nets or ghost nets that are directly discarded into the high seas.
Countries Feeding the Plastic Problem
Some might think that the countries producing or consuming the most plastic are the ones that pollute the oceans the most. But that’s not true.
According to the study, countries with a smaller geographical area, longer coastlines, high rainfall, and poor waste management systems are more likely to wash plastics into the sea.
For example, China generates 10 times the plastic waste that Malaysia does. However, 9% of Malaysia’s total plastic waste is estimated to reach the ocean, in comparison to China’s 0.6%.
|Rank||Country||Annual Ocean Plastic Waste (Metric tons)|
|🌐 Rest of the World||176,012|
The Philippines—an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, with a 36,289 kilometer coastline and 4,820 plastic emitting rivers—is estimated to emit 35% of the ocean’s plastic.
In addition to the Philippines, over 75% of the accumulated plastic in the ocean is reported to come from the mismanaged waste in Asian countries including India, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Thailand.
The only non-Asian country to make it to this top 10 list, with 1,240 rivers including the Amazon, is Brazil.
The Path to a Plastic-free Ocean
The first, and most obvious, way to reduce plastic accumulation is to reduce the use of plastic. Lesser production equals lesser waste.
The second step is managing the plastic waste generated, and this is where the challenge lies.
Many high-income countries generate high amounts of plastic waste, but are either better at processing it or exporting it to other countries. Meanwhile, many of the middle-income and low-income countries that both demand plastics and receive bulk exports have yet to develop the infrastructure needed to process it.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Ranked: The 20 Most Air-Polluted Cities on Earth
Using 2022 average PM2.5 concentrations, we’ve ranked the most polluted cities in the world according to IQAir.
Ranked: The 20 Most Air-Polluted Cities on Earth
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost the entire global population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits.
In the above map, we use 2022 average PM2.5 concentrations from IQAir’s World Air Quality Report to visualize the most air-polluted major cities in the world.
World’s Air Pollution Hot Spots
As one of the standard air quality indicators used by the WHO, the PM2.5 concentration refers to the quantity of fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less in a given volume of air.
Fine particulate matter that is this small can penetrate the lungs when inhaled and enter the bloodstream, affecting all major organs.
Based on annual average PM2.5 concentrations (μg/m³) in 2022, here are the most polluted cities in the world.
|Rank||City||2022 average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³)|
|1||🇵🇰 Lahore, Pakistan||97.4|
|2||🇨🇳 Hotan, China||94.3|
|3||🇮🇳 Bhiwadi, India||92.7|
|4||🇮🇳 Delhi, India||92.6|
|5||🇵🇰 Peshawar, Pakistan||91.8|
|6||🇮🇳 Darbhanga, India||90.3|
|7||🇮🇳 Asopur, India||90.2|
|8||🇹🇩 N'Djamena, Chad||89.7|
|9||🇮🇳 New Delhi, India||89.1|
|10||🇮🇳 Patna, India||88.9|
|11||🇮🇳 Ghaziabad, India||88.6|
|12||🇮🇳 Dharuhera, India||87.8|
|13||🇮🇶 Baghdad, Iraq||86.7|
|14||🇮🇳 Chapra, India||85.9|
|15||🇮🇳 Muzaffarnagar, India||85.5|
|16||🇵🇰 Faisalabad, Pakistan||84.5|
|17||🇮🇳 Greater Noida, India||83.2|
|18||🇮🇳 Bahadurgarh, India||82.2|
|19||🇮🇳 Faridabad, India||79.7|
|20||🇮🇳 Muzaffarpur, India||79.2|
With numbers these high, the concentration of some or all of the following pollutants are at dangerous levels in these cities:
- Ground-level ozone
- Particulate matter
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen dioxide
At the top of the list, Lahore in Pakistan has a combination of high vehicle and industrial emissions, as well as smoke from brick kilns, crop residue, general waste burning, and dust from construction sites.
Air pollution levels can also be impacted by practices such as large-scale tree removal in order to build new roads and buildings.
As a result of its growing population and rapidly expanding industrial sector, India has 14 cities on the list, outpacing China, formerly considered the world’s number one air pollution source.
The only African country on the list, Chad, experienced severe dust storms in 2022 that resulted in an 18% increase in PM2.5 concentration in 2022 compared to the previous year.
The Cost of Poor Air Quality
Poor air quality is one of the leading causes of early deaths worldwide, just behind high blood pressure, tobacco use, and poor diet.
According to a 2020 study by the Health Effects Institute, 6.67 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2019.
In addition to the millions of premature deaths each year, the global cost of health damages associated with air pollution currently sits at $8.1 trillion.
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