All common plastics (including resin codes 1-6) are made from petrochemicals. Plastic is versatile, lightweight, inexpensive, and impervious to water. These qualities explain why plastics can be found in such a wide variety of products we use every day.

Unfortunately, the flip side of these attributes cause major problems. Low cost leads to overuse. Lightweight leads to pervasive litter. These waterproof synthetic materials do not biodegrade, which means they last forever in the environment whether as litter or in a landfill. Recycling and post-consumer content do not make plastics sustainable. The only way to permanently eliminate plastics is to find substitutes or burn them, but this is not sustainable either even in a waste-to-energy facility.surfer in Java, Indonesia


Scientists estimate that seventeen billion pounds of plastic flow into the ocean every year. Plastic fragments over time through mechanical action and photodegradation. Microplastics are found in the atmosphere, tap and bottled water, and the food chain. An additional problem is that some plastics carry higher toxicity risks such as polystyrene, PVC, PETE and polycarbonate, which are all used with food; and polyurethane, which is used commercially. A further complication for recycling and toxicological assessment is the thousands of types of additives (such as plasticizers, UV inhibitors, fillers, antioxidizers), usually other petrochemicals which are not revealed. Forty years ago there was no consumer plastic in the ocean; now marine animals, such as whales, are ingesting microplastics instead of plankton. Other marine animals, such as turtles that eat jellyfish, mistake plastic bags for food. Once plastic gets lodged in the bodies of animals, it can cause them to suffocate or starve to death.

The Massachusetts Sierra Club has been advocating to reduce plastic pollution and possible exposure to toxics caused by single-use products from bags to beverage bottles. We can eliminate these items with simple behavior changes. We can bring our own reusable bags. We can carry our own reusable water bottles or drink from water fountains. We can choose packaging made of natural, sustainable materials that are biodegradable and/or recyclable through our municipal services (such as paper, glass and aluminum).

Some jurisdictions are limiting consumer products other than food ware that use plastic such as balloons ("Mylar" PETE), health and beauty products (microbeads), cotton swabs with plastic sticks (polystyrene/polypropylene), and wet wipes (PETE/polypropylene). Even without regulation, consumers can still choose more sustainable alternatives and ask retailers to provide better products. Finally, commercial products are also beginning to be regulated such as plastic field turf and fishing gear (line and nets).

For more details on plastic pollution and what YOU can do to limit them, see the links below:

Plastic Bags

Polystyrene and Food Packaging

Plastic Beverage Containers

Artificial Turf


Overview of types of plastic

Current Campaigns:

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Further Reading:

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, "Grocery bags and takeout containers aren't enough. It's time to phase out all single-use plastic", Feb. 20, 2018

European Union, "Plastic Oceans: MEPs back EU ban on throwaway plastics by 2021", October 24, 2018

World Health Organization, Information sheet: Microplastics in drinking-water, 2019
Chemical & Engineering News, "Inventory finds more than 10,000 chemicals used in plastics manufacture", 2021