Simple Math Problem: What does 8 Million Tons of Plastic mean? In $$ Figure

Berna A.
5 min readNov 26, 2018

You’ve heard the 8 Million Tons of plastics entering our ocean every year. That’s the same as the 1 truck (5 ton)of plastic dumped into the Ocean every minute statistic.

We have so many numbers. But what does 8 Million Tons mean to you? Or 1 garbage truck full every minute? What does that look like at the end of a day or a week?

People have tried to show this number with whales, shopping carts, and all kinds of creative ways. Did you know that is equivalent to 2 Empire State Buildings full of plastic every month going into the ocean? And still, we don’t really have a change. It’s too abstract a number to make sense to any of us. When humans cannot relate to something we usually find it easier to ignore it.

What if we talked about this in monetary terms. Using very simple math and straightforward assumptions to make this make sense. 8 Million tons of all kinds of plastics.

For simplicity — let’s say that all of them are just plastic bottles. (They are not, the ocean is filled with nets, crates, toys, shoes, tires, etc. all if recovered properly yield a higher value than plastic in a plastic water bottle.)

We know that plastic bottles are worth about 5 cents apiece in NYC thanks to the bottle bill — post-consumer — for those who collect them. To make it even simpler and avoid “non bottle-bill” arguments — let us say that this value is just 1 cent. Plastic bottles at the end of the day can be returned for at least 1 cent, to many grocery stores or take back programs, because they have value. They can be turned into raw plastic if they are clean, new products can be made out of them, and that in turn can be sold to make more money.

Garbage = $$$

David Katz and Tom Szaky have built futuristic businesses doing just that — Plastic Bank and TerraCycle respectively.

So just for simplicity let’s say the value is 1 cent per bottle.

Every minute 1 garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into the ocean.

Lets do some straightforward and linear math. Each truck can hold over a ton of plastic — about 50,000 bottles make-up a ton (in weight). The total weight capacity of a garbage truck is usually 5 tons, however, lets use 1 ton to reflect the inefficiencies of today’s waste management processes.

Berna A.

Ocean Actionist. Circular Economy Consultant. Sustainability, Business, and Nature Speaker. Nature Photographer.