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Worst Plastic Polluting Countries

Can you name the countries that produce the most littered or improperly disposed of plastic?
Source: Our World in Data. 2010 Data.
We show the % of world plastic pollution caused by each country.
Quiz by joez
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Last updated: November 13, 2019
First submittedDecember 18, 2018
Times taken29,369
Average score70.0%
Rating4.72
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%
Country
27.7
China
10.1
Indonesia
5.92
Philippines
5.76
Vietnam
5.00
Sri Lanka
3.23
Thailand
3.04
Egypt
%
Country
2.94
Malaysia
2.67
Nigeria
2.47
Bangladesh
1.98
South Africa
1.88
India
1.63
Algeria
1.53
Turkey
%
Country
1.51
Pakistan
1.48
Brazil
1.44
Myanmar
0.97
Morocco
0.96
North Korea
0.86
United States
+35
Level 39
Dec 18, 2018
It shows us who really are the polluters of the world
+28
Level ∞
Aug 26, 2021
One kind of pollution at least. It doesn't excuse the other forms of pollution.
+3
Level 56
Sep 4, 2021
Exactly, especially when global warming is the most impactful one and the biggest polluters there are the developed countries.
+11
Level 73
Sep 4, 2021
So says someone. "Improper disposal" is open to interpretation. And then there's the matter of how one comes up with such figures. When I put a plastic container in the garbage rather than the recycling, how is this found out? And what if "proper disposal" is much more common in some countries, but per capita those countries also use ten - a hundred - or a thousand times more plastic? All that matters is its disposal?
+2
Level 70
Mar 18, 2022
Unfortunately, I think China is #1 in all forms of pollution. Large population, lots of industry, little regulation.
+8
Level 43
Jan 2, 2022
It just shows that rich countries sells their plastic to poor countries
+3
Level 22
Dec 18, 2018
Rip my country is the 18th rank
+18
Level 73
Jan 13, 2020
mine's 19th
+21
Level 72
Jan 13, 2020
Hey don't steal Kim's Wi-Fi
+1
Level 58
Nov 14, 2020
Mine's 3rd :'(
+3
Level 60
Dec 19, 2018
Wow, I didn't expect North Korea to have so much plastic.
+16
Level ∞
Nov 13, 2019
They don't. It's just that a large percentage is improperly disposed of.
+2
Level 69
Sep 4, 2021
But where are they even getting all that plastic from? They apparently have more litter than all of the US! o.O
+2
Level 75
Sep 7, 2021
North Koreans don't exactly live in paradise, but they're not a bunch of cavemen. They still have imports and domestic production, granted neither are robust.
+64
Level ∞
Nov 13, 2019
Of course, here in the U.S. we "recycle" our plastic which meant, until recently, shipping it to China so that they could improperly dispose of it for us. I wonder how much plastic has ended up in the oceans due to well-meaning but misguided recycling programs? Probably a lot. Fortunately, China has stopped taking our plastic so now we can throw it into a landfill where it belongs.
+37
Level ∞
Nov 13, 2019
But, if we do actually want to recycle (and we should) here's how we should do it...

Only make one type of consumer plastic recyclable. Make it a law to clearly distinguish this recyclable plastic from other, non-recyclable, plastics. Perhaps by coloring it green. This would make it easy to sort and would result in a uniform, valuable product. Currently, so much junk ends up in the recycling bin that most of it ends up in the trash. Plastic recycling as it is currently performed is a net negative for the environment. It badly needs to be reformed or ended.

+3
Level 81
Nov 13, 2019
Here they say that plastic can be sorted quite efficiently by a machine that uses optics to figure out what type of plastic it is. What cannot be used is plastic packaging that combines different types of plastics that cannot be easily separated from each other.
+9
Level 87
Nov 13, 2019
Quit buying crap in plastic like kid's lunch portions. I've never understood how it's so hard to divide up food into a container.
+6
Level ∞
Nov 13, 2019
I simply don't believe that bulk recycling can be sorted efficiently by a machine. Especially considering all the crap that people throw into the recycling. Here in Seattle, fast food restaurants are required to have three containers: trash, recycling, and compost. When you look inside the containers you will see that their contents are virtually the same. And Seattle has a higher percentage of college graduates than practically any large city in the entire world. It's just a lost cause.
+15
Level 61
Nov 14, 2019
We had 3 different recycling bins in college. Stopped sorting when I saw the maintenance people collect all 3 into the same larger bin.
+1
Level 89
Nov 14, 2019
I've heard that in order to achieve "properly sorted plastic", you would need to remove all labels, remove those little rings left over when you take the cap off, and divide it all into separate bins by number and color. So would every single other person (because all it takes is one badly sorted contributor to ruin a whole batch). And recycling haulers would need to have dozens of different compartments per truck and spend about 5x as long collecting recycling.
+3
Level ∞
Aug 26, 2021
Here in Seattle, there are 3 different trucks that visit our residence to collect waste. One for trash, recycling, and compost. I am virtually certain that the extra emissions from have three trucks instead of one far outweighs any conceivable benefit of recycling and compost.
+2
Level 56
Sep 4, 2021
Hi, could you post the link again if you can find it? It looks like it's broken now and I'd love to have a look at it.
+1
Level 74
Nov 13, 2019
I was going to say - I wonder if the "recycling" sent to China is included in those numbers.
+1
Level 71
Nov 13, 2019
Same in Europe, especially here in Germany.
+15
Level 76
Nov 13, 2019
So these are all the countries that the West sends their plastic to for "recycling". It would be interesting which countries' consumers are actually responsible for the most plastic, as opposed to which countries it is disposed in.
+4
Level 80
Nov 13, 2019
A lot of plastic is actually taken care of locally (disposed or recycled), there are loads of facilities in the west.
+4
Level ∞
Nov 13, 2019
As far as I know, it's mostly China that used to take recycled plastic from other countries. This isn't really a western problem.
+3
Level 66
Nov 14, 2019
I watched a documentary saying that a lot of plastic is sent from the UK to Malaysia to be "processed" (which in practice meant dumping it in a scrapyard and waiting until it caught fire and released noxious fumes into the nearby residential areas, and then doing nothing). But that was just from one particular local authority in the UK and I don't know if any other local authorities sent their plastic to Malaysia. Also it has probably stopped now because of the documentary (it probably would have had some effect as it seemed that the local authority didn't know what was happening to the plastic).
+1
Level 87
Nov 13, 2019
I have a friend who inherited a regional waste company (mostly a giant fleet of garbage trucks). He has his drivers collect separate trash and umpteen types of recycling because it's what customers in general want. It winds up obviously taking more room per trip instead of compacting it in one giant smelly mess. So the costs are passed back to the curbside cans of course. Unfortunately, a great percentage of it all winds up in regional incinerators after being sorted even though there are rail yards, freeways and a deep water international port right there to send it back into recirculation. I'm not joining a conversation with a solution, be it informed or nearsighted, just a head shake.
+1
Level 23
Sep 8, 2021
yes fr
+1
Level 74
Nov 13, 2019
Something wrong maybe? I beat or equalled 42.9% and got 85% of the answers correct but yet it gave me 5 points
+2
Level 74
Nov 14, 2019
So, what's special about you, HinesBrothers? I got 85% and only scored 3.
+1
Level 71
Nov 13, 2019
Thanks for this quiz! It’s not only about knowing (and showing you know), but also about learning something and maybe making the world a little, little better,
+1
Level 66
Nov 14, 2019
In some cases the best solution to the problem of how to dispose of plastic is to burn it in a controlled manner. Most of the stuff it is made of is burned anyway. Politicians who want to appear to care about the environment dislike this solution, however, and would rather send it to a third-world country if recycling is not an option in their area. In these countries they are assured that the plastic will be processed cheaply and in a "green" manner, but it actually ends up burning anyway, just in a way that poisons people and in which the energy released by burning can't be used. Meanwhile one wonders what happens to the money paid for the recycling if the recycling never happens. I presume it is kept by some corrupt official.
+6
Level 65
Nov 14, 2019
It is evident by these numbers that the EU desperately needs to ban plastic straws within its borders.
+1
Level 66
Nov 14, 2019
A lot of this will be sent over by the EU for processing and not handled properly. But plastic straws are a very small percentage of the problem, you are correct.
+1
Level 74
Nov 14, 2019
I would ban plastic water bottles. Not only are you paying an exorbitant price for 1/2 liter of water, but those plastic bottles end up on the street or garbage. Most of the litter I see are paper and plastic water bottles.
+6
Level 72
Nov 26, 2019
I live in Germany and here you pay a deposit for the water bottles. 25 cent / bottle, no matter how big or small. This way people return most of the bottles to the shops. There you put them in a machine which gives you a receipt with the amount. You can use it to buy something else from the store or just to get the cash back. Even if some bottles do end up in the trash can, there are a lot of people who collect them, so they're not necessarily "lost" from the cycle.
+1
Level 69
Aug 26, 2020
We do the same in Denmark as MayaB says they do in Germany..
+1
Level 64
Nov 15, 2019
I think more countries should have a bottle and can deposit system where you pay extra money when you buy those packagings and get that money back when you bring them back so they can be recycled or properly disposed. In Germany that's totally normal for most beverages and it's been like that for many many years. From what I know not a lot of countries have such a system.
+1
Level 77
Nov 15, 2019
I read somewhere that the most common, most harmful plastic trash as well as the most common plastic in the oceans is cigarette butts (filters). Pretty lethal, considering the other toxins included.

Do we already have a quiz about the dumped electronics?

+5
Level 90
Nov 19, 2019
Something odd going on in Sri Lanka. 0.25% of the world, 5% of plastic pollution. Either they import everyone else's plastic or they use it in everything.
+3
Level 66
Jan 13, 2020
Agree. None of the reasons stated above can explain how Sri Lanka pollutes more than India, let alone 2,78 times as much. It's just plain impossible.
+2
Level 55
Aug 16, 2021
The data used for the study that is the source for this claim is erroneous. According to the data it claims that Sri Lanka's Per Person Daily waste generation is 5.1kg, which is plainly impossible when even developed countries with a throwaway culture rarely break over 2.5kg PPD.

According to Sri Lanka's Ministry of Environment, the daily generation of solid waste per person in the country is around 0.5kg. The 5.1kg PPD value is an anomaly that should have been pegged before publication, but the data has yet to be retracted.

+1
Level 57
Sep 8, 2021
I just guess the countries I see on packaging the most and hey i got all but north korea that way!
+1
Level 67
Jan 13, 2020
Sri lanka has been busy! And interestingly no russia, I guess they repurpose stuff more? And use it longer.

(I ve seen them "macgyver" a lot of things where other people or countries would have seen something as broken they say ahh we can fix it, and ducttape some thing on ;) Like, no steeringwheel? Does not matter, we can use this dinnerplate.. :) that is a joke btw )

+2
Level 60
Jan 13, 2020
The US heavily makes up in other kinds of pollution even though it may not be very high up on this list.
+14
Level 61
Jan 13, 2020
Bangladesh is the filthiest country I've ever been to. I've never seen a population in which littering & polluting is so accepted. The government & activists are trying to change this attitude but it's an uphill battle.
+9
Level 84
Jan 14, 2020
I remember when I was a kid growing up in the United States people used to just throw trash everywhere. Then there was.. that crying Indian, and Smokey Bear, and the Don't Be a LitterBug campaign, and Captain Planet, and Earth Day, and recycling bins showing up everywhere, and Woodsy Owl guilt tripping all of us... and eventually attitudes and behaviors changed. Nowadays I think if someone throws their garbage on the street or out their car window most people are going to look at them like they're a total jerk, and so Americans just don't do that anymore. Not often. And when I'm overseas some places I become very aware of just how hard it is to find a public trash can, depending on where you are. Varies from place to place. Campaigns like this can have an effect.
+2
Level ∞
Aug 26, 2021
This TedX talk is interesting. Littering is something which is accepted in South Asia but which is not in most other countries. People are trying to change this, but change can be slow.
+2
Level 71
Sep 4, 2021
I can confirm this. There are huge piles of trash everywhere, especially the poorer rural areas. Kinda disgusting to see how much it clogs up waterways and such. Even my educated, urbanite cousins just threw plastic wherever they wanted. It's disappointing because Bangladesh is otherwise a pretty beautiful country.

Ironically, Bangladesh was one of the first countries to ban plastic bags in some form, back in 2002. The ban just isn't enforced very well at all. I just hope economic development and government action can fix this problem in the future (although maybe not, since Thailand is richer and still clearly has a huge plastic problem).

+3
Level 63
Jan 18, 2020
As if North Korea has more than Mexico...
+2
Level 61
Jun 4, 2021
North Korea?

They even haven't money to buy a plastic bag!

+5
Level 67
Sep 4, 2021
yet we are forced to believe that western countries are the evil polluters. i dont see anyone care about the pollution of india, indonesia or mexico!
+1
Level 56
Sep 4, 2021
mexico is a western nation, geographically at least
+1
Level 57
Sep 4, 2021
Fake news!
+1
Level 71
Sep 4, 2021
Any reason why India is so "low"? I'd expect them to be right alongside China and Indonesia. Maybe the numbers are being underreported?
+1
Level 57
Sep 4, 2021
Of course China would be the first. Plastic pollution and coronaviruses. smh.
+1
Level 51
Feb 16, 2022
no it's actually the u.s. sends most of their plastic waste to china
+1
Level 55
Sep 7, 2021
I would have expected China and India to be at an similar level, actually I thought India would have been even higher than China.

Now what are the main reasons for this?

Missing technology? Probably for some of the countries but not for the main culprits.

Low education of the people? It is difficult to prevent pollution if people don't understand the reasons...

Poverty may also be a big factor. It's much easier to think about waste separation when you know what to eat the next day.

But I think, the main factor is greed, saving money by NOT paying for waste management or shipping it to cheap providers in other countries, who don't handle this properly and rather just dump it into the next river.

+2
Level 61
Sep 7, 2021
It's mainly because this metric is flawed, there is absolutely no way that the US only accounts for 0.86% of plastic while Sri Lanka accounts for 5%. It's straight up impossible.
+1
Level 54
Sep 10, 2021
Was expecting african countries here? idk y
+1
Level 36
Nov 23, 2021
19/20

Missed malaysia