Since 1950, humans have created more than 9.2 billion tons of plastic, 6.3 billion tons of which have been thrown away, unlikely to ever be recycled, according to Nat Geo.

All of this thrown-away plastic is now blanketing the environment, harming animals and ecosystems.

Take Action: Call on Governments and Business Leaders to Say No to Single-Use Plastics

That’s what inspired the stunning cover image for the June 2018 issue of National Geographic, which has already gone viral. The image, from Mexican artist Jorge Gamboa, shows what looks like an iceberg breaking the water’s surface — but it's actually a half-submerged plastic bag.

The issue is called “Planet or Plastic?” and it’s a sobering analysis of the consequences of humanity’s overreliance on plastic.

The oceans, in particular, have been hit especially hard by plastic.

Each year, an estimated 8.8 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans, which is like having five grocery bags filled with plastic sitting on every foot of coastline, or dumping a garbage truck filled with plastic into an ocean every minute.

More than 700 animal species have been found to be harmed by plastic, and it’s possible that all marine creatures are negatively impacted by the substance, especially after it breaks down and leaches toxins into the water, according to Nat Geo.

Read More: This Whale Died From 64 Pounds of Plastic in Its Stomach

The magazine is launching a “Planet or Plastic?” campaign that aims to reduce single-use plastics around the world — and it began by swapping this issue's plastic cover with a paper one.

“Will eliminating a plastic magazine wrapper save the planet? Well, no. But it’s an example of the kind of relatively easy action that every company, every government, and every person can take,” editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg wrote.

“And when you put it together, that adds up to real change,” she added.

The movement against plastic has been gaining momentum in recent years in both private and public sectors.

Major fast food companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks are developing sustainable packaging, and consumer goods giants like IKEA and HP are working to make packaging more sustainable.

Governments have also assumed a leading role. In fact, 16 local, state, and national governments have banned certain forms of plastic.

Read More: The Long, Strange Journey of a Plastic Bag

National Geographic notes that, unlike climate change, there are no real deniers of plastic pollution, partly because it’s easy to point to plastic pollution. A plastic bag on a beach is undeniable, whereas the complex dynamics of climate systems take more explaining.

The notoriety of plastic pollution, according to the iconic institution, could help end the dominance of single-use plastics.

Global Citizen campaigns to eliminate single-use plastic production and you can take action on this issue here.


Defend the Planet

Nat Geo Cover Art Reveals Scale of the Planet’s Plastic Crisis

By Joe McCarthy