Three-quarters of all the plastic ever made is now waste

Lydia Fleming
July 21, 2017

As a result, they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment.

As an industrial ecologist, Geyer studies society's use of materials and energy.

The mind boggling total amount of plastic manufactured since the material was initially mass-produced in the 1950s comes from the "first global analysis of all mass-produced plastics".

The scientists compiled production statistics for resins, fibres and additives from a variety of industry sources.

U.S. scientists estimate a total of 8.3 billion tons (metric) of plastic have been produced over the course of history, enough to cover a country the size of Argentina, and a ton of plastic for every person on the planet. Notable exceptions are steel and cement. Emerging technologies, such as pyrolysis (extracting fuel from plastic waste) and biodigestion (using polymer-digesting organisms), offer some hope of mitigating the amount of waste in the future.

Scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made.

"The ensuing rapid growth in plastics production is extraordinary, surpassing most other man-made materials".

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Since nearly all plastic is non-biodegradable, these materials could "be with us for hundreds of years", languishing in landfills or floating in our seas, Geyer told NPR.

"Whether that's refusing throwaway plastics wherever we can, taking a refillable water bottle with you instead of buying single-use bottled water, reusing plastic bags on your weekly shop at the supermarket or making sure you recycle more, we all have our role to play", he said. On average, only about 9 percent of Earth's 9 billion tons of plastic has been recycled.

By 2015, 6.9 billion tons of plastic had already become waste, of which only 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent now occupies landfills or litters the natural environment.

The new research also shows that plastic production is still growing.

"Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices".

The same team responsible for this study was behind a 2015 study that found somewhere between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic from people living within 50 kilometres of coastlines had made its way into our oceans.

Despite the historically low rate of plastic recycling at global level, it has increased in Europe and China, according to the study.

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"Even with two very different methods, we got virtually the same waste number - 275 million metric tons - for 2010, which suggests that the numbers are quite robust", Geyer said.

Steve Russell, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council said the industry is acknowledge the problem and it is working on increasing recycling and reducing waste.

The Daily Mail is campaigning to end the scourge of plastic dumped in the environment.

A news release from UCSB announcing the study said the authors were "quick to caution" they aren not advocating getting ride of plastics but instead "advocate a more critical examination of plastic use".

That university also worked with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association on the project.

"Hopefully, everyone who reads this article will come away with the same idea, that we need to change the way we make use of and manage plastics", he said.

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Other reports by Info About Network

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