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Here's How Much Plastic Humanity Has Produced
21 July 2017, 12:41 | Audrey Hill
Image David Lofink Flickr
It said that about half of plastics are used in packaging, so they enter the waste stream quickly, while most steel and concrete, the other large-scale manmade materials, are mostly used in construction and can take decades become waste. According to The Guardian, the analysis found that since 1950s, humans have produced a shocking 9.1 billion tons of plastic, the majority of which ended up in landfills or polluting the continents and oceans.
Because none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable, they accumulate rather than decompose.
As of 2015, about 7 billion tons (6.3 billion metric tons) of plastic have been disposed of as waste, with only 9 percent of it recycled, 12 percent incinerated, and a whopping 79 percent finding its way into landfills, the researchers report.
But the problem is where all this plastic is ending up. Some crabs were found making homes out of pieces of plastic.
Recycling only delays plastic's inevitable trip to a trash bin.
Furthermore, mixing different types of plastic in recycling creates "secondary plastics" which are of limited technical or economic value. Part of the problem is that what makes plastic useful also makes it risky; since it never rots and is hard to destroy compared to glass, ceramic, or cardboard, it makes great packaging.
While plastics are durable and lightweight, almost all commercial plastics are non-biodegradable - meaning they remain in the environment for decades before breaking down.
The authors of the paper "Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made", published in Science Advances, are Roland Geyer of the University of California Santa Barbara, Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia, and Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association in MA.
They say such knowledge could help offer better solutions to the challenges posed by the global increase in plastics production and use. For example, in the United States, we support a number of programs to improve recycling and recovery including: the Wrap Recycling Action program, a public-private partnership to increase recycling of plastic wraps and bags at stores; Materials Recovery for the Future, which is researching how to process more flexible packaging at recycling facilities; Keep America Beautiful's "I Want to be Recycled" campaign, which encourages consumers to recycle; and The Recycling Partnership, which works with communities and companies to improve local recycling. "And that would definitely be a simple way to address plastic waste generation; if we just make less in the first place". "Put simply, you can't manage what you don't measure, and so we think policy discussions will be more informed and fact based now that we have these numbers".
To develop a truly comprehensive waste management plan, Hoornweg said communities need strategies to address and track other waste too, such as metals and hazardous materials.
There have been several studies on how the plastic is harming wildlife, with a focus on sea birds.
The main plastics produced are high density polyethylene - used for plastic bottles - PET (polyethylene terephthalate), polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) -polyester, polyamide and acrylic. "This paper delivers hard data not only for how much plastic we've made over the years but also its composition and the amount and kind of additives that plastic contains".
In 2014, 30 percent of plastic waste was recycled in Europe, and 25 percent recycled in China. Plastic consumption has far outpaced scientific study into the material and its impacts, scientists say. While technology is advancing rapidly, it's still, at the moment, cheaper to just throw away plastic than to recycle it.
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