Humans Have Produced Nine Billion Tons of Plastic and Counting

As of 2015, the grand total of all plastic ever made since 1950 amounts to 8.3 billion metric tons.

The scientists compiled production statistics for resins, fibres and additives from a range of industry sources, drawing a distinction between plastics and materials used extensively in construction, such as steel and cement.

Recent figures from Recycle Now show that Britain bins around 16 million plastic bottles a day and If a year's worth of the UK's unrecycled plastic bottles were placed end to end, they'd reach around the world 31 times, covering just over 780,000 miles. Now published in Science Advances, it's the first global analysis of the production, use and fate of all the plastics our species has ever produced - and it's showing just how badly we need to rethink plastic, and why we're using so much of it. As the largest market within plastics is disposable packaging, created to be used once, half of all plastic produced is discarded in under four years. And scientists have warned that plastic bottles and other packaging are overrunning some of the UK's most attractive beaches and remote coastline, endangering wildlife from basking sharks to puffins.

Demand for plastics has grown in parallel with population growth, particularly in parts of the world where large numbers of people are rapidly moving out of poverty. "But I think we need to take a careful look at our expansive use of plastics and ask when the use of these materials does or does not make sense".

And as of 2015, only nine per cent of the plastic waste produced ended up recycled, and another 12 per cent was incinerated, the researchers found in their report. "We're finding plastics everywhere", said Wallace as quoted by AP.

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The study was conducted by USA academics who found the total amount of plastic to be produced was equal to the weight of one billion elephants. In this new study, the team said plastics are found in every major ocean basin in the world.

Because none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable, they accumulate rather than decompose.

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. Half of the plastic used just once and tossed away was created in the past 30 years, the study says. At current trends, it said the "global discard rate" of plastics would drop from 58 percent in 2014 to 6 percent in 2050. To be effective, however, recycling must forestall new plastic production, not merely add to the total amount of plastic produced, all of which will eventually be thrown out. The second-largest use is for construction, at about 20 percent. But, since 2002, we've doubled that yield, Geyer said. Twice. And worse, most of it, 5.5 billion tons, is still around. In developed countries, the environmental and health impacts of waste incineration rely on the incinerator design and emissions technologies.

Recent Scottish studies revealed that as many as nine out of ten fulmars found dead in the North Sea had eaten plastic, while almost as many prawns sampled in the Clyde had plastic in their guts.

Plastic is now found throughout the oceans, and will outweigh fish by 2050.

  • Marjorie Miles