Billions of tons of plastic trash accumulating on Earth
Billions of tons of plastic trash accumulating on Earth
Mechanical separation of plastic for recycling
20 July, 2017, 04:07
"Even we were kind of surprised at the sheer magnitude of plastics being made and used", Geyer said.
"There is much more attention paid to how plastics are interacting with marine organisms but there is much, much less known about how plastics interact with terrestrial organisms - I would suspect there is something equivalent going on and it might actually be worse".
"Roughly half of all the steel we make goes into construction, so it will have decades of use-plastic is the opposite", said lead author Roland Geyer, an associate professor in UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, in a statement.
China makes the most plastic, followed by Europe and North America.
"America's plastics makers welcome this new look at global production, use, and management of used plastics, and we look forward to continuing discussions on why plastics use is growing and how these advanced materials contribute to our safety, health and quality of life". Geyer said his figures are higher than other calculations because he includes plastics material woven into fibers like polyester clothing, including microfiber material. "Eight point three billion metric tons of plastics produced so far. Any plastic that never gets produced does not need to be discarded".
"Half of all plastics become waste after four or fewer years of use".
"A world without plastics, or synthetic organic polymers, seems unimaginable today, yet their large-scale production and use only dates back to about 1950", the researchers wrote.
The same team of researchers concluded in 2015 that roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic found its way into the worlds oceans in 2010. This uptick corresponds to a compound annual growth rate approximately 2.5 times the rate of the global gross domestic product during the same time period.
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"Of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of virgin plastics ever made, half was made just in the last 13 years", Geyer said. In other words, just over 400 million metric tons sustained us for 50 years.
For the study, the researchers compiled global production statistics for resins, fibers, and additives from various industry sources, breaking them down according to type and consuming sector. By then, just a century after we figured out how to mass produce it, they think we'll have created more than 37 billion tons of plastic total. Part of this trend is because almost half of polymer plastics becomes packaging material.
"Plastics are used because they are efficient, they are cost effective and they do their jobs", said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council, an industry association that represents manufacturers. Each carries unique consequences. As plastics don't biodegrade we can expect to have this waste around for a very long time. Of this, 9% was recycled and 12% incinerated.
Manual separation of plastic bottles, labels and caps.
The researchers also found that by 2015, humans had produced 6.3 billon tons of plastic waste.
"But they have become so ubiquitous that you can't go anywhere without finding plastic waste in our environment, including our oceans".
Burning plastic eradicates it. But engineers and environmentalists aren't vying for total recall - to stop using plastic overnight would be reckless, let alone impossible. 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. Most plastics are not biodegradable and those that are were excluded from this analysis due to their low production volume of 4 million metric tons.
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