Calculating the Total Amount of Plastics

Science and Children, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Calculating the Total Amount of Plastics


Since the early 1950s, humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, according to a study.

The study is the first global analysis of the production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. The researchers found that by 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billon tons of which had already become waste. Of that waste, only 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.

If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste (about 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building) will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

"Most plastics don't biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years," says Jenna Jambeck, a coauthor of the study. "Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices."

Global production of plastics increased from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to over 400 million metric tons in 2015, according to the study, outgrowing most other human-made materials. …

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