In fact there is so much plastic waste on our planet that it could bury Manhattan two miles deep, and weighs as much as 25,000 Empire State Buildings, says Reuters.
“At the current rate, we are really heading toward a plastic planet,” said lead author Roland Geyer, industrial ecologist at the University of California.
Despite experts knowing that plastics don’t break down like other man-made materials, there had never previously been a comprehensive global study to look at their end-of-life fate.
Now co-author Jenna Jambeck has demanded that the world needs to know how much plastic waste there is before it can tackle the problem.
The study, based on data supplied by the industry, estimated that 8,300 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date, with growth accelerating over time; in 2015 we made 448 million tons, which is double the amount made in 1998.
As of 2015, approximately 6,300 million metric tons was designated as waste and sent to landfill. Only 9% was recycled, another 12% was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land in water.
And if current trends continue, they estimate we will see double this figure by 2050.
Chelsea Rochman, a professor of ecology at the University of Toronto, told the Associated Press: “At some point we will run out of room to put it…some may argue we already have and now it’s found in every nook and cranny of our oceans.”
The report reminds us that plastic debris has been found in all major ocean basins, with an estimated four to 12 million metric tons of plastic waste generated on land entering the marine environment in 2010 alone.
Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the environment that it has been suggested as a geological indicator of the proposed Anthropocene era – the proposed period of time from when humans started having a significant impact on Earth.
The boom in plastics production began after the Second World War, and today is used in everything from consumer goods like mobile phones refrigerators, construction materials, and in cars and clothes.
And 35% of all plastic is used in plastic bottles – in March, HuffPost UK reported that more than two million tonnes of throwaway plastic soft drink bottles are sold each year – the equivalent weight of 10,000 blue whales.
A survey by Greenpeace found five of six global soft drinks firms sold single-use plastic bottles weighing more than two million tonnes – only 6.6% of which was recycled plastic.
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The vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons, and none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable.
Defenders of the plastics industry say such as Steve Russell, Vice President of plastics for the ‘American Chemistry Council’, says that alternatives to plastics such as glass, paper or aluminum, requires more energy to produce, so plastic is actually the greenest option.
“Plastics are used because they are efficient, they are cost effective and they do their jobs,” said Russell, “And if we didn’t have them, the impact on the environment would be worse.”
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