National Geographic did a story on recycled plastic. Yet or the lack thereof.
First off, MASS PRODUCTION OF plastics began just six decades ago. However it has accelerated so rapidly that it has created 8.3 billion metric tons of it. In addition, most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If that seems like an incomprehensible measure, it is. Even the scientists set out to conduct the world’s first tally. Yes of how much plastic being produced, discarded, burned or put in landfills. Thereby they are horrified by the sheer size of the numbers.
“We all knew there was a rapid and extreme increase in plastic production from 1950 until now, but actually quantifying the cumulative number for all plastic ever made was quite shocking,” says Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia environmental engineer who specializes in studying plastic waste in the oceans.
“This kind of increase would ‘break’ any system that was not ready for it, and this is why we have seen leakage from global waste systems into the oceans,” she says.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure
The new study, published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances. It is the first global analysis of all plastics ever made—and their fate. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that is produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent gets over to recycling. The vast majority—79 percent—is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off. Off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.
Much of the growth in plastic production has been the increased use of plastic packaging, which accounts for more than 40 percent of non-fiber plastic.
The same team, led by Jambeck, produced the first study that assessed the amount of plastic trash that flows into the oceans annually. That research, published in 2015, estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year. That is the equal to five grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline around the globe.
“We weren’t aware of the implications for plastic ending up in our environment until it was already there,” Jambeck says. “Now we have a situation where we have to come from behind to catch up.”
In addition, gaining control of plastic waste is now such a large task. One that it calls for a comprehensive and yes a global approach, Jambeck says, that involves rethinking plastic chemistry. In addition, product design, recycling strategies, and consumer use. The United States ranks behind Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent) in recycling, the study found. Recycling in the U.S. has remained at nine percent since 2012.