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Humans Have Produced 8,3 Billion Metric Tonnes of Plastic Since 1950
21 July 2017, 12:41 | Violet Powell
Mechanical separation of plastic for recycling
Recent figures from Recycle Now show that Britain bins around 16 million plasticbottles 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. As plastics don't biodegrade we can expect to have this waste around for a very long time.
Out of the eight billion tons of plastic, about half has been made in the past 13 years and six billion finished as waste.
Even with those big improvements in waste management, it still said the amount of plastics landfilled or littered would double by 2050 because of large increases in the amount of plastic used.
Unlike other materials, plastic can stay in the environment for thousands of years, Geyer said.
But he said: "Roughly half of all the steel we make goes into construction, so it will have decades of use - plastic is the opposite". Except for what is burned, "all the plastics that we made since 1950 are still with us", he said. Incineration is the only way to assure that plastic is eliminated, and Europe and China by far lead the USA in that category as well, up to 40 per cent compared with 16 per cent.
In 2015, environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck found that about 19 billion pounds of plastic waste ends up in our oceans each year. But while these are used in construction, and will be put to use for decades, the overwhelming majority of plastic is "single use" and discarded straight away.
They say such knowledge could help offer better solutions to the challenges posed by the global increase in plastics production and use.
There have been several studies on how the plastic is harming wildlife, with a focus on sea birds.
Originally, the researchers compiled numbers for plastics that people use in everyday situations, such as packaging, household items, vehicle parts, electronics and other common products.
The study was conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Georgia, California, and Santa Barbara and the Sea Education Association. At current trends, it said the "global discard rate" of plastics would drop from 58 percent in 2014 to 6 percent in 2050.
"In 2025, the annual input would be about twice the 2010 input, or 10 bags full of plastic per foot of coastline", she said. It is among the largest exporters in the nation, accounting for fourteen percent of all USA goods exports.
Despite widespread efforts toward re-usability, only nine per cent was recycled. Only about 2 billion tons of the products are still in use, writes Fears for the Washington Post. Plastic debris is now ubiquitous in marine environments, while contamination of freshwater systems and terrestrial habitats is also increasingly reported, "as is environmental contamination with synthetic fibres".
"Ultimately we want to prevent plastic entering our oceans, with plastic recognised as a finite resource and products created to be easily recyclable".
Geyer said the findings "tell me that we need all tools in the sustainable materials management toolbox" to get a handle on the problem.
Since nearly all plastic is non-biodegradable, these materials could "be with us for hundreds of years", languishing in landfills or floating in our seas, Geyer told NPR.
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