According to this study published in Science Advances, researchers estimated that the world produced approximately 8.3 billion tons of plastic from 1950 up to 2015. What’s more terrifying is that only 9% of it had been recycled and 12% of it had been incinerated. The remaining 79% ended up in landfills or nature. That’s a cumulative 6.6 billion tons of plastic trash floating around somewhere.
Unfortunately, what makes plastic so popular is also what makes it so problematic. It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and durable. So durable that virtually every piece that has ever been made still exists in some shape or form if it hasn’t been incinerated. In addition, of the 300 million tons of plastic we produce each year, approximately 8 million tons end up in our oceans. As it disintegrates, our marine life ingests it and in turn, we ingest them.
This graph shows how we have been steadily producing more and more plastic each year. The dip in 2008 was due to a recession.
- In 2012, we produced 338 million tons.
- In 2013, we produced 352 million tons.
- In 2014, we produced 367 million tons.
- In 2015, we produced 381 million tons.
Where does it come from?
While plastic waste is highest in high income countries, they tend to have better waste management systems in place. Most mismanaged waste tends to come from low-to-middle income countries.
When it comes to method, 20% of the plastic found in the ocean comes from fishing activity such as discarded nets and abandoned vessels. 80% of it comes from land-based sources.
As you can see, our plastic production has been steadily increasing by 4% each year. The packaging sector alone produces a whopping 47% of it! On top of which, it’s the type that has a lifespan shorter than 6 months. Because it disintegrates so quickly, it’s not reusable. And while it does disintegrate, it unfortunately disintegrates into microplastics which are harmful to aquatic life. Reducing our use of single-use plastics can significantly lessen our impact on the environment.