Scientists estimate that if the current plastic production trend continues, approximately 12 billion tons of used plastic will end up in landfills or the environment by 2050.
This is the first global analysis of plastics production since the beginning of its mass manufacturing in the 1950s. The accounts and estimates the team of scientists in the US publishes in Science Advances reveal that the problem is far to have a solution. Of the 8.3 billion tones estimated to have been produced by 2015, 6.3 billion have already been turned into waste and from that waste, only 9% was recycled and 12% was incinerated. 79% are missing, the large slice that will be deposited in landfills and the environment.
“Most plastics are not biodegradable in any sense and so the waste of plastics that humans produced can stay with us for hundreds or even thousands of years”, says Jenna Jambeck, a lead author and researcher at the University of Georgia (USA), quoted in a statement on the study. In the paper, the production statistics of resins, fibers and additives from various industry sources were analyzed.
As mentioned in the article, this global production of plastics increased from 2 million tons in 1950 to 400 million in 2015 alone, representing growth that exceeds most man-made materials. In fact, it will only be behind raw materials used in the construction sector, such as steel and cement.
The main problem is that the “life time” of a package, bag or other plastic product is much smaller than something built of cement and/or steel. According to Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper, “half of all plastics turns into trash after four or less years of use”.
This study comes dressed as an alert and an appeal to create a basis “for the sustainable management of materials”. “Put simply, you cannot manage what you’re not measuring, so we believe that now that we have these numbers policy discussions will be more informed and supported by facts”, says Roland Geyer. In the year 2015, Portugal joined a group of countries that began to tax the lightweight plastic bags used in commerce, mainly in hypermarkets, and which started to cost 10 cents.
The measure was adopted in the expectation of reducing the use of an estimated 466 bags per capita per year to 50 bags per capita per year.
The same team of researchers had already published a study in the journal Science in 2015 that pointed to the impressive amounts of plastic that ends up depositing in the oceans. This study also noted that every year, between 5 and 13 million tons of plastic arrive in the oceans, with data referring to the year 2010 on 192 coastal countries.
At that time, one of the countries that most plastered the sea was China, with a value between 1.3 and 3.5 million tons.
The researchers do not advocate a total and definitive cleaning of plastics from the face of the earth, since there are areas where plastics are indispensable, but rather a “more critical analysis” of their use and value to understand where it makes sense to use plastic and where we can do without it.