Planet Earth will soon become a ‘Plastic Planet ‘- Over population of polymer
The total amount of plastics ever produced has been calculated to be about 8.3 billion tonnes.
The great issue is that plastic items, like packaging, storing, and preserving tend to be used for very short periods before being discarded.
The larger percentage of its production is now in waste streams, sent largely to landfill – although too much of it just litters the wider environment, including the oceans.
The world is rapidly heading towards a ‘Plastic Planet ‘, and if we don’t want to live on that kind of world then we may have to rethink how we use some materials, in particular plastic.
It has been researched that:
- 8,300 million tonnes of virgin plastics have been produced
- Almost an half of this material was made in just the past 13 years
- About 30% of the historic production remains in use today
- Of the discarded plastic, roughly 9% has been recycled
- Some 12% has been incinerated, but 79% has gone to landfill
- Shortest-use items are packaging, typically less than a year
- Longest-use products are found in construction and machinery
- Current trends point to 12 billion tonnes of waste by 2050
There is no question that plastics are a wonder material. Their adaptability and durability have seen their production and use accelerate past most other manmade materials apart from steel, cement and brick.
From the start of mass-manufacturing in the 50s, the polymers (plastic) are now all around us, incorporated into everything from food wrapping and fashion, to medicals and flame retardants. But it is precisely plastics’ amazing qualities that now present a burgeoning problem.
In the meantime, the waste mounts up. There is enough plastic debris out there right now, to cover an entire country the size of Argentina.
The single biggest use of plastics is in packaging and the application tends to be one-time only
Recycling rates are increasing and novel chemistry has some biodegradable alternatives, but manufacturing new plastic is so cheap that the virgin product is hard to dislodge.
This particular waste flow is probably the one that has generated most concern of late because of the clear evidence now that some of this discarded material is getting into the food chain as fish and other marine creatures ingest small polymer fragments.