Only 9 percent of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced since the 1950s have been recycled, according to the results of a new study.
A group of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution published their findings in the journal Science Advances.
The results show that of all the plastic produced, 6.3 billion metric tons of it has been turned into waste as of 2015. Data from that indicates:
- 9 percent was recycled.
- 12 percent was incinerated.
- 79 percent was discarded in landfills or in the natural environment.
The researchers predicted that 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050 if the current trend continues.
One metric ton equals about 1.1 standard U.S. tons.
"The growth of plastics production in the past 65 years has substantially outpaced any other manufactured material," the study results read.
"The same properties that make plastics so versatile in innumerable applications — durability and resistance to degradation — make these materials difficult or impossible for nature to assimilate. Thus, without a well-designed and tailor-made management strategy for end-of-life plastics, humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet."
Another study found that 300 billion pieces of plastic are floating in the Arctic Ocean Many of those are too small for humans to see without some sort of magnification.
A remote, uninhabited island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, meanwhile, has become home for 37.7 million pieces of plastic debris that have washed up on its shores.
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