Humans have produced 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950

Scientists calculate the total amount of plastic ever produced – and it makes for somber reading

Less than 10 percent have been recycled.

Now a research team has tallied up how much plastic has been produced and where much of it has gone.

The plastic will hang around for hundreds if not thousands of years, with potentially harmful consequences for the environment, the researchers warn.

And, If current trends continue, the researchers warned more than 13 billion tons of plastic waste will be discarded in landfills or dumped in the environment by 2050 - around 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building in NY.

They said that the human race is carrying out an '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'. But then, Geyer said the researchers chose to include plastic fibers used in textiles, such as in fleece and polyester, which are used to make clothing, carpets, curtains and furniture.

These statistics are thanks to a new study led by a University of California-Santa Barbara researcher and published Wednesday in Science Advances, attempting to quantify the sheer amount of plastics out there right now - its imposing title is "Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made".

None of the plastics in widespread use are biodegradable. It pointed to other research that showed that plastics reduce environmental costs by four times compared to other materials.

Nurofen and Durex maker sells off food business in £3.2bn deal
Past year it approached Premier Foods, the owner of British food brands like Mr Kipling cakes and Oxo stock cubes. Frank's RedHot was already the top hot sauce brand in the US and Canada, and French's was already the top mustard.

"Our estimate of eight million metric tonnes going into the oceans in 2010 is equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world", said Jenna Jambeck, co-author of both studies, in a statement at the time. Many experts agree that expanded waste management infrastructure is the key to addressing sustainable use of these resources. Most of that material has already become waste but has not been recycled, and that could spell trouble for our environment and our planet as a whole. As the largest market within plastics is disposable packaging, created to be used once, half of all plastic produced is discarded in under four years. Forty-two percent of the total was used in packaging, and in the US only 9 percent of the total was recycled.

Landfills are full of plastics that have not been recycled. That will rise to 44 percent recycling and 50 percent incineration by 2050, if current trends hold, the study said, although it noted it's very hard to predict that.

What happens when that plastic is thrown away is what worries scientists most. Emerging technologies, such as pyrolysis (extracting fuel from plastic waste) and biodigestion (using polymer-digesting organisms), offer some hope of mitigating the amount of waste in the future.

And earlier this year scientists found almost 18 tonnes of plastic on one of the world's most remote islands, an uninhabited coral atoll in the South Pacific.

The researchers are quick to stress, though, that the study should be used to highlight the issue and generate discussion about the use and distribution of plastic, and is not calling for the total removal of plastic from the marketplace.

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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