Our plastic-clogged planet
The world is filling up with plastic. In the first comprehensive assessment of global plastic production, researchers have calculated that humans have created an astonishing 9 billion tons of the synthetic polymer since 1950—and 7 billion tons of it have been thrown away. Of the discarded plastic, just 9 percent has been recycled and 12 percent incinerated; the remaining 79 percent is either clogging up landfills, littering landscapes, or floating in the ocean. The problem is only getting worse: Half of all global plastic production has taken place in the past 13 years. The researchers estimate that by 2050, there will be more than 13 billion tons of discarded plastic worldwide. “The danger is permanent global contamination with plastics,” lead author Roland Geyer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, tells The Washington Post. “It’s just going to be everywhere: in the soil, in the ocean, in the sediment of the ocean floor.” Even the beaches of Hawaii now have plastic bits mixed in with the sand. A team of oceanographers recently discovered off the coast of Chile a plastic garbage patch bigger than the state of Texas, similar to the vortex of floating plastic debris in the North Pacific. Most plastic products, such as food packages, are designed to be used once and then discarded. Recycling rates remain low, especially in the U.S.: Europeans recycle 30 percent of their plastic and the Chinese 25 percent, versus just 9 percent here.