More than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced by humans since large-scale production began back in the 1950s, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.
Almost all of this plastic now resides as litter or micro-plastics pollution in the natural environment, or buried in landfills. As of 2015, only 9% of the plastics made to date have been recycled, and only 12% incinerated — together accounting for around 2 billion metric tons of plastic — according to the new research. The other 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics that have been produced have become waste (~79%).
Much of the discarded plastic now exists as so-called “micro-plastics” pollution — circulating en masse in the oceans and seas of the world, and present in the seafood that many people eat.
The research predicts that if current trends continue, around 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be polluting the natural environment or in landfills by 2050.