World's plastic waste could bury Manhattan 2 miles deep

Jul 21, 2017, 00:43
World's plastic waste could bury Manhattan 2 miles deep

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.

If this doesn't change, 13.2 billion tons (12 billion metric tons) of plastic waste will be disposed of in landfills by 2050, Geyer and his colleagues wrote in the study. Most plastics are not biodegradable and those that are were excluded from this analysis due to their low production volume of 4 million metric tons.

When the scientists looked at the life cycle of plastics, they found that 60 percent of all plastics produced has been discarded into landfills or some other part of the environment. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish.

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Originally, the researchers compiled numbers for plastics that people use in everyday situations, such as packaging, household items, auto parts, electronics and other common products.

The authors said plastic's toughness makes it "difficult or impossible for nature to assmilate" and add that the consequences of dumping so much plastic are unknown. Incineration is the only way to assure that plastic is eliminated, and Europe and China by far lead the United States in that category as well, up to 40 per cent compared with 16 per cent.

Amount of accumulated plastic in tonnes present as garbage in landfills, recycled trash or pollution in the environment, including the oceans. Plastic consumption has far outpaced scientific study into the material and its impacts, scientists say. "You come home from the supermarket and you're just amazed at how much packaging there is together with the produce and the food". To make matters worse, more debris washes up there every day. Since plastics are produced largely from petroleum, they get cheaper when oil prices are down, making recycled plastic less competitive.

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"The same properties that make plastics so versatile in innumerable applications - durability and resistance to degradation - make these materials hard or impossible for nature to assimilate", the new study notes. They found that its production has increased from around 2 million tonnes (2.2m tons) a year in 1950, to a staggering 400 million tonnes (440m tons) in 2015.

"Most plastics don't biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years", said Jenna Jambeck, study coauthor and associate professor of engineering at UGA. "I don't think that's going to be the picture". Such is the conclusion reached by a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the Sea Education Association. As single-package containers led to an explosion in convenience and use, that number grew to 10 per cent in 2005.

"There are areas where plastics are indispensable, especially in products designed for durability", coauthor Kara Lavender Law, from the SEA, said in the statement.

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"Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the environment that it has been suggested as a geological indicator of the proposed Anthropocene era", according to what is credited as the first global analysis of all mass-produced plastics ever made.

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