How much does earth's plastic weigh? Try a billion elephants!
Despite its extremely negative environmental impacts, plastic continues to be an inherent part of our lifestyle. As the world's plastic-waste continues to multiply each second, US scientists have estimated that about 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been made in the past 65 years or so. This is equivalent to the weight of 25 Empire State buildings or a billion elephants! Let's know more!
The paper published in the journal 'Science Advances' intended to conduct the first global assessment on the amount of plastic manufactured, how it is used and where it eventually ends up. The paper is authored by Dr. Ronald Geyer from the University of California.
Plastic is regarded a highly durable and adaptable material compared to other products such as cement and steel. It acquired popularity in the 1950s with the spread of manufacturing industries. Mostly non-biodegradable, plastic is currently utilized in areas from construction to food wrapping. However, its permanent disposal can only be accomplished by a decomposition process known as pyrolysis or through incineration which produces emissions.
The study found that half of the total 83,000 million tonnes of plastic made was manufactured in the last 13 years. While 30% remains in use, merely 9% of the 70% waste has been recycled. The recycling rates for Europe, China and the US stood at 30%, 25% and 9% respectively. Additionally, the world would potentially generate 12 billion tonnes of waste by 2050.
Another 2015 study estimated that we annually dump 8 million tonnes of trash into the oceans. The plastic can go on to become huge marine trash vortexes, basically 'a soupy collection of marine debris' such as the Great Pacific garbage patch.
Scholars warn that a tsunami of plastic waste is coming our way; thereby mandating the governments and private players to make efforts to ensure that most of the plastic does not end up in the environment. Recycling of the plastic material is a key factor in ensuring that it goes through a loop as much as 20 times and thereby reduce waste.