A new study conducted by academics from the University of California and Santa Barbara leaves us with new information and statistics regarding the plastic pollution of our planet – and all said information leads to one conclusion that can no longer be denied. Our plastic problem is now becoming a full-blown environmental crisis that can be compared to climate change.
The analysis of all mass-produced plastics – the first global analysis of the kind – has found that plastic outstripped most of other materials produced by people and it is now threatening “near permanent contamination of the natural environment.” According to The Guardian, the analysis found that since 1950s, humans have produced a shocking 9.1 billion tons of plastic, the majority of which ended up in landfills or polluting the continents and oceans.
The researchers discovered that the total amount of plastic we have produced is equivalent in weight to one billion elephants and it will last for hundreds or even thousands of years, since plastics are not biodegradable and, therefore, remain where they are discarded virtually forever. To put that into context, it would be enough trash to bury Manhattan in more than two miles of trash!
But that is still not the end of the disturbing news – the production of plastic is expected to accelerate further over the next decades. The amount of plastic produced is projected to reach 34 billion by the year 2050. In 1950, when plastic was first mass-produced, manufactured were two million tons – a small figure in comparison to the current findings and the expectations for the future. The study found that the growth in plastic production has been driven in a large part by packaging and the popularity of single-use containers, wrapping, and bottles. The only materials that outstripped plastic production in the past 70 years, were those used in the construction sector, like steel and cement.
The facts are especially frightening, since, according to a study from 2015, only nine percent of all plastic waste generated was recycled, 12 percent incinerated, and 79 percent accumulated in landfills and in the environment.
“We are on this enormous growth trajectory – there is no end in sight of the rate of this growth,” said Roland Geyer from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who has led the project. “We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late,” Geyer added.
The already discovered effects that plastics have on the planet, on animals, and on people, are great in number and they are all overwhelmingly negative and dangerous. Every year, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic and abound 8.8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans. Marine animals are being killed through entanglement and ingestion and the pollution of both water and land makes an enormous impact on the ecosystems.
Additionally, as Geyer pointed out, terrestrial organisms may be effected by the pollution in a similar way marine ones are. “There is much more attention paid to how plastics are interacting with marine organisms but there is much, much less known about how plastics interact with terrestrial organisms – I would suspect there is something equivalent going on and it might actually be worse.”
The numbers and projections for the future are deeply unsettling – but they should also be a major push for each of as individuals, as well as for businesses and governments, to take serious action and commit to finding new ways and implementing those already existing ones in order to minimize the amount of plastic we produce and dispose of as much and as quickly as it is possible.
To learn how to minimize your plastic footprint, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!
Image source: byrev/Pixabay