Tue | Nov 24, 2020

World's plastic waste could bury Manhattan 2 miles deep

Published:Wednesday | July 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Plastic trash is compacted into bales ready for further processing at the waste processing dump on the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus.


Industry has made more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950 and there's enough left over to bury Manhattan under more than two miles of trash, according to a new cradle-to-grave global study.

Plastics don't break down like other man-made materials, so three-quarters of the stuff end up as waste in landfills, littered on land and floating in oceans, lakes and rivers, according to the research reported in Wednesday's issue of the journal Science Advances .

"At the current rate, we are really heading towards a plastic planet," said study lead author Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "It is something we need to pay attention to."

The plastics boom started after World War II, and now plastics are everywhere. They are used in packaging like plastic bottles and consumer goods like cell phones and refrigerators. They are in pipes and other construction material. They are in cars and clothing, usually as polyester.

Study co-author Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia said the world first needs to know how much plastic waste there is worldwide before it can tackle the problem.

They calculated that of the 9.1 billion tons made, nearly seven billion tons are no longer used. Only nine percent got recycled and another 12 percent was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land and in water.

In 2015, the world created 448 million tons of plastic more than twice as much as was made in 1998.

China makes the most plastic, followed by Europe and North America.

About 35 per cent of the plastic made is for packaging, like water bottles.