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Since 1950, when plastic was first mass produced, humans have produced 9.1 billion tons. The rest has ended up in landfills or polluted our oceans and other natural environments.

As an industrial ecologist, Geyer studies society's use of materials and energy.

"There are areas where plastics are indispensable, especially in products designed for durability", Kara Lavender Law, a professor at the Sea Education Association and co-author of the new research, said.

While China, the US and Europe produce the most plastic, the U.S.is the worst out of the three when it comest to recycling, Roland Geyer, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, also told USA Today.

As a result, the share of plastics in municipal solid waste increased from less than one per cent in 1960 to more than 10 per cent by 2005 in middle and high-income countries, and plastic debris has been found in all major ocean basins in the world.

There are some ways to mitigate the crisis, such as recycling and the use of biodegradable plastics.

Geyer and his team compiled production statistics for resins, fibers and additives from a variety of industry sources and synthesized them according to type and consuming sector. Notable exceptions are steel and cement.

The researchers are calling for a close look at how people use plastics, and hope their analysis will help with that. But then, Geyer said the researchers chose to include plastic fibers used in textiles, such as in fleece and polyester, which are used to make clothing, carpets, curtains and furniture.

Since nearly all plastic is non-biodegradable, these materials could "be with us for hundreds of years", languishing in landfills or floating in our seas, Geyer told NPR.

If current trends continue more than 13 billion tons of plastic waste will end up in the environment or landfills by 2050, researchers said. We've made, it turns out, nine billion tons of plastic since 1950, and more than half of it is still hanging around. By 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billion tons of which had already become waste, and of that waste total, only 9% was recycled.

The researchers found that, as of 2015, of the almost seven billion tons of plastic waste generated, only nine per cent was recycled and 12 per cent incinerated, while 79 per cent accumulated in landfills or the environment.

To develop a truly comprehensive waste management plan, Hoornweg said communities need strategies to address and track other waste too, such as metals and hazardous materials. Not only that, our production of plastic is accelerating, and the study expects the amount of plastic crap in our oceans, littering our highways, and clogging our landfills to double by 2050.

"Even with two very different methods, we got virtually the same waste number - 275 million metric tons - for 2010, which suggests that the numbers are quite robust", Geyer said.

An official of a USA trade group said the plastics industry recognizes the problem and is working to increase recycling and reduce waste.

And we still don't really know how all this plastic waste is impacting the health of humans, ecosystems and other living organisms.

"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.


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