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South Coast Researcher Measures Production, Use And Fate Of All Plastics Ever Made

Photo by UC Santa Barbara

Humans have produced an enormous amount of plastic, and most of it ends up in landfills. A South Coast researcher took a closer look at the production, use and fate of all plastics ever made.

UC Santa Barbara industrial ecologist Roland Geyer led a study to see just how much plastic has been created since the large-scale production of synthetic materials began in the 1950s. His finding was 8.3 billion tons -- enough to cover the entire country of Argentina.

“So far, we have only recycled 9% of all our plastic waste. We have incinerated about 12%, which means that just under 80% of all plastic waste that we have made so far is accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment.”

He says the largest market for plastics is packaging, which is used and then discarded. Of the total amount produced from 1950 to 2015, about half was created in the last 13 years.