By Raquel de la Morena
We are surrounded by plastic. East floods our daily life in all kinds of objects–From shopping bags to construction materials and even cosmetic ingredients, among many other products–, and its versatile characteristics and low price have made it essential for human beings. However, all that glitters is not gold: for years, many experts have put on the table that in reality this "low price" is becoming avery high environmental cost for the planet.
In fact, its production has skyrocketed alarmingly since the large-scale manufacturing of synthetic materials began in the early 1950s. And there is already evidence of it: according to a study by a scientific team at the University of Georgia , the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Sea Education Association, all of which are US institutions,Humans have generated a total of 8.3 billion tons of plastic.
And the most worrying thing is that we have not been too skillful when it comes to managing waste: because of those 8,300 million tons manufactured, 6,300 million are waste today; and of these, only about 9% haverecycled, 12% has been incinerated and a staggering 79% lies accumulated in landfills or in the environment. This is the first global analysis of the production, use and final destination that has been given to all the plastics that humans have manufactured since the creation of this material until 2015.
To give you an idea of the plastic that we have produced in all these decades,its total weight would be equivalent, according to these researchers, to that of 822,000 Eiffel towers, 25,000 Empire State, 80 million blue whales and 1 billion elephants.
Poor prospects for 2050
"If current trends in waste production and management continue, approximately12,000 tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the environment by 2050", warn the authors of the study, recently published in the journalScience Advances.
Jenna Jambeck, co-author of this research and associate professor at the University of Georgia, explains that "most plastics do not biodegrade in any way, sothe waste that humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years. Our estimates underscore the need to give extreme thought to the materials we use and our waste management practices. "
With the passage of time, we have become more dependent on plastic. This way yeah world production was 2 million tons in 1950, in 2015, it exceeded 400 million tons, becoming one of the materials most produced by humans. In fact, of the total plastic produced between 1950 and 2015, approximately half has been generated in the last thirteen years.
Its largest market is in the packaging sector and most of these products are single use and then discarded. Further,its shelf life is very short. "Half of all plastics become waste after four years or less of use," explains Roland Geyer, lead author of the study and associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
One of the main objectives of this study isthat the necessary foundations are created for a sustainable management of materials. "Simply put, you can't manage what you don't measure, so we think the policy discussions to put in place will be more informed and fact-based now that we have these numbers," Geyer adds.
Infographic: University of Georgia / Janet A. Beckley