Global production of plastic has grown rapidly in recent decades, surpassing many other man-made materials.
If current production, use and waste management trends continue, the study projects the total amount of plastic dumped in landfill or polluting the natural environments by 2050 will be 12 billion tonnes - though the paper does note that a material flow analysis of this kind requires multiple assumptions or simplifications, so projections are subject to uncertainty and can not necessarily be regarded as solid predictions. Most of the plastics are discarded after a few years, with the exception of products used in construction and development. Much of it ends up in the soil, in smaller particles, or in the ocean, or in our water.
Disposal data came from sources such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PlasticsEurope, the World Bank, and the China Statistical Yearbook.
"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 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.
But the same properties that make plastics so useful in everyday life - such as durability - also make them hard to break down.
Plastic is in nearly everything we use.
The study by United States academics found that the total amount of plastic produced - equivalent in weight to one billion elephants - will last for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.
Most of these plastics are either high-density polyethylene (used for plastic bottles and pipes), polypropylene (used for packaging, but has many other applications) or polyvinylchloride (PVC - used for piping).
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The plastic will hang around for hundreds if not thousands of years, with potentially harmful consequences for the environment, the researchers warn.
Of those 9 billion tons, half was made in the last 13 years, said Roland Geyer, an associate professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the new study, which was published online today (July 19) in the journal Science Advances.
Study co-author Doctor Kara Lavender Law, a research professor at the Sea Education Association (SEA), added: "There are areas where plastics are indispensable, especially in products designed for durability".
Now a research team has tallied up how much plastic has been produced and where much of it has gone.
Geyer said: "What we are trying to do is to create the foundation for sustainable materials management".
The report said that most plastics in the form of fibre - such as synthetic fabrics - are not recycled at all, and are either burnt or sent to landfill. The second-largest use is for construction, at about 20 percent.
The Daily Mail is campaigning to end the scourge of plastic dumped in the environment. Of all the plastic produced to date, only about 9 percent has been recycled, the study found.
Plastic debris can now be found in oceans all over the world. What's more, some 2.8 billion tons, or about 30 percent of the total, is in use right now, an indication of how fast the industry is growing.
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