Published by Ian Tiseo, Feb 8, 2023
- Plastic production worldwide
390.7 million tons
- Cumulative plastic production 1950-2017
9.2 billion tons
- Plastic waste recycled worldwide 2018
Plastics are found in almost all products today, from electronics and automobiles to medical equipment and consumer goods. These diverse materials have become so ubiquitous in modern life that it is hard to imagine life without them. Global plastic production now averages more than 300 million metric tons per year, which is a staggering increase compared to the 1.5 million metric tons produced in 1950. The quantity of plastic materials produced since 1950 has now surpassed more than nine billion metric tons, with much of this produced in the past decade. However, more than half of all plastics ever produced have ended up as waste. The improper disposal of plastic waste poses a serious issue because some plastic products can take 500 years to decompose.
Plastic waste generation and management
More than 300 million metric tons of plastic waste are produced each year. The packaging sector accounts for half of this plastic waste generation, with textiles the second-largest contributor. On a country basis, the United States is by far the largest producer of plastic waste worldwide. In 2016, the U.S. generated 42 million metric tons of plastic waste. This was twice the volume that was produced in China that year. The U.S. also generates the most plastic waste per capita, at an estimated 130 kilograms per person. Although vast quantities of plastic waste are currently generated each year, just 21 percent is recycled. The main treatment methods of plastic waste are discarding at landfills and incineration.
Plastic waste’s impact on the environment
An enormous amount of plastic waste is mismanaged globally, especially in regions that lack efficient waste infrastructures. As a result of poor management, millions of tons of plastic garbage leak into the environment. Plastic pollution in oceans has gained considerable media attention in recent years due to the devastating impacts it has on biodiversity. One of the main causes of marine plastic pollution is single-use plastic products. The most common waste items found on beaches are single-use plastic items like cigarette butts, beverage bottles, and food wrappers. This has led to government-imposed bans on single-use plastic products in several countries. However, the plastic waste problem is expected to continue growing in the coming decades without further policies and improved plastic waste management.