Whether you get an iced latte to-go in the morning, your restaurant leftovers in a plastic takeaway container, or forget to take a reusable bags to the store, there are numerous ways disposable plastic  adds up –  and that is a huge problem. According to the first global analysis of the production of plastics, humans now produce more plastic than anything else and, as a result, have created 8.3 billion tonnes of the stuff since the 1950s. If the trend continues, humans will eventually bury the planet in plastics, which require hundreds — if not thousands — of years to decompose.

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The study was published in Science Advances and unearthed some dizzying facts. For instance, around 79 percent of the plastic produced ends up in landfills, where it is simply buried and forgotten. Additionally, a large percentage of this waste goes into the oceans where it contaminates the environment, often times poisons or chokes wildlife, and breaks down into tiny pieces, which later collect in giant convergences such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The study also found that only 9 percent of all plastics are recycled, and a further 12 percent are incinerated. “The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste” is to burn or melt it down, the authors wrote. “Thus, near-permanent contamination of the natural environment with plastic waste is a growing concern.”

For the study, the researchers looked at various kinds of plastics, from resin to fibers. They deduced that production has increased from around 2 million tonnes (2.2 m tons) a year in 1950 to an astonishing 400 million tonnes (440 m tons) in 2015. Plastic is now the most produced man-made material, with the exception of items such as steel and cement. However, unlike those two industrial materials which are put to use for decades, plastic is single-use, therefore, is most often discarded right away.

The researchers make it clear that while it is not plausible to completely eliminate plastic from the modern world, production and use needs to decrease dramatically to benefit the ecosystem as a whole. “Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, who co-authored the study. “Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.” The advice is spot-on, considering a recent paper found the micro plastics were present in every marine animal which was sampled in Australia — even those thought to be inaccessible.

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Related: Scotland bans plastic bags, spares landfill 650 million bags in just one year

To reduce your dependence on plastic, you can buy whole, unprocessed foods and biodegradable soaps in bulk and keep them in mason jars at home, remember to take your reusable bags to the grocery store and farmer’s market and take advantage of thrift store offerings (or similar apps which connect you with second-hand goods) to reduce waste and needless packaging. Making this effort will help reduce the amount of plastic in the environment and, as a result, ensure a habitable environment exists for future generations.

+ Science Advances

Via LA Times

Images via Depositphotos and Pixabay