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There is Now a Ton of Plastic Trash for Every Person on Earth

plastic trash

A new study released data on all the plastics ever made, and the findings are alarming. More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since 1950 and over half the plastic ever produced was made in the past 13 years.

We have heard some pretty staggering facts related to single-use waste, and they’re so overwhelming that we’ve become desensitized in a way. But this one is hard to comprehend: There is now one ton of plastic garbage for every person on Earth. A study by ScienceAdvances released in July gathered global data on the lifecycle of plastic. They studied data on the production, use, and end-of-life management of plastic components for the first global analysis of all mass-produced plastics ever manufactured.

The Facts

The study estimates that of the 8,300 million metric tons of plastics have been produced and about 6,300 million metric tons has reached the end of its useful life and is now considered trash. Shockingly, only 9% of it has been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% polluted landfills or the environment. If the trend continues, about 12,000 million tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the environment by 2050.

The study also found that plastic production is rapidly accelerating and single-use plastic packaging is now the largest plastic market. The world has made as much plastic in the past 13 years it did in the previous 50.

What to do?

Immerse yourself in plastic pollution news. Connect with people and organizations advocating for reducing plastic waste like Break Free From Plastic. Take the pledge to reduce single-use plastic at Plastic Pollution Coalition:

REFUSE disposable plastic whenever and wherever possible. Choose items that are not packaged in plastic, and carry your own bags, containers and utensils. Say ‘no straw, please.’

REUSE durable, non-toxic straws, utensils, to-go containers, bottles, bags, and other everyday items. Choose glass, paper, stainless steel, wood, ceramic and bamboo over plastic.

REDUCE your plastic footprint. Cut down on your consumption of goods that contain excessive plastic packaging and parts. If it will leave behind plastic trash, don’t buy it.

RECYCLE what you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse. Pay attention to the entire life cycle of items you bring into your life, from source to manufacturing to distribution to disposal.

Get serious about being part of the movement to eliminate single-use plastic. Learn more here.

Image credit: Justin Hofman.

Plastic Pollution and The Plastics BAN List

the plastics ban list

Thanks to research done by four organizations devoted to solving the plastic pollution problem, we now know the most harmful plastic products on the market in California—and the alternatives. The Plastics BAN List is a comprehensive list of the most common discarded plastic items with information about their impact on the environment. Most of the worst offenders are designed for our on-the-go lifestyle. Almost all of the products on list are related to disposable food and beverage packaging, like disposable takeout containers, coffee cup lids, plastic bottles and straws. “There will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if we don’t solve this problem. Eliminating single-use disposable plastics must be a priority.” – Anna Cummins, Co-Founder and Global Strategy Director of 5 Gyres

First on the list: Food Wrappers & Containers

It’s no surprise that disposable food wrappers and containers have the greatest impact on the environment. In fact, over 30% of the plastic collected fits this category. Recycling is not the answer because most of these products have no economic value in today’s recycling systems. The BAN List’s recommended solution is easy and becoming more mainstream in many grocery stores: Bulk purchasing with reusable containers. It takes some planning, but even with a few reusable items, you can have a significant impact on the plastic pollution problem. Also try Bee’s Wrap to cover a bowl, wrap a head of lettuce or wrap a baguette, and never buy plastic wrap again.

More ideas to help reduce plastic pollution

In addition to using reusable food-storage containers, here are a few more ideas to help you replace plastics you might be using from The BAN List:

Every year Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags. These bags threaten wildlife, pollute our waterways and contaminate our soil. Sea otters, turtles, seals, birds, and fish get tangled or suffocate inside bags, and they commonly mistake them for food. Take the first step in eliminating plastic from your routine by keeping a Flip & Tumble 24-7 reusable bag with you at all times.

Personal care products also contribute to a significant amount of plastic pollution on The Plastics BAN List. Reusable pads might seem gross, but just imagine a lifetime supply of used pads and tampons in landfills – now that’s gross. In addition to the environmental impact, there are plenty of reasons to switch from disposable feminine hygiene products to reusables. Inspired by the simple utility, earth-friendliness, and comfort of cloth diapers, try GladRags reusable options to help reduce your plastic waste.

Americans use enough plastic straws every day to wrap the Earth 2.5 times, so it’s not surprising that straws are one of The Plastic BAN List’s most common polluters. There is a strong movement to reduce their impact and many restaurants are adopting straw-free initiates, but there is still a lot of work to do. Committing to using just one reusable straw can eliminate thousands of disposable straws and can have a profound impact. Try U Konserve stainless steel straws and always say “no straw please” when ordering drinks.

Thanks to 5 Gyres (our partner and research-based non-profit focused on plastic pollution education), Surfrider Foundation, Clean Production Action and UPSTREAM.

Read the full The Plastics BAN List report here.