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91% Of Plastic Is Never Recycled, According To New Study

By Nicole Caldwell

Between 1950 and 2015, humans produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billion tons of which ended up in landfills, a new study shows. The calculations draw attention to the shocking volume of plastic waste people produce that ends up just about everywhere except a recycling center. And shocking may be an understatement—even the scientists behind the study were appalled by the numbers.

“We all knew there was a rapid and extreme increase in plastic production from 1950 until now, but actually quantifying the cumulative number for all plastic ever made was quite shocking,” Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia environmental engineer who focuses on plastic ocean waste, told National Geographic. “This kind of increase would ‘break’ any system that was not prepared for it, and this is why we have seen leakage from global waste systems into the oceans.”

Plastic production is only outpaced by steel and cement. 

The study, called “The Production, Use, and Fate of all Plastics Ever Made,” was published in Science Advances and conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of California. The research shows that just 9 percent of the plastic created since the 1950s was recycled. Twelve percent was incinerated, and 79 per cent wound up in landfills or the natural environment.