In order to help guide strategies to confront the problem of plastics pollution, scientists have published the first-ever global analysis of all the plastics made since widespread production began in the 1950s.

The study, published by Science Advances, traces worldwide plastics production, use and what we do with plastic after we’re done with it.

“Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made” was co-authored by Dr. Kara Lavender Law, Research Professor of Oceanography at Sea Education Association, Dr. Jenna Jambeck, University of Georgia, and Dr. Roland Geyer, University of California, Santa Barbara.

The authors estimate that 8,300 million metric tons (Mt) of plastics have been produced to date, and that as of 2015, 6,300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated. Of that waste, 9% has been recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% sent to landfills or discarded in the natural environment.

At the current rate, the researchers predict, about 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

According to the paper, without a strategy for what to do with plastic waste “humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet.”

To read the report, go to Science Advances.

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