Researchers compiled production statistics for resins, fibres and additives from a variety of industry sources dating back to 1950 to calculate how much plastic had been created in the following 65 years.
Global production of plastics increased annually from two million metric tons in 1950 to over 400 million metric tons in 2015, according to the study, outgrowing most other man-made materials. Only steep and cement are more ubiquitous, but unlike the building materials which last for decades, most plastic is quickly discarded.
Recent figures from Recycle Now show that Britain bins around 16 million plastic bottles a day and If a year’s worth of the UK’s unrecycled plastic bottles were placed end to end, they’d reach around the world 31 times, covering just over 780,000 miles.
“Roughly half of all the steel we make goes into construction, so it will have decades of use – plastic is the opposite,” said Dr Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper and associate professor in University of California.
“Half of all plastics become waste after four or fewer years of use.”