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The World Economic Forum tells us that plastic production has exploded over the last half-century, growing from 16.5 million tons in 1964 to 343 million tons in 2014 – and this is only projected to double by 2036. The question is, where does all of it go when we’re done with it? When we throw out plastic instead of putting it in the recycling bin, this reduces the already low chance that it will be recycled. After all, not all plastics are even able to be recycled, regardless of whether or not they are disposed of properly. We’re going to take a look at what happens when you throw out plastic, by breaking it down into three possible scenarios.
Scenario 1: It Ends up in a Landfill
The sad reality is that the vast majority of thrown out plastic ends up in a landfill, where it can take up to 500 years to decompose, potentially leaking pollutants into both the soil and water. It is estimated that if present trends continue, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills by 2050 – being 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.
Safety4Sea breaks down the short animation film “Life Cycle of a Plastic Bottle”, produced by TED-Ed, where possible scenarios of what happens to your plastic after its thrown away are discussed:
Scenario 2: It Ends Up in the Ocean
Heartbreakingly enough, of the 260 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean, and makes up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.
In WWF’s, “How Does Plastic End Up in the Ocean?”, it is discussed how our plastic ends up in the ocean and the damage that it causes to our wildlife:
“Even if you live hundreds of miles from the coast, the plastic you throw away could make its way into the sea. Once in the ocean, plastic decomposes very slowly, breaking down into tiny pieces known as micro plastics that can be incredibly damaging to sea life.”
Scenario 3: It Ends Up Being Recycled
There’s still a chance that your tossed out plastic could end up being recycled – however, it’s a small one. In 2014, Americans discarded about 33.6 million tons of plastic, but only 9.5 percent of it was recycled and only 15 percent of it was combusted to create electricity or heat. Why is so little plastic material recycled? Unfortunately, recycling isn’t as straightforward as we’ve been led to believe.
Renee Cho of State of the Planet discusses why such a little amount of what we throw away is actually recycled:
“Relatively little of our plastic waste is recycled because there are various types of plastic with different chemical compositions, and recycled plastics can be contaminated by the mixing of types. Plastic waste is also contaminated by materials such as paper and ink. Separating plastics from other recyclables, and different types of plastic from each other, is labor-intensive and so far there has been no easy solution.”
We offer a wide variety of waste disposal options, with services readily available online. Reach out to us to see what we can offer you.
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