By Julia Proctor
A recent paper authored by Dr. Ronald Geyer from the University of California Santa Barbara, has exposed that in the last 65 years humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic in total. This figure is found to be equal to that of the weight of 25,000 Empire State buildings or 1 billion elephants.
The paper also concluded that of this 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, only 9% is recycled whilst 12% is incinerated and the remaining 79% ends up in landfill.
Over recent years there has been a steep increase in the amount of plastic materials produced. Plastic's adaptability and durability are desirable properties for any manufacturer, with demands for the material ranging from food packaging to aeroplanes.
This sharp increase in the use of the non-biodegradable product however, has not come without consequences. Experts predict that if we are to maintain this level of plastic production, by the year 2050 we will have accumulated 12 billion tonnes of the material in waste.
To put the current situation into perspective, Dr. Ronald Geyer reports that if we put the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic currently in circulation into one single vicinity, it would be able to ''cover an area the size of Argentina [...] the world's eighth largest country''.
Dr. Geyer continues to raise his concerns, stating ''We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late''.
Dr. Geyer is not the only expert to voice his fears on the subject. Dr. Erik van Sebille of the Utrech University based in the Netherlands also states, '' We're facing a tsunami of plastic waste'' and that a ''radical shift in how we deal with plastic'' is needed and fast.
As the UN continues to warn over the rising health risk posed by plastic, an increasing number of studies are finding that plastics are now entering the human food chain.
A 2016 Plymouth University study found that a third of all fish caught in the UK contains plastic. This figure includes cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish, all commonly enjoyed by many on a daily basis.
Richard Thompson, a professor of Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth commented that one of the main factors as to why plastic has become such an issue, is due to the current poor design of the material.
He claims there could be a significant reduction in plastic waste if we are to rethink current models of the product ''with recyclability in mind''. Some even claim that if done correctly, a new design could see the production of bottles that could be recycled up to 20 times. This is a far greater number than is currently possible.
Dr. Geyer concludes by saying that ''our idea was to put the numbers out there [...] to start a real, concerted discussion''. It can't be said that action will begin immediately to solve this rising issue, however it can be said that this new study has opened the eyes of many. Hopefully this will lead to positive action being taken on the matter in the near future.
Sea Education Association at Woods Hole - produced the seminal report in 2015 that quantified the total amount of plastic waste escaping to the oceans each year: eight million tonnes.