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Global Plastic Production Rises, Recycling Lags

January 28, 2015

Global Plastic Production Rises, Recycling Lags

Washington, D.C.—For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise. Some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over 2012. Recovery and recycling, however, remain insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year, writes Gaelle Gourmelon, Communications and Marketing Manager at the Worldwatch Institute, in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online article (www.worldwatch.org).

Worldwide plastic production has been growing as the durable, primarily petroleum-based material gradually replaces materials like glass and metal. Today, an average person living in Western Europe or North America consumes 100 kilograms of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging. Asia uses just 20 kilograms per person, but this figure is expected to grow rapidly as economies in the region expand.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program, between 22 percent and 43 percent of the plastic used worldwide is disposed of in landfills, where its resources are wasted, the material takes up valuable space, and it blights communities. Recovering plastic from the waste stream for recycling or for combustion for energy generation has the potential to minimize these problems. However, much of the plastic collected for recycling is shipped to countries with lower environmental regulation. And burning plastic for energy requires air emissions controls and produces hazardous ash, all while being relatively inefficient.

Read more at Worldwatch Institute.

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