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Here’s Where the World’s Plastic Waste Will End Up, by 2050

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The World's Plastic Waste

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The Briefing

  • Since 1950, plastic production has rapidly outpaced any other synthetic material
  • Although recycling efforts have improved over the years, only a fraction of the world’s plastic is currently being recycled
  • If trends continue, over 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will end up in landfills

The Future of the World’s Plastic Waste

Plastic use has surged worldwide over the last 50 years. In fact, more than 480 billion plastic water bottles were sold across the globe in 2018—that’s approximately 1 million per minute.

Where does all this plastic go, and how much of it is being recycled? Here’s a look at the end-of-life fate of the world’s plastic.

A Breakdown of Disposal Methods

If current trends in plastic production and waste management continue as they are, here’s where 33 billion metric tons of plastic waste will end up by 2050.

Disposal MethodMetric tons% of total plastic waste
Recycled8.53 billion25.7%
Incinerated12.39 billion37.3%
Discarded12.28 billion37.0%
Total33.2 billion

To clarify, this is a rough cumulative estimate of all the plastic that’s been discarded since 1950. This figure includes both primary and secondary (previously recycled) plastics.

Of the 33.2 billion tons of plastic waste, more than 12 billion metric tons is expected to end up in landfills, or in our natural environment. A large portion of this discarded plastic will find its way into our oceans. In fact, if things remain as they are, plastics are expected to outweigh our ocean’s fish population by 2050.

On the flip side, only about 9 billion metric tons are projected to be recycled—roughly 25.7%.

Recycling Has its Limits

It’s worth noting that plastic recycling is not an infinite loop.

On the contrary, most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they’re discarded, since polymers in plastic break down during the recycling process.

That’s why many experts stress the importance of reducing and reusing over recycling.

As Beth Porter, author of Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine: Sorting Out the Recycling System said in an interview with the Atlantic, “I don’t want people to think that what they do as an individual doesn’t matter…[but] we won’t recycle our way out of this crisis.”

»Like this? Then you might enjoy this full article, Mapping the Flow of the World’s Plastic Waste

Where does this data come from?

Source: Science Advances: Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made
Details: This research relies on global annual pure polymer (resin) production data from 1950 to 2015. Check out the full research paper for more details on methodology

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Datastream

Can You Calculate Your Daily Carbon Footprint?

Discover how the average person’s carbon footprint impacts the environment and learn how carbon credits can offset your carbon footprint.

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The Briefing

  • A person’s carbon footprint is substantial, with activities such as food consumption creating as much as 4,500 g of CO₂ emissions daily.
  • By purchasing carbon credits from Carbon Streaming Corporation, you can offset your own emissions and fund positive climate action.

Your Everyday Carbon Footprint

While many large businesses and countries have committed to net-zero goals, it is essential to acknowledge that your everyday activities also contribute to global emissions.

In this graphic, sponsored by Carbon Streaming Corporation, we will explore how the choices we make and the products we use have a profound impact on our carbon footprint.

Carbon Emissions by Activity

Here are some of the daily activities and products of the average person and their carbon footprint, according to Clever Carbon.

Household Activities & ProductsCO2 Emissions (g)
💡 Standard Light Bulb (100 watts, four hours)172 g
📱 Mobile Phone Use (195 minutes per day)*189 g
👕 Washing Machine (0.63 kWh)275 g
🔥 Electric Oven (1.56 kWh)675 g
♨️ Tumble Dryer (2.5 kWh)1,000 g
🧻 Toilet Roll (2 ply)1,300 g
🚿 Hot Shower (10 mins)2,000 g
🚙 Daily Commute (one hour, by car)3,360 g
🍽️ Average Daily Food Consumption (three meals of 600 calories)4,500 g
*Phone use based on yearly use of 69kg per the source, Reboxed

Your choice of transportation plays a crucial role in determining your carbon footprint. For instance, a 15 km daily commute to work on public transport generates an average of 1,464 g of CO₂ emissions. Compared to 3,360 g—twice the volume for a journey the same length by car.

By opting for more sustainable modes of transport, such as cycling, walking, or public transportation, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

Addressing Your Carbon Footprint

One way to compensate for your emissions is by purchasing high-quality carbon credits. 

Carbon credits are used to help fund projects that avoid, reduce or remove CO₂ emissions. This includes nature-based solutions such as reforestation and improved forest management, or technology-based solutions such as the production of biochar and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

While carbon credits offer a potential solution for individuals to help reduce global emissions, public awareness remains a significant challenge. A BCG-Patch survey revealed that only 34% of U.S. consumers are familiar with carbon credits, and only 3% have purchased them in the past.

About Carbon Streaming

By financing the creation or expansion of carbon projects, Carbon Streaming Corporation secures the rights to future carbon credits generated by these sustainable projects. You can then purchase these carbon credits to help fund climate solutions around the world and compensate for your own emissions. 

Ready to get involved?

>> Learn more about purchasing carbon credits at Carbon Streaming

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