The Future of the World’s Plastic Waste, by Disposal Method
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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

Charting the Continued Rise of Remote Jobs

Remote job postings are up nearly across the board, but a few key industries are have seen a significant shift over the last year.

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which industries are embracing remote work

The Briefing

  • Four industries saw massive growth in the proportion of remote-friendly job postings
  • Nearly one-third of new software and IT service jobs are listed as remote / work-from-home

Charting the Continued Rise of Remote Jobs

When the pandemic first took hold in 2020, and many workplaces around the world closed their doors, a grand experiment in work-from-home began.

Today, well over a year after the first lockdown measures were put in place, there are still lingering questions about whether remote work would now become a commonplace option, or whether things would generally return to the status quo in offices around the world.

New data from LinkedIn’s Workforce Report shows that remote work may be here to stay, and could even become the norm in a few key industries.

Broadly speaking, 12% of all Canadian paid job postings on LinkedIn offered remote work in September 2021. Prior to the pandemic, that number sat at just 1.3%.

While this data was specific to Canada, the country’s similarity to the U.S. means that these trends are likely being seen across the border as well.

Which Industries are Embracing Remote Work?

The nature of work can vary broadly by job type—for example, mining is tough to do from one’s living room sofa—so remote jobs were not distributed equally across industries.

Here are the numbers on job postings that were geared towards remote work:

Industry% Remote (Sept 2020)% Remote (Sept 2021)Change (p.p.)
Software & IT Services12.5%30.0%17.5
Media & Communications12.5%21.3%8.8
Wellness & Fitness3.3%21.2%17.9
Healthcare3.2%14.4%11.2
Nonprofit4.6%14.1%9.5
Hardware & Networking2.2%12.9%10.7
Corporate Services5.2%9.5%4.3
Education9.4%8.8%-0.6
Entertainment3.0%7.7%4.7
Finance1.8%6.5%4.7
Consumer Goods2.2%6.0%3.8
Recreation & Travel0.2%3.7%3.5
Manufacturing1.4%3.0%1.6
Energy & Mining1.0%2.7%1.7
Retail0.5%0.7%0.2

Tech and healthcare industries are showing big shifts towards remote work, with the latter being influenced by a number of tech-driven changes, including telemedicine.

Physical distancing measures forced some industries to pivot quickly. Whether virtual fitness and wellness options (e.g. Peloton and Headspace) would remain popular beyond the pandemic was a big question mark, but this jobs data seems to indicate continued digital growth in these industries.

What the Future Holds

Since COVID-19 outbreaks are still underway, the true test for this trend will be whether these numbers hold up a year or two from now. When offices and gyms are reliably open again, will companies dial back the work-from-home options?

Today, hybrid solutions are proving popular amidst worries that fully distributed teams suffer from lower levels of collaboration and communication between colleagues, and that innovation could be stifled by lack of in-person collaboration.

Of course, employees themselves are reporting being more productive and happy at home, with 98% of people wanting the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers.

It’s clear that the culture of work is undergoing an evolution today, and companies and employees will continue to seek the perfect balance of productivity and happiness.

Where does this data come from?

Source: LinkedIn’s Workforce Report for September 2021 (Canada)
Data Note: LinkedIn analyzed hundreds of thousands of paid remote job postings in Canada posted on LinkedIn between February 2020 and September 21, 2021. A “remote job” is defined as one where either the job poster explicitly labeled it as “remote” or if the job contained keywords like “work from home” in the listing.

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Print Has Prevailed: The Staying Power of Physical Books

When e-books hit the mainstream in the early 2000s, many predicted they’d eventually make print books obsolete. So far, that prediction has not come true.

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Print Books Have Prevailed

The Briefing

  • Survey data from 10 different countries shows that a majority of people still prefer print books over e-books.
  • 42.5% of respondents purchased at least one print book in 2020—that’s significantly more than the 15.5% who’d bought at least one e-book.
  • Out of the 10 countries surveyed, Germany has the most print book lovers. 58% of German respondents bought a print book in 2020.

The Staying Power of Print Books

E-books are certainly not a new phenomenon. In fact, they’ve been around longer than the internet.

Yet, while the emergence of e-books dates back to the early 1970s, they didn’t hit the mainstream until the 2000s, when big companies began launching their own e-book readers, and digital libraries started to become more accessible to the public.

Around this time, sales for e-books started to soar, and by 2013, e-book sales made up 20% of all books sales in America. Many wondered if this was the end for print books.

But fast forward to 2021, and e-books haven’t made print books obsolete. At least, not yet.

E-book versus Print Book Purchases

A recent poll found that people still favor print books over e-books, at least when it comes to their purchasing behavior.

Of the 10 countries included in the survey, an estimated 42% of people had purchased at least one print book in 2020, while only 15.5% had bought an e-book that same year.

Here’s a look at all 10 countries, and the estimated share of their population who bought physical versus e-books in 2020:

CountryPhysical BooksE-books
🇨🇳 China32.0%24.4%
🇺🇸 United States44.5%22.7%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom48.7%20.0%
🇯🇵 Japan40.1%17.3%
🇰🇷 South Korea34.6%16.8%
🇦🇺 Australia41.2%15.9%
🇪🇸 Spain49.3%14.3%
🇩🇪 Germany58.0%10.4%
🇫🇷 France52.1%7.5%
🇮🇳 India24.5%5.6%
Average42.5%15.5%

China had the highest portion of e-book lovers—an estimated 24.4% of its population purchased an e-book in 2020, which is more than 8 percentage points higher than the average across the whole list.

On the other end of the spectrum, e-books are least popular in India, where an estimated 5.6% of the country’s population purchased an e-book in 2020. Keep in mind, the country has a lower percentage of book purchasers in general.

Why Print Has Prevailed

Why are print books still more popular than e-books? There are many theories. One study suggests that readers retain information better from a print book versus an e-book, while other consumer surveys found that e-books haven’t yet managed to fully simulate the tactile experience of a print book.

However, while e-books might not eradicate print books entirely, the market for digital books is expected to grow in the near future. By 2025, global revenue from e-books could reach $18.4 billion, with 1.2 billion users across the globe.

Where does this data come from?

Source: Statista

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