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

Charted: The Ukraine War Civilian Death Toll

Using data from the UN, this chart shows civilian death toll figures resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Ukraine war death toll

The Briefing

  • In total, since the war began in February there have been over 7,031 Ukrainian civilian deaths
  • Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons, such as missiles and heavy artillery

Charted: The Ukraine War Civilian Death Toll

Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has wrought suffering and death on a mass scale, with many Russian attacks targeted at civilians.

We’ve created this visual using data from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to better understand how many civilians have died in Ukraine as a result of the war, as well as how many were injured and how many were children.

The Numbers

As of early December, it is reported that 7,031 people in Ukraine have died because of the war — 433 of them children. Another 11,327 have been injured, 827 of which are children. In total, this is over 18,000 people killed or injured.

The figures are difficult to verify due to differing reports coming out of both Russia and Ukraine. The UN OHCHR anticipates that the numbers could be even higher.

The State of the Conflict

The war began on February 24th, 2022 and less than a year in, millions of people have been displaced by the conflict, and thousands of civilians have been injured or killed.

According to the UN, most of the civilian deaths have been caused by wide-ranging explosives such as heavy artillery shelling, missiles, and air strikes, and have been concentrated in Donetsk and Luhansk and in other territory still held by Ukraine.

Additionally, new estimates from Kyiv report approximately 13,000 Ukrainian military or soldier deaths, which has yet to be confirmed by the army.

Where does this data come from?

Source: The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights monthly reports on civilian deaths in Ukraine.

Note: Data on deaths and injuries can vary wildly depending on the source.

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