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Does plastic only get recycled once?

United States – Have you ever wondered how much plastic has ever been created? That’s 8.3 billion tonnes, according to researchers at the US University of California, Santa Barbara. They also point out that half of this volume was produced during the last 13 years.

Approximately 30% of the historically produced plastics remains in use today. An estimated 9% of the discarded plastic has been recycled, while around 12% has been incinerated and nearly 80% was sent to landfill.

Dr. Rolan Geyer, lead author of the report, observes that as much as 90% of all plastics likely only gets recycled once. Illustrating the weight of all plastics ever made yields an interesting example, namely the equivalent of 25 000 Empire State Buildings or 1 billion elephants.

The study reports average recycling rates of 30% for Europe, 25% for China and 9% for America. By 2050, the world will be home to around 12 billion tonnes of waste.

Unsurprisingly, the shortest-use items are packaging, with a lifetime that’s typically less than one year. Researchers noted that plastics applications with the longest lifetime are construction and machinery.

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