Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Humans have produced 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950, and most of it is sitting in our environment, per a new study in Science Advances.

Why it matters: Plastic production is rapidly rising around the world, with China putting out the most per year. In 2015, the worldwide production of plastic was 448 million tons, the study found — that's twice the amount of plastic produced in 1998. And methods to handle plastic waste sustainably have not caught up to production rates: Despite the international push to reuse and recycle, we continue to dump about 60% of plastic waste in the environment.

  • All of the plastic that's no longer in use goes one of three ways, says Roland Geyer, the study's lead researcher. It's either recycled, incinerated, or dumped in landfills or the natural environment. Rates of recycling and incineration — the sustainable methods for handling plastic waste — are steadily climbing, but scientists estimate we still throw 5 to 14 million tons of plastic into oceans annually.
  • The big players: The U.S. throws out 75% of plastic waste. For comparison, Europe dumps only 31% — in part due to EU regulations, Geyer says — and China throws out 45% of its plastic trash. Worldwide, discarded waste makes up 58% of plastic waste, per study results.

Bottom line: The most effective way to reduce the Earth's plastic footprint is simply to use less and produce less, but recycling is not the catch-all solution: "We don't understand very well the extent to which recycling reduces primary production," Geyer told the New York Times.

Go deeper

Biden to Trump: "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life"

Former VP Joe Biden pushed back Thursday against allegations from President Trump, saying he had never profited from foreign sources. "Nothing was unethical," Biden told debate moderator Kristen Welker about his son Hunter's work in Ukraine while he was vice president.

Why it matters: Earlier on Thursday, Hunter Biden's former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, released a statement saying Joe Biden's claims that he never discussed overseas business dealings with his son were "false."

Trump claims COVID "will go away," Biden calls his response disqualifying

President Trump repeated baseless claims at the final presidential debate that the coronavirus "will go away" and that the U.S. is "rounding the turn," while Joe Biden argued that any president that has allowed 220,000 Americans to die on his watch should not be re-elected.

Why it matters: The U.S. is now averaging about 59,000 new coronavirus infections a day, and added another 73,000 cases on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The country recorded 1,038 deaths due to the virus Thursday, the highest since late September.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.