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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

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

McConnell drops filibuster demand, paving way for power-sharing deal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attend a joint session of Congress. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has abandoned his demand that Democrats state, in writing, that they would not abandon the legislative filibuster.

Between the lines: McConnell was never going to agree to a 50-50 power sharing deal without putting up a fight over keeping the 60-vote threshold. But the minority leader ultimately caved after it became clear that delaying the organizing resolution was no longer feasible.

6 hours ago - Technology

Scoop: Google won't donate to members of Congress who voted against election results

Sen. Ted Cruz led the group of Republicans who opposed certifying the results. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Google will not make contributions from its political action committee this cycle to any member of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the presidential election, following the deadly Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Several major businesses paused or pulled political donations following the events of Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters, riled up by former President Trump, stormed the Capitol on the day it was to certify the election results.

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Minority Mitch still setting Senate agenda

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Chuck Schumer may be majority leader, yet in many ways, Mitch McConnell is still running the Senate show — and his counterpart is about done with it.

Why it matters: McConnell rolled over Democrats unapologetically, and kept tight control over his fellow Republicans, while in the majority. But he's showing equal skill as minority leader, using political jiujitsu to convert a perceived weakness into strength.