Jul 23, 2017

We've made 9 billion tons of plastic. Less than 10% has been recycled.

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.

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South Korea and Italy step up emergency measures as coronavirus cases jump

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more nations as South Korea and Italy step up emergency measures in their countries amid rising case numbers on Sunday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed at least 2,462 people and infected almost 79,000 others, mostly in mainland China. South Korea increased the infectious disease alert to red, the highest possible, as its case numbers jumped to 602 and the death toll to five. Italy's government announced emergency measures, with several towns in the north effectively placed in lockdown, as it confirmed two deaths and infections rose to 79.

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Bernie Sanders wins Nevada caucus

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders waves to supporters at a campaign rally on Friday in Las Vegas. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders is projected to handily win the Nevada Democratic primary caucus, becoming the clear frontrunner among 2020 Democratic presidential primary election candidates.

Why it matters: Nevada is the first state with a diverse population to hold a nominating contest, highlighting candidates' abilities to connect with voters of color — particularly Latino voters.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Heat wave melts 20% of snow cover from Antarctic island in days

The effects of February's record heat wave on Eagle Island in Antarctica. Photo: NASA

Antarctica's Eagle Island now has a side that's almost ice-free following this month's searing heat wave in the region, images released by NASA show.

Why it maters: "The warm spell caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers," NASA said in its report. It's the third major melt event of the 2019-2020 Southern Hemisphere summer, following warm spells in January and last November, according to the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).