Global plastic waste totals 4.9 billion tonnes

Not only that, our production of plastic is accelerating, and the study expects the amount of plastic crap in our oceans, littering our highways, and clogging our landfills to double by 2050. Geyer too asserts that the numbers might be off by about 10 percent.

It's the versatility and durability of plastic which has seen its mass-production expand so greatly, but the study explains it's these same strengths which make it so hard for the material to biodegrade.

Past research has shown that the average length of time single-use plastic is useful is 11 minutes.

Global production of plastics increased annually from two million metric tons in 1950 to over 400 million metric tons in 2015, according to the study, outgrowing most other man-made materials. Only 9% was recycled, another 12% was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land in water. While technology is advancing rapidly, it's still, at the moment, cheaper to just throw away plastic than to recycle it.

"Without a well-designed and tailor-made management strategy for end-of-life plastics, humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale, in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet", it said. "We're finding plastics everywhere", said Wallace as quoted by AP.

Roland Geyer of the Bren School of Environmental Science at the University of California in Santa Barbara and colleagues made the calculation - the first time the amount of plastic produced has been estimated.

It runs beach clean-ups around the United Kingdom and said the most common single-use plastics found on beaches included: plastic bottles, coffee cups and lids, plastic cutlery, straws, plastic stirrers and food packaging.

The authors said plastic's toughness makes it "difficult or impossible for nature to assmilate" and add that the consequences of dumping so much plastic are unknown. Many experts agree that expanded waste management infrastructure is the key to addressing sustainable use of these resources.

Recycling is also complicated by the fact that plastics are containers for organic material and other stuff that isn't "recycling friendly".

"Most plastics don't biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years", explains Jenna Jambeck, who co-authored the study, in a statement.

Recent Scottish studies revealed that as many as nine out of ten fulmars found dead in the North Sea had eaten plastic, while almost as many prawns sampled in the Clyde had plastic in their guts.

But the study also said that recycling and incineration are on the rise globally.

Landfills are full of plastics that have not been recycled.

Humans have created enough plastic since the 1950s to give an entire ton of the material to each person on the planet and still have plenty leftover for other projects.

The researchers are quick to stress, though, that the study should be used to highlight the issue and generate discussion about the use and distribution of plastic, and is not calling for the total removal of plastic from the marketplace. But, since 2002, we've doubled that yield, Geyer said.

  • Sylvester Abbott