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Plastic Waste and Recycling: Environmental Impact, Societal Issues, Prevention, and Solutions

Plastic Waste and Recycling: Environmental Impact, Societal Issues, Prevention, and Solutions

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Plastic Waste and Recycling: Environmental Impact, Societal Issues, Prevention, and Solutions

1,225 pages
13 heures
Mar 10, 2020


Plastic Waste and Recycling: Environmental Impact, Societal Issues, Prevention, and Solutions begins with an introduction to the different types of plastic materials, their uses, and the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle before examining plastic types, chemistry and degradation patterns that are organized by non-degradable plastic, degradable and biodegradable plastics, biopolymers and bioplastics. Other sections cover current challenges relating to plastic waste, explain the sources of waste and their routes into the environment, and provide systematic coverage of plastic waste treatment methods, including mechanical processing, monomerization, blast furnace feedstocks, gasification, thermal recycling, and conversion to fuel.

This is an essential guide for anyone involved in plastic waste or recycling, including researchers and advanced students across plastics engineering, polymer science, polymer chemistry, environmental science, and sustainable materials.

  • Presents actionable solutions for reducing plastic waste, with a focus on the concepts of collection, re-use, recycling and replacement
  • Considers major societal and environmental issues, providing the reader with a broader understanding and supporting effective implementation
  • Includes detailed case studies from across the globe, offering unique insights into different solutions and approaches
Mar 10, 2020

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Plastic Waste and Recycling - Academic Press

Plastic Waste and Recycling

Environmental Impact, Societal Issues, Prevention, and Solutions

Edited by

Trevor M. Letcher

School of Chemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Laurel House, Stratton on the Fosse, United Kingdom

Table of Contents

Cover image

Title page





Part 1. Introduction

Chapter 1. Introduction to plastic waste and recycling

1.1. Introduction

1.2. Our dependence on things plastic

1.3. Recycling

1.4. What to do?

1.5. The book

Chapter 2. Production, use, and fate of synthetic polymers

2.1. Introduction

2.2. Primary production

2.3. Use

2.4. Waste generation

2.5. Waste management

2.6. Cumulative 1950–2017

2.7. Projections to 2050

Chapter 3. The geography and geology of plastics: their environmental distribution and fate

3.1. Plastics as geological materials?

3.2. The beginning of the plastics cycle

3.3. Release of plastics into the sedimentary environment

3.4. Plastics trajectories in the environment

3.5. Terrestrial environments: ice and soil

3.6. Lakes and rivers

3.7. Plastic in marine environments

3.8. Plastics in beach and nearshore environments

3.9. Plastics in the water column and the pelagic realm

3.10. Plastic transport to the deep sea

3.11. Plastic degradation in environmental settings

3.12. Anthropocene strata and plastics as archeology and geology

3.13. Conclusions

Part 2. Innovation in plastic materials

Chapter 4. Biobased plastics

4.1. Introduction

4.2. Definition of biobased plastics

4.3. A brief history of biobased plastics

4.4. Biobased plastics derived from natural polymers

4.5. Biobased plastics polymerized from biobased monomers

4.6. End-of-life options and environmental issues

Chapter 5. Biodegradable plastics

5.1. Introduction

5.2. Biodegradability

5.3. Types of biodegradable plastics

5.4. Processing of biodegradable plastics

5.5. Application of biodegradable plastics

5.6. Waste management options of biodegradable plastics

5.7. Standards and certification

5.8. Conclusion

Part 3. End of life problems for plastic waste

Chapter 6. Current industry position on plastic production and recycling

6.1. Plastic production overview

6.2. Waste management: overview

6.3. Systems for plastic recycling

6.4. Economic issues relating to recycling

6.5. Challenges and opportunities for improving plastic recycling

Chapter 7. Plastic waste in the terrestrial environment

7.1. Introduction

7.2. Scales of environmental release

7.3. Distribution, transport, and accumulation of plastic waste in the terrestrial environment

7.4. Potential risks posed by plastic waste in the terrestrial environment

7.5. Geographies of plastic waste

7.6. Geographical trends in plastic waste handling and release

7.7. Conclusion: toward solutions for plastic waste

Chapter 8. The environmental impacts of plastic pollution

8.1. What is plastic pollution?

8.2. The scale of plastic pollution

8.3. Where are plastics seen in the environment?

8.4. Interactions between plastics and biota

8.5. The prevention of environmental plastic pollution

8.6. Conclusions

Chapter 9. Microplastics: from origin to impacts

9.1. Understanding microplastic pollution

9.2. Classifying microplastics

9.3. Origin of plastics

9.4. Where and how have microplastics been observed?

9.5. Interactions between microplastics and biota

9.6. The impacts of interaction between microplastic and biota

9.7. Human interactions and impacts

9.8. Conclusions

Chapter 10. Textiles production and end-of-life management options

10.1. Introduction

10.2. Production of textiles

10.3. Options for end-of-life textiles

10.4. Conclusions and outlook

Part 4. Solutions for plastic waste

Chapter 11. Mechanical recycling of packaging waste

11.1. Introduction

11.2. Structure of recycling chains for packaging wastes

11.3. Technologies of the preenrichment level

11.4. Refinement

Chapter 12. Blast furnace feedstock and coke oven chemical feedstock

12.1. Introduction

12.2. Background of waste plastic recycling in blast furnace and coke oven in Japan

12.3. Blast furnace feedstock recycling of waste plastic

12.4. Coke oven chemical feedstock recycling

12.5. Present state and future outlook of waste plastic recycling in BF and coke oven

Chapter 13. Chemical routes for recycling—dissolving, catalytic, and thermochemical technologies

13.1. Introduction

13.2. Depolymerization and leaching

13.3. Thermochemical recycling of plastics waste

13.4. Future prospects of chemical recycling

Chapter 14. Conversion of plastic waste to fuel

14.1. Introduction

14.2. Reaction mechanism of polymer cracking

14.3. Cracking

14.4. Utilization of waste plastic oil on diesel engines

14.5. Conclusion

Chapter 15. The treatment of plastic in automobile shredder residue

15.1. Introduction—our age

15.2. Automotive shredder residue

15.3. Plastic waste management

15.4. Conclusions

Chapter 16. Solutions to the plastic waste problem on land and in the oceans

16.1. Introduction

16.2. Overview of plastic in ocean

16.3. What is the world doing to tackle the issue of plastics in ocean?

16.4. The Honolulu Strategy

16.5. UN environment clean seas campaign

16.6. Agenda for action

Part 5. Plastics: society and the environment

Chapter 17. Plastics we cannot live without

17.1. Introduction

17.2. When we came to depend on plastics

17.3. Essential applications for modern plastics

17.4. Medicine and health

17.5. Electronics

17.6. Provision of vital supplies in cities

17.7. Will we always need plastic?

Chapter 18. Secondary plastic products—examples and market trends

18.1. Introduction

18.2. Typical product markets for different recycled resins

18.3. Case examples from companies

18.4. Future market trends

Chapter 19. Plastic waste in a circular economy

19.1. Introduction

19.2. Classification of plastics in the economy

19.3. Framework for plastic waste management in a circular economy

19.4. Plastic recycling and recovery processes: opportunities, challenges, and trade-offs

19.5. Concluding remarks


Chapter 20. Ecological and health issues of plastic waste

20.1. Introduction

20.2. Environmental impact of plastic litter

20.3. Potential wildlife and human health impacts

20.4. Sources of exposure

20.5. Reducing exposure to plastics

20.6. Conclusion

Part 6. Plastic waste around the world

Chapter 21. Policy responses to plastic pollution in Asia: summary of a regional gap analysis

21.1. Introduction

21.2. Challenges faced by developing Asia

21.3. Current policy approaches in selected countries in Asia

21.4. Recent regional policy initiatives

21.5. Toward regional policy coordination and collaboration for transitioning to a circular economy for plastics

Chapter 22. The challenge of plastic pollution in Nigeria

22.1. Introduction

22.2. Plastic pollution in Nigeria: sources and consequences

22.3. Plastic pollution in Nigeria: toward potential solutions?

22.4. Conclusion

Chapter 23. Plastic waste in the United Kingdom

23.1. Introduction

23.2. Current plastic use in the United Kingdom

23.3. Problems with a reliance on export markets

23.4. Shortcomings of the current UK approach

23.5. Rising concern around plastic use in the United Kingdom

23.6. Promised actions from government

23.7. Actions from businesses

23.8. Ongoing research

23.9. Continuing pressure from environmental groups

23.10. Expected market changes

23.11. Other improvements needed

23.12. Future areas to target

Chapter 24. European Union's plastic strategy and an impact assessment of the proposed directive on tackling single-use plastics items

24.1. Introduction

24.2. Key elements of the strategy

24.3. Policies not included the strategy

24.4. Tipping the balance in favor of considering a SUPD

24.5. Defining the scope of the directive

24.6. Selecting policy measures for assessment

24.7. What stakeholders thought of the measures

24.8. Assessing the main impacts

24.9. Additional elements of the SUPD

24.10. The future of European policy on plastics

24.11. A final reflection



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This book is dedicated to my children, Catherine, Christopher, and Sarah, and to my grandchildren, Amy and Finlay.


Lewis Akenji,     SEED, Berlin, Germany

Andreas Bartl,     Institute of Chemical, Environmental and Bioscience Engineering, Technische Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria

Magnus Bengtsson,     Independent Researcher and Consultant, Tokyo, Japan

Alfons Buekens,     Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

Mohanraj Chandran,     Department of Mechanical Engineering, M. Kumarasay College of Engineering, Karur, Tamilnadu, India

Cayla R. Cook,     The Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, United States

Irene Crescenzi,     NEXTEK, Kensington Gore, London, United Kingdom

Emeka Dumbili,     Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, Anambra, Nigeria, West Africa

Tim Elliott,     Eunomia Research & Consulting, Bristol, United Kingdom

Alexander Feil,     Department of Processing and Recycling, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

Sarah Gabbott,     School of Geography, Geology and Environment, University of Leicester, Leicester, Leicestershire, United Kingdom

Sharon George,     School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, United Kingdom

Spyridoula Gerassimidou,     School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom

Roland Geyer,     Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, United States

Hannah Gillie,     Eunomia Research & Consulting, Bristol, United Kingdom

John N. Hahladakis,     Center for Sustainable Development, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

Rolf U. Halden,     The Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, United States

Maja Rujnić Havstad,     Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia

Lesley Henderson,     Brunel University London, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Uxbridge, London, United Kingdom

Matthew Hengesbaugh,     Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Hayama, Japan

Alice Horton

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, United Kingdom

Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of Leiden, Leiden, South Holland, the Netherlands

Yasuhiko Hotta,     Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Hayama, Japan

Rachel Hurley,     Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), Oslo, Norway

Eleni Iacovidou,     College of Health and Life Sciences, Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, United Kingdom

Stephan Kabasci,     Fraunhofer UMSICHT, Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology, Oberhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Mizuki Kato,     Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Hayama, Japan

Sarah Key,     Department of Chemistry, University of Leicester, Leicester, Leicestershire, United Kingdom

Edward Kosior,     NEXTEK, Kensington Gore, London, United Kingdom

Trevor M. Letcher

School of Chemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Laurel House, Stratton on the Fosse, United Kingdom

Amy Lusher,     Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), Oslo, Norway

Jonathan Mitchell,     NEXTEK, Kensington Gore, London, United Kingdom

Chandrasekar Murugesan,     Department of Automobile Engineering, Anna University(BIT Campus), Trichy, Tamilnadu, India

Luca Nizzetto

Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), Oslo, Norway

Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX), Faculty of Science, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic

Seiji Nomura,     Nippon Steel Corporation, Chiba, Japan

Libby Peake,     Green Alliance, London, United Kingdom

Maija Pohjakallio,     VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Helsinki, Finland

Thomas Pretz,     Department of Processing and Recycling, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

Catherine Russell,     School of Geography, Geology and Environment, University of Leicester, Leicester, Leicestershire, United Kingdom

Senthilkumar Tamilkolundu,     Department of Automobile Engineering, Anna University(BIT Campus), Trichy, Tamilnadu, India

Alice Thomson,     Eunomia Research & Consulting, Bristol, United Kingdom

Tommi Vuorinen,     VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Helsinki, Finland

Natalie A. Welden,     University of Glasgow, School of Interdisciplinary Studies, Dumfries, Scotland

Yasmin Yonan,     School of Geography, Geology and Environment, University of Leicester, Leicester, Leicestershire, United Kingdom

Jan Zalasiewicz,     School of Geography, Geology and Environment, University of Leicester, Leicester, Leicestershire, United Kingdom


This book is a response to the general outrage about plastic waste pollution in the world today. It covers most aspects of plastic, from its chemical makeup and manufacture to its various recycling possibilities and, in many cases, to its final, unfortunate resting place in landfill, soil, and the sea. The book is divided into six sections:

• introduction;

• innovation in plastic materials;

• end-of-life problems for plastic waste;

• solutions for plastic waste;

• plastics: society and the environment; and

• plastic waste around the world.

The chapters provide a comprehensive look at where we are today in the world of plastics. You will find discussions on

• the fate of all types of plastic material;

• the history of plastics;

• the chemical makeup of the different types of plastic, including those that are biobased and biodegradable;

• the end-of-life problems that beset the various types of plastic with a focus on marine plastic waste;

• the environmental impact of plastic pollution on land and in the oceans;

• the problems created by mixed plastic products, such as automobile components;

• polymer-based textiles and end-of-life options;

• microplastics;

• solutions to waste plastic, such as mechanical separation and recycling, feedstock for blast furnaces, fuel production, and chemical recycling;

• secondary plastic products;

• plastics in the modern world;

• the social, ecological, and health issues related to waste plastic;

• the vital need for plastic material to be part of a circular economy involving recycling and reuse;

• international law on plastic waste;

• plastic waste issues in Nigeria, Japan, the European Union, and the United Kingdom; and

• what action the person in the street should take to reduce the problem.

The main difficulty in producing a book of this type is finding appropriate authors to write the chapters. We are very fortunate in this volume to have such a high caliber of authors writing on such diverse topics. However, there are many other issues that have not been aired in this book. For example, there is no chapter on waste plastic issues and future plans for waste plastic in the United States (where most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfill) or on plastic waste in East Asia (which has the worst record for waste plastic pollution in the world). Another issue that needs discussion is how to solve the problems of the massive buildup of plastic waste in the five major ocean gyres. Other topics not included are the future of packaging from a supermarket point of view; the sociological issues related to plastic waste; the marketing of plastic waste; the food industry and plastic waste; the effects of microplastics on plant, animal, and human life; infinitely recyclable plastics; the politics of waste plastic; the economics of plastic waste treatment; and international laws governing plastic waste, all of which will have to wait for a second edition to be published, so long as suitable authors can be found to write the chapters.

This volume is unique in the genre of related titles currently on sale in that each chapter of Plastic Waste and Recycling has been written by an expert scientist, engineer, or social scientist, working in the field. As a result, readers receive not only the benefit of the latest research work and thoughts on the various topics but also copious references to the research being done on each of the topics. Authors have been chosen for their expertise in their respective fields and come from 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, England, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States. They have been invited from both developing and developed countries in order to gage the problem from a worldwide perspective and to encourage global awareness and participation in its solution.

The International System of Quantities is reflected in the book with the use of SI units throughout. Flexibility and accommodation are ensured for various constituencies by including alternate non-SI units that may be more familiar to specific areas. Where possible, the index notation is used to remove any ambiguity; for example, billion and trillion are written as 10⁹ and 10¹², respectively. To further remove any confusion, the concept of quantity calculus is used. It is based on the equation: physical quantity = number × unit. To give an example: power = 200 W and hence 200 = power/W. This is of particular importance in the headings of tables and the axis labels of graphs. One can only plot a number on a graph and the axis label reflects this reality.

This book has been produced to allow readers to gain a reasonable and logical understanding of the options we have concerning plastic, plastic waste, and plastic recycling. The final decisions as to how we use, recycle, and dispose of plastic in the future must take into account many factors, including sustainability; the safety and health of the general public; the overall needs of society; the geographical position of each region; and, above all, the alarming rise in plastic waste over the past 50 years, which threatens our environment, animal welfare, and perhaps human health.

This book has been produced to allow readers to develop insight into the crisis of waste plastic and, hopefully, to help solve it. It is also hoped that the book will be a springboard for new developments with contact between readers and authors (e-mail addresses are included at the head of each chapter).

Governments throughout the world are supporting the war on plastic waste, but there is a long way to go before the problem is under control. That said, many developed nations are still exporting plastic waste to poorer countries where little or no waste management exists. In these countries, such as Malaysia, imported waste plastic is left in massive piles awaiting open-air burning with the accompanying serious air pollution and health problems. The biggest culprits are Japan, the United States, and Germany, with the United Kingdom not far behind. Plastic waste export should be banned.

The solutions to plastic waste lie not only in the hands of governments and within the plastics industry but with every one of us. As educators, we believe that only a sustained grassroot movement to educate citizens, politicians, and corporate leaders of the world has any hope of success. This book is part of that education process with solutions based on sound scientific data. We hope that not only students, teachers, professors, and researchers of new energy but also politicians, government decision-makers, captains of industry, corporate leaders, journalists, editors, and all interested people will read the book, take heed of its contents, and absorb its underlying message.

I wish to thank all of the 45 authors and coauthors for their cooperation, help, and especially for writing their chapters. It has been a pleasure working with each and every one of them. I thank my wife, Valerie, and my daughter, Sarah, for all the help they gave me in compiling this book. I also wish to thank the staff at Elsevier for their help in getting this volume together and on time.

Trevor M. Letcher

Stratton on the Fosse


July 2019

Part 1



Chapter 1. Introduction to plastic waste and recycling

Chapter 2. Production, use, and fate of synthetic polymers

Chapter 3. The geography and geology of plastics: their environmental distribution and fate

Chapter 1: Introduction to plastic waste and recycling

Trevor M. Letcher ¹ , ²       ¹ School of Chemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa      ² Laurel House, Stratton on the Fosse, United Kingdom


The chapter serves as an introduction to the book as a whole. It considers the historical aspect of plastic and plastic waste and our dependence on things plastic. It introduces the types of plastic used today and the issue of plastic waste on land and in the oceans. It poses the question, what can we do about it?


Dependence on plastic; Helpful hints; History of plastic; Plastic waste; Recycling of plastic

1.1 Introduction

1.2 Our dependence on things plastic

1.3 Recycling

1.4 What to do?

1.5 The book


1.1. Introduction

Over the past decade, plastic waste has become a major issue, both on land and at sea. In a little over a century, plastic has gone from being hailed as a scientific wonder to being reviled as an environmental scourge. Ocean and river plastics have been highlighted in the media over the past year with a special focus on the serious problems in Asia and the mass of floating plastic found in mid-oceans. Furthermore, the media regularly presents us with marine life being smothered by plastic and plastic bags. Plastic items and plastic packaging are found in every ocean, in every part of every oceans, and indeed, a recent report has highlighted the finding of a plastic bag at the bottom of the deepest part of the Pacific ocean (Mariana Trench at 11   km below the ocean surface) [1]. Any amount of coastal beach cleaning of plastic waste appears to have little effect. Furthermore, little plastic (less than 20% worldwide) is being recycled worldwide today, and it is hoped that this book will encourage new developments in both recycling and disposing of waste plastic.

The first plastic material was produced in 1850 followed by the invention of Bakelite in 1907. The beginning of the plastic revolution came during WWII with the invention of nylon, which was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes and for ropes. The real development of new plastics and manufactured goods came during the 1950s and 60s. At that time, as with many new innovative inventions, little thought went into the problems related to plastic waste, in spite of the public being aware of environmental problems as early as the 1960s (Silent Spring, Rachel Carson in 1962). Today over 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, of which 8 million end up in the oceans [2,3]. If we continue polluting the seas in this way, it has been estimated that by 2050, the mass of plastic in the oceans will exceed the mass of fish [4].

It has also been reported that one in three species of marine life have been found entangled in marine litter, and 90% of all seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. Plastic packaging is the largest end-use market segment accounting for almost 40% of the total worldwide plastic usage. Over 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, and the average working life of a plastic bag is 15   min [3].

1.2. Our dependence on things plastic

We have come to depend on things made of plastic, and plastic has in many ways made modern life.

Plastic has raised our standard of living with

• computers, smart phones, and electronic equipment that are all dependent on plastic for their frames and housing,

• insulation for our houses,

• textiles and clothing,

• fresher products wrapped in plastic and from all over the world in our supermarkets,

• plastic syringes and tubing that have revolutionized medicine,

• plastic bags and pots that, in turn, have revolutionized farming and horticulture,

• toys, two-thirds of all toys are made of plastic and most are played with for a few minutes and discarded,

• a vehicular industry that is totally dependent on plastic for dashboards, seat covers, interior surfaces, electric insulation, and bumpers,

• water pipes and conduit piping for gas, electricity, and telephone cables, to name a few.

    Many of the plastic items are used only once and then discarded—plastic bags, coffee and beverage cups, toys, cutlery, drinking straws, and wet wipes, etc.

    Give-away toys handed out as incentives at food outlets and retail shops are becoming a real problem for landfill operators as the mountains of unwanted plastic toys mount up. In most cases, the many millions of these toys produced annually are played with for only a few minutes before being discarded. It has been estimated that two-thirds of all toys are made of plastic.

1.3. Recycling

It has been estimated that only 9% of all the plastic ever made has been recycled, with 12% having been burnt and the remainder ending up in soils, oceans, and landfill [5]. The plastic industry is a rapidly growing industry, and it has been estimated that almost half of all the plastic ever made has been made since 2000. Today, the global average for recycling is less than 20% with the United States recycling less that 9% of its plastic production [5].

We have used the word recycle to refer to all types of useful ways of dealing with plastic. It really should only be used for plastic waste items that are reused or reprocessed into similar or other types of products. Indeed, some of solutions to the plastic waste problem involve the destruction of the polymeric material. True recycling rarely happens, and even the plastic bottles that we, in the United Kingdom, separate for collection every week may not end up as plastic bottles but could be hydrolyzed and turned into monomers before being repolymerized into polyethylene terephthalate (PET) for making many things including carpet material. PET is the most successfully recycled plastic. One of the problems of recycling plastic waste is the difficulty in separating the different types of plastic. To assist in the separation, symbols are often noted on plastic packaging. The following is a list of international labeling numbers:

#1—PET (polyethylene terephthalate)

#2—HDPE (high-density polyethylene)

#3—PVC (polyvinyl chloride) …

#4—LDPE (low-density polyethylene) …

#5—PP (polypropylene) …

#6—PS (polystyrene)

PET is used to make water and beverage bottles, of which 110 billion bottles are made annually; HDPE is used for shampoo bottles, milk bottles, and freezer bags; LDPE is used to make the ubiquitous plastic bags and food packaging film; PP is used to make bottle caps and plastic bags; PS is used for plastic cups and cutlery; and expanded PS for hot drinks cups and protective packaging [5]. Mixed plastic packaging (trays, tubs, pots) made of plastic such as PS and polyurethane cannot easily be recycled. Plastic collected for recycling is first sorted for polymer type, then shredded, washed, melted, and pelletized before being made into new products that could include refuse sacks, carrier bags, flower pots, wheel bins, drink bottles, food trays, and even polyester fabric for clothing.

Supermarkets are responsible for much of our plastic waste. It has been reported that almost 40% of all plastics produced is used as packaging material [5]. Indeed, one of the symbols of the plastic waste problem is the flimsy grocery store plastic bag. The managers of supermarkets tell us that plastic packaging is necessary for keeping produce fresh for customers. With this in mind, a campaign group in Holland early in 2018 called on supermarkets to begin introducing plastic-free packaging. In response, one supermarket, EkoPlaza in Amsterdam, has recently created a plastic-fee aisle for over 700 different products that include meat, sources, cereals, and snacks [6a]. The aisle is a test bed for innovative new compostable biomaterials and cardboard packaging. This is an important stepping stone in the campaign to reduce plastic waste. The concept is spreading, and shoppers around the world will soon find paper bags replacing plastic and customers bringing their own refillable containers for fruit, vegetables, cereals, pasta, coffee, and even wine [6b].

In order to deal with the present backlog of waste, there seems to be no way out other than to recycle what can be recycled and burn the remainder (and hopefully recoup the energy) with due regard to the polluting nature of the fumes. This is largely a result of the difficulty in separating the different types of plastic.

The recent publicity in the media surrounding plastic waste has created a massive drive to do something about it. The Indian Government, for example, banned the manufacture, use, storage, distribution, sale import, and transportation of many plastic items [7]. This hasty and rash decision is being challenged in the courts. Other governments have taken a more cautious view; in the United Kingdom, plans are afoot to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and to extend the 5p carrier bag charge [8]. The United Kingdom is also looking at how taxes or charges can help in reducing waste and to make plastic packaging producers pay for waste disposal [9]. The UK Government has also created new funds for research into plastic innovation. In Europe, the European Commission has said that all plastic packaging in the EU must be recyclable and reuseable by 2030. In its Plastic Strategy, it sets out a number of measures to tackle plastic waste, and these include a decrease in production of single-use plastic and restrictions on the use of microplastics. Currently, much of the 25 million tonnes of plastic produced in the European Union each year is burnt or landfilled with only 30% recycled [10a]. In the United States, this figure is 9.5%, and globally, it has been estimated that 86% of all plastic packaging is never collected or recycled. In the United States, 19.5% of all plastic bottles made from PET are recycled, making it the most recycled type of plastic. This is followed by high-density polyethylene (made into gallon size liquid containers) (10.3%) and low density (flimsy plastic bags) (5.3%). Other types of plastic such as polyvinyl chloride (hose pipes), polypropylene, and polystyrene (food packaging) have recycling levels of less and 1% [10b].

Recent reports have highlighted another serious problem related to plastic waste. Many wealthy developed and even developing countries have been exporting their waste to underdeveloped countries with poor or nonexistent waste management, such as Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia, and India [10a–12]. In many cases, the waste is not recycled or treated but left in enormous piles in the open. The worst export offenders are Japan, the United States, and Germany. This problem was recently highlighted in a TV program shown on BBC1 on June 10, 2019, showing the mountains of plastic waste, some of it from the United Kingdom, piling up in Malaysia creating a health hazard, especially when burnt in open fires in order to dispose of the plastic. Probably for these reasons, China banned the import of plastic waste in 2018.

1.4. What to do?

Plastic is not a perfect material but a necessary part of our future. We cannot turn back the clock, and we must find ways of dealing with the problem. To replace all plastic items with alternative materials would be highly costly and furthermore produce vast amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Creating new plastics that are biodegradable and made from nonfossil feedstock is a challenging task and will require experts from a range of disciplines that include chemistry, engineering, material sciences, and biology.

With more than a third of all plastic made being used as packaging material, perhaps this is a good starting point in reducing the amount of plastic we use. Taking a lead from the supermarket in the Netherlands, a few supermarkets in the United Kingdom have recently opened plastic-free aisles.

There are a number of basic things that should be done and should be the guiding principles of governments and local authorities: the generation of plastic waste must be reduced by increasing the recycling of plastics perhaps by reducing the types of plastic that can be manufactured; mixed plastic or multilayer plastic products must be reduced or better still banned (e.g., simplify the use of plastic material); ensure that plastics are kept within a circular economy; implement incentives with plastic producers and the general public to reduce the environmental impacts of plastics; design packaging material with recycling in mind; avoid plastic littering with an incentive infrastructure; develop tracing systems to easily identify different types of plastic to ensure better recovery and recycling of plastics; the public should be educated into how to reduce plastic waste; and local authorities should provide better collection facilities for plastic waste. In short, the mantra of reduce, redesign, reuse, and recycle should be the order of the day.

Single-use items should be kept to a minimum, and recycling of all plastics should be the aim of all local authorities. One starting point could be the reduction in the number of plastic bottles (most of them filled with water) sold every day. It has been estimated that 0.5   ×   10¹² (half a trillion) plastic bottles will be sold globally in 2020 [5]. These are largely single-use plastic bottles, and furthermore, in the developed world, tap water is just as good for one as the expensive bottled water. It will simply mean that people should carry a reusable bottle to be refilled instead of buying bottled water. This would make an enormous difference to the amount of plastic that is discarded.

In order to incorporate more recycled plastic, packaging material needs to be redesigned and multilayer packaging done away with. It would mean reducing the types of plastic than are manufactured so that only recyclable plastics are available for packaging and also for the manufacture of items we cannot do without.

Wet wipes that contain plastic (polyester or polypropylene) have become a major pollutant in recent years, as they do not disintegrate in water as does toilet paper. They are used as baby wipe, cleansing pads, industrial wipes, pet care, healthcare, and pain relief. Wet wipes are responsible for clogging toilets (it is reported that wet wipes are responsible for over 90% of all clogged toilets in the United Kingdom). Furthermore, they are responsible for creating fatbergs in sewers. In the United Kingdom, over 11 billion wet wipes are used annually.

A new plastic problem has recently raised it ahead and that is microplastics. This is particularly important in the oceans; a recent report by the National University of Ireland stated that 73% of deepwater fish in the Northwest Atlantic have microplastics in their guts [13]. Human pathogens (bacteria) have been found absorbed onto microplastics, but little is known about whether or how microplastics affects human or animal health. Microplastic is discussed in a number of chapters in this book.

The idea that the manufacturers of plastic or the producers of plastic items should be responsible for collecting and recycling plastic is a good one—this will almost certainly result in a reduction the amount of plastic made worldwide and moreover will limit the types of plastic made as only some kinds plastic can be recycled.

The breakdown of plastic material by sunlight, etc., is a major research topic today, and oxobiodegradation is high on the agenda. The bottom line is that oxobiodegradable plastic does break down, but only into fragments of microplastic material. This would certainly reduce the plastic collection in mid-oceans and moreover these microplastic fragments would, as one assumes, eventually break down faster than conventional nonbiodegradable plastic material. This is because of their larger surface area; unfortunately, this process could take years or even decades to chemically disintegrate into carbon dioxide, water, and possibly methane. Research into the harmful effects of microplastic material on human health is ongoing, and there is, as yet, no conclusive result. Compostable and biodegradable plastics are probably too expensive to manufacture and in most cases are very slow to break down into its chemical components, and with the microplastic issue with oxoplastics, it is best to limit the production of all plastics to recyclable types of plastic. This would mean restricting the manufacture of plastics to perhaps half a dozen types—all of which can be collected and recycled. This means no more mixed plastic products.

All of this indicates that perhaps there is a case to use oxoplastics in interim period before new legislation and manufacturing processes come into play.

There are many things that each one of us could do to make a difference:

• Always carry a reuseable bag, coffee mug, and bottle

• Give up buying bottled water, use a reuseable bottle filled with tap water, and persuade authorities to have filling points in public places

• Reuse plastic bags—they can be washed, dried, and reused

• Avoid excessive food packaging—buy food, where possible, from shops that sell products free of plastic packaging

• Purchase food from bulk bins and fill your own reuseable container

• Stop using plastic drinking straws

• Avoid buying frozen food as the packaging is usually plastic

• Eat fresh fruit and squeeze fresh juice and do not buy juice that usually comes in plastic bottles

• Pack picnic lunches and school lunches in reuseable containers

• Do not use disposable plastic cutlery

• Avoid items such as cosmetics that contain microbeads

• Petition governments to (a) limit the types of plastic made, (b) ban exporting plastic waste, (c) burn plastic waste, if really necessary, in plastic-to-energy plants fitted with filters to polluting gases and particulates, and (d) ensure no plastic is landfilled.

• Do not purchase or use wet wipes.

• Do not accept free plastic kids toys from retailers or food outlets.

1.5. The book

The chapters in Section A introduces the reader to the subject. The second chapter is an overall discussion on The production, uses, and fate of all synthetic plastic by Professor Roland Geyer. This is followed by The geography and geology of plastic: the environmental distribution and fate by Professor Sarah Gabbott, Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, Dr. Catherine Russell, Sarah Key, and Yasmin Yonan. Section B focuses on innovative plastic material; Professor Stephen Kabasci discusses Biobased plastics (Chapter 4), and Dr. Maja Rujnic Havstad writes on Biodegradable plastics (Chapter 5).

The end-of-life problems for plastic waste are the theme for five chapters in Section C beginning with Professor Edward Kosior on The current industrial position on plastic production and recycling (Chapter 6). This is followed by Plastic waste in the terrestrial environment by Dr. Rachel Hurley, Dr. Alice Horton Amy Lusher, and Luca Nizzetto (Chapter 7); The environmental impacts of plastic pollution by Dr. Natalie Waldren (Chapter 8); Microplastics from origin to impacts (Chapter 9) by Dr. Natalie Waldren and Amy Lusher; and Textile production and end of life management options by Professor Andreas Bartl (Chapter 10). Solutions to plastic waste are discussed in six chapters in Section D. They are Mechanical recycling of plastic waste by Professor Alexander Feil and Professor Thomas Pretz (Chapter 11); Blast furnace feedstock by Dr. Seiji Nomura (Chapter 12); Chemical routes for recycling—dissolving, catalytic, and thermochemical technologies by Dr. Maija Pohjakallio and Dr. Tommi Vuorinen (Chapter 13); Conversion of plastic waste to fuel by Professor Chandran Mohanraj, Senthilkumar Tamilkolundu, and Chandrasekar Murugesan (Chapter 14); The treatment of plastic in automobile shredder residue by the late Professor Alfons Buekens and Professor Trevor Letcher (Chapter 15); and Solutions to plastic waste on land and in the ocean by Professor Edward Kosior (Chapter 16).

Plastic waste has become a societal problem, and some of the issues related to society and the environment are discussed in Section E. Professor Sharon George discusses Plastics we cannot live without (Chapter 17) followed by Market trends and secondary plastic products by Dr. Maija Pohjakallio (Chapter 18); Ecological and health issues by Cayla Cook and Professor Rolf Halden (Chapter 19); and the final chapter in this section is Plastic waste in a circular economy by Professor John Hahladakis (Chapter 20). The final Section F is devoted to plastic waste around the world. Emeka Dumbii and Professor Lesley Henderson writes on The challenges of plastic pollution in nigeria (Chapter 21); Dr. Libby Peake discusses issues related to the United Kingdom (Chapter 22); Professor Yasuhiko Hotta on Plastic waste in Asia (Chapter 23), and Dr. Tim Elliott looks at The EU's plastic strategy (Chapter 24).


[1] https://time.com/5588691/victor-vescovo-plastic-oceans/.

[2] https://www.unenvironment.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/.

[3] https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/.

[4] Pelley J, Plastic Contamination of the Environment: sources, fate, effects and solutions, ACS publication, :http://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/membership/acs/benefits/extra-insights/plastics.pdf.

[5] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/plastics-facts-infographics-ocean-pollution/.

[6] [6a] https://triflowconcepts.com/hk/index.php/news/16-news/517-world-s-first-plastic-free-supermarket-aisle-opens-in-holland.[6b] https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/tesco-trials-plastic-free-aisle.

[7] Venkatasubramanian. Plastic bans in India expands to 18 States.  Chem Eng News . April 17, 2018. https://cen.acs.org/environment/pollution/Plastic-bans-India-expand-18/96/i17.

[8] Pourriahi S. UK to raise plastic bag charge extend it to all retailers.  Plast News Eur . January 2 , 2019. http://www.plasticsnewseurope.com/article/20190102/PNE/190109998/uk-to-raise-plastic-bag-charge-extend-it-to-all-retailers.

[9] https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environmental-quality/plastic-packaging-tax/.

[10a]. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181212STO21610/plastic-waste-and-recycling-in-the-eu-facts-and-figures.[10b] Lemonick S. Recycling needs a revamp, Chemical and Engineering News.  ACS J . June 15, 2018. https://cen.acs.org/environment/pollution/Recycling-needs-revamp/96/i25

[11] https://www.globalresearch.ca/us-plastic-waste-exports-to-developing.../5657145.

[12] https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2019/3/6/157000-shipping-containers-of-us-plastic-waste-exported-to-countries-with-poor-waste-management-in-2018.

[13] Wieczorek A.M, Morrison L, Croot P.L, Allcock A.L, Macloughlin E, Savard O, Brownlow H, Doyle T.K.Frequency of microplastics in mesopelagic fishes from the North Atlantic.  Front Mar Sci . 2018 doi: 10.3386/fmar.2018.00039.

Chapter 2: Production, use, and fate of synthetic polymers

Roland Geyer     Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, United States


Plastics, or synthetic polymers, have only been mass-produced for about 70 years, but have outgrown most man-made materials. Despite the large variety of polymers, eight of them make up 95% of all primary plastics ever made, which had exceeded nine billion metric tonnes by the end of 2017. Of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste generated so far, an estimated 10% were recycled, 14% were incinerated, while the remaining 76% are in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment. If global annual primary plastic production were to continue on its historic growth trend, it would reach 1.1 billion tonnes in 2050. This chapter contains an update of a prior analysis of global production, use, and fate of synthetic polymers.


Consuming sectors; Disposal; Global production; Incineration; Polymer type; Recycling; Uses; Waste generation

2.1 Introduction

2.2 Primary production

2.3 Use

2.4 Waste generation

2.5 Waste management

2.6 Cumulative 1950–2017

2.7 Projections to 2050


2.1. Introduction

This chapter contains a global account of all plastics ever made by humankind since 1950. It follows the material along its supply chain from production, through use, all the way to waste generation and management. The research and data presented here are an update of a prior material flow analysis [1].

Plastic is a summary term typically used for man-made, i.e., synthetic, polymers. A polymer is a large molecule consisting of many equal or similar subunits bonded together. Examples of naturally occurring polymers are cellulose, silk, rubber, muscle fiber, and DNA. The first man-made polymer was Parkesine or celluloid, which was developed in the 1850s and 60s [2]. The first truly synthetic polymer was bakelite, which was invented in 1907 [3]. The first modern plastic was polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which was made useable in the 1920s by blending it with additives to improve its plasticity.

Today, plastic denotes a large and growing family of materials, which can be categorized in a variety of ways. One such categorization is the distinction between thermoplastics and thermosets [4]. Thermoplastics melt when heated and harden when cooled. Changing the solidity by applying heat can be done repeatedly and in both directions, which makes this group of plastics potentially recyclable. Examples of thermoplastics are polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), PVC, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), and polyamide (PA).

Thermosets, on the other hand, undergo a chemical change when heated by forming a three-dimensional network that is irreversible. They cannot be remelted and reformed as a result, which is a major issue in terms of recyclability. Examples of thermosets are polyurethanes (PUR), unsaturated polyester, silicone, and epoxy, melamine, phenolic, and acrylic resins. Thermosets and thermoplastics can be combined with fibers to form composites, such as glass or carbon fiber reinforced polymers (GFRP or CFRP).

Another way to categorize plastics is to note whether the carbon source is fossil or recently grown biomass [5]. The two resulting categories are typically called fossil-based plastic and biobased plastic. Fossil-based plastics are sometimes called petroleum-based plastics, even though natural gas compounds are also a major feedstock for fossil-based plastics. None of the currently produced fossil-based plastics are biodegradable in the sense that they biodegrade in timescales relevant for their end-of-life management. A common mistake is to think that all biobased plastics are also biodegradable. A significant, and growing, amount of biobased plastic is chemically identical to one of the fossil-based polymers, such as PE or PET, and thus shares their lack of biodegradability. The only difference of biobased PE or PET is that some or all of the chemical feedstock is derived from biomass, such as corn or sugarcane. A pertinent example is the PlantBottle material developed by the Coca-Cola Company, which is actually PET [6]. PET is made from 30% monoethylene glycol (MEG) and 70% purified terephthalic acid (PTA). The MEG of the original PlantBottle material is made from ethanol made from Brazilian sugarcane, while the PTA is still fossil-based. In 2015, Coca-Cola announced a PlantBottle that is 100% biobased.

As mentioned earlier, PET is not biodegradable. Biodegradation is the complete breakdown of organic materials by microorganisms into its basic constituents to form carbon dioxide and water. The speed by which materials biodegrade is called biodegradation rate and is not just a function of its chemical composition and structure, but speed also depends on the environmental conditions, such as microbial community present, moisture, and temperature. Claiming biodegradability of a certain polymer without specifying the environmental conditions during degradation and the resulting degradation rate is thus fairly meaningless.

Most plastics contain not just the pure polymer but also additional chemicals called additives. This is done to enhance or modify the properties of the resulting finished plastic.

2.2. Primary production

Mass production of plastics began during the Second World War and was driven by the material intensity of modern warfare, the increasing shortage of other materials, and the versatility of synthetic polymers [2]. After the war, the newly created plastic production capacity was redirected toward civil society. The invention of the modern consumer society and the sustained economic growth of the postwar period created a perfect environment for these new materials. By 1950, global annual plastic production had reached two million metric tonnes (Mt). For reasons of data availability and convenience, 1950 is frequently used as the starting year of plastic mass production. Global cumulative production prior to 1950 is likely to be somewhere between 4 and 8   Mt [2]. Incidentally, 1950 is also suggested as the start of the proposed Anthropocene, the period in which many geological surface processes started to be dominated by humans. Recently, plastic has even been proposed as a stratigraphic indicator for the Anthropocene, since it is now found virtually everywhere in the environment [7].

A readily accessible and frequently used data source for global plastic production is the numbers generated and published by PlasticsEurope Market Research Group (PEMRG) [8]. According to this data, global annual plastic production has increased year over year with the exceptions of 1975, 1980, and 2008, which coincide with the two global oil crises and the Great Recession. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the PEMRG data between 1950 and 2017 is 8.3%, increasing reported global annual production from 1.7   Mt in 1950 to 348   Mt in 2017. However, the growth trend is not exponential, as frequently claimed. Exponential trend lines produce extremely bad fits. Instead, a second-order polynomial fit of the PERMG data generates an R squared of 0.997.

The PEMRG data includes thermoplastics, thermosets, elastomers, adhesives, coatings, and PP fibers, but excludes all other synthetic fibers and also all additives. Fiber and additives data therefore need to be obtained from other sources. Between 1950 and 2016, global annual production of acrylic, PA, PP, and polyester fibers increased from 0.3 to 62   Mt, with a CAGR of 8.6% [9,10]. A third-order polynomial fit generates an R squared of 0.993. Synthetic fiber production is dominated by polyester. In 1980, it already accounted for 50% of total annual production. In 2016, its share had grown to 83%. Global acrylic production has been declining slightly since 2011 to 1.7   Mt in 2016. In contrast, global PA production has been growing steadily since 2011 to 4.8   Mt in 2016.

Production data for additives are sparse and typically omitted in plastic production statistics. Existing data suggest that nonfiber plastics contain, on average, around 93% polymer resin and 7% additives by mass [11,12]. In other words, a substantial fraction of finished plastics are additives rather than the actual polymer. The most widely used additives are plasticizers, flame retardants, and fillers, which together make up 75% of global annual additives production. Other additive types are heat stabilizers, antioxidants, impact modifiers, colorants, and lubricants [1].

Altogether, global plastics production in 2017 is estimated as 438   Mt and composed of 348   Mt of polymer resins, 62   Mt of polymer fibers, and 27   Mt of additives. Between 1950 and 2017, the CAGR of total plastics production (resins, fibers, and additives) was 8.3%. Total cumulative primary plastics production between 1950 and 2017 is estimated as 9.2 billion tonnes. Using conservative estimates, this is the same mass as 900,000 Eiffel Towers, 88 million blue whales, or 1.2 billion elephants. Half of this total cumulative production happened after 2004. In other words, half of all plastic ever made by humankind was produced in the last 13 years.

Fig. 2.1 shows global annual primary plastics production from 1950 to 2017 by material type. LD, LLD, and HDPE denote low-density, linear low-density, and high-density PE, respectively. PP&A stands for polyester, PA, and acrylic. The percentage breakdown (by mass) of the 2017 production year is as follows: LD and LLDPE—16%, HDPE—13%, PP—17%, PS—6%, PVC—9%, PET—8%, PUR—7%, PP&A—14%, others—4%, and additives—6%. This means that eight polymer groups and the additives make up 96% of global plastics production in 2017. PE and polypropylene resins alone make up 45% of total production, even without any additives.

Today, plastic resin and fiber production is dominated by China and the rest of Asia [13]. The 2017 regional breakdown of resin production was China 29%, rest of Asia 21%, Europe 19%, NAFTA 18%, and rest of world 13% [4,14,15]. In 2016, the regional breakdown of synthetic fiber production was China 64%, rest of Asia 22%, Europe 5%, North America 4%, and rest of world 5% [9].

Figure 2.1 Global annual primary plastics production (in Mt) by material type from 1950 to 2017.

All production statistics discussed so far are exclusively for fossil-based plastics. In terms of production capacity, biobased plastics are insignificant. According to European Bioplastics, current global production capacity of biobased plastic is a little over 2   Mt, less than half of which is for biodegradable plastics [16].

As mentioned earlier, second- and third-order polynomial trend lines fit the historical global annual primary plastic production data extremely well. If these trend lines are extended forward, global annual primary plastic production would reach 1.1 billion tonnes in 2050, and total cumulative primary plastic production between 1950 and 2050 would have reached 34 billion tonnes, none of which would be biodegradable. It is important to note that all data in this section are for primary, or virgin, plastic, i.e., plastic that uses fossil fuels as direct feedstock. Production of secondary, or recycled, plastic, i.e., plastic made from pre- or postconsumer plastic waste, will be discussed in a later section.

2.3. Use

Due to their versatility and low relative cost, plastics are used in all industrial sectors. There is probably no product type that does not exist in a version that contains significant amounts of plastic. Plastic resins are used extensively in packaging, building and construction, transportation, electrical and electronic equipment, and agriculture. It is also widely used in furniture and household, leisure and sports goods, and medical supplies and equipment [4,14].

Figure 2.2 Global annual primary plastics production (in Mt) by consuming sector from 1950 to 2017.

Fig. 2.2 shows global annual primary plastics production from 1950 to 2017 by consuming sector. In the following discussion, all percentages are by mass. It can be seen that global primary plastics production is dominated by packaging. In 2017, packaging made up 36% of total production, including textiles/fibers. The share of packaging in 2017 total plastic resin production, i.e., excluding synthetic fibers, was 42%. Resin use in packaging is dominated by PE, PP, and PET, which together account for over 90% of all packaging. PET is almost exclusively used in packaging. PE and PP use is dominated by packaging, but both polymers are used across all sectors. The second largest sector is building and construction, which consumes 16% of total production by mass, followed by textiles, which consumes 14%. 43% of the plastic resins used by the building and construction sector are PVCs. The building and construction sector consumes 69% of total PVC production. The textile sector is responsible for virtually all synthetic fiber consumption. In 2016, 83% of all synthetic fiber production was polyester, and about 86% of textile sector output was apparel [9].

Typical uses for PVC are pipes, hoses, cable insulation, window, and door frames. PET is mostly used for bottles, and also increasingly for clamshell containers. A typical use for HDPE is as bottle for milk, toiletries, and household washing and cleaning products. A large use of PUR is for foam products, like mattresses, pillows, and insulation. Expanded polystyrene is used as packaging and insulation material. LD and LLDPE use is dominated by packaging but finds applications across all other sectors. LD and LLDPE are frequently used to produce film. Of all main polymers, PP has the most even distribution across sectors and applications, even though it is still dominated by packaging. Popular engineering thermoplastics are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polycarbonate, polymethyl methacrylate, polyoxymethylene, Styrene-acrylonitrile copolymer, and polytetrafluoroethylene, which is best known under the brand name Teflon.

The length of time a product is in use depends on the product category, and also on the way the product is designed, manufactured, and used. This means that product categories are characterized by typical lifetimes and the variance around them. Product lifetimes are thus best described with distributions [17]. Since negative lifetimes are impossible, lognormal or Weibull functions are popular. Plastic-containing products span a wide range of lifetimes, from weeks for some single-use packaging to decades for building components. Fig. 2.3 shows the lognormal product lifetime distributions used in a recent publication for the same sectors shown in Fig. 2.2 [1].

Considering the importance of product lifetimes for sustainable materials management, the available data are surprisingly sparse and often of poor quality [18]. Products are sometimes grouped into durable goods and nondurable goods (also called consumables), but given the continuum of product lifetimes, such a simple categorization is by default arbitrary and thus of limited use.

Figure 2.3) for the consuming sectors shown in Fig. 2.2.

An alternative way to describe the use of a product is through its number of uses, rather than the time it is in use. The total number of uses can vary widely even within a product category. A pertinent example is apparel. Clothes may be worn only a few times during one season, sometimes called fast fashion, or many, many times over decades [19]. The low cost of plastics makes it possible to design products with only a single use in mind, the so-called single-use products. The vast majority of today's retail packaging is single use rather than reusable. The rise in single-use packaging coincides with the rise in plastic production. Much of single-use packaging is made of plastic, while single-use packaging makes up a large fraction of plastic use.

One important concept related to the use of materials or products is the so-called stock in use [17]. It denotes and quantifies the amount of material or product that is in current use. To be a useful metric, it requires a well-defined scope. In other words, it needs to be clear what materials or products are included or excluded. One characteristic of a material or product system with steady growth in production and consumption on one hand and fairly constant or slowly changing lifetimes on the other is that the stock in use is also growing steadily. This is due to the fact that every year more materials are added to the stock than are leaving it.

2.4. Waste generation

Coming up with a definition of waste material seems simple as first but becomes more complicated at closer inspection. Defining waste as material with negative economic value does not work, since some waste materials, like many types of metal scrap, have positive economic value. Waste can also not be defined as material headed for landfill, since significant amounts of waste material now have other fates, such as incineration and recycling. Maybe, material waste can be defined as the unintentional material outflow of a production or consumption activity. Waste material generated during production activities is called production or preconsumer waste. An example would be all the plastic waste generated during the production of plastic parts. Waste material generated during or after product use is called end-of-life or postconsumer waste. An example would be all those plastic parts from above, once we are done using them.

In general, preconsumer waste is much easier to recycle since it is typically much less contaminated than postconsumer waste and generated in fewer locations. The former makes it easier to reprocess, the latter makes it easier to collect. Not infrequently, production waste is recycled right in the facility where it was generated. The remainder of this section therefore focuses on the generation of postconsumer plastic waste.

Waste generation data are much harder to find than material production data, and the data that do exist also tend to be of considerably poorer quality than production data. This is true for all materials, including plastic. There are two fundamentally different methods to estimate plastic waste generation, which could be called bottom-up and top-down. The bottom-up method starts with solid waste generation data, typically given in kilogram per capita and day [20,21]. These data can now be combined with population data to yield national or regional numbers. The final step is to multiply the total solid waste values with their plastic fraction, which is typically given as a percentage. Solid waste generation values and plastic fraction vary widely between nations and even within them [22,23]. Unfortunately, data quality also varies widely, which creates considerable uncertainty in the results.

The top-down method starts with plastic production data and combines them with lifetime distributions of the plastic-containing products, in order to estimate the delay between the time the plastic was produced and the time the plastic-containing product leaves the use phase and becomes end-of-life waste [24,25]. Figs. 2.4 and 2.5 show global primary plastic waste generation estimates using the top-down method, the first by material type and the second by consuming sector. Primary plastic waste means that it is primary material that is becoming waste, not recycled material.

) from .

Global annual primary plastic waste generation in 2018 is estimated as 343   Mt. It can be seen that primary plastic waste generation is lagging primary plastic production, which means that there has been a continuous buildup of the in-use stock of primary plastic. In the year 2017, for example, 438   Mt was added to the in-use stock, while only 328   Mt left it as waste. As a consequence, 110   Mt of plastic was added in 2017 to the stock in use.

Figure 2.4 Global annual primary plastic waste generation (in Mt) by type from 1950 to 2018.

Figure 2.5 Global annual primary plastics waste generation (in Mt) by sector from 1950 to 2018.

Another observation is that the composition of the plastic waste is different from the composition of plastic production in any given year. This is due to the fact that different consuming sectors have different lifetime distributions and consume different mixes of polymers. For example, in 2017, 16% (71   Mt) of all global plastic production (resin, fibers, and additives) was consumed by the building and

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