Is It Worse to Burn Oil or Turn It Into Plastic?

And more questions on the future of plastic and the environment

Mike Berners-Lee
OneZero
Published in
5 min readJul 18, 2019

--

Credit: Barcroft Media/Getty Images

How much plastic is there in the world?

An estimated 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced so far. Of this, 5.4 billion tons has been chucked into landfill or scattered onto land and sea. To get a sense of what this looks like, if all of this plastic were made into cling film it would be more than enough to wrap the whole planet.

The world is now producing over 400 million tons of the stuff every year. That is more than ever before, despite the sudden rise in awareness of the environmental problems associated with it, like the move to ban plastic straws. Of all the plastic ever made, less than a third is still in use, less than a tenth has been burned, and only about 7% has been recycled. This leaves the remaining 60% hanging around as rubbish.

When trash gets landfilled, at least you can argue that the carbon is going back into the ground where it came from and where it belonged all along. From a climate change perspective, this could be the best end point.

An estimated 4 to 12 million tons per year ends up in the sea, where it turns up on the world’s remotest beaches, on the deep ocean floor and in the stomachs of animals…

--

--

Mike Berners-Lee
OneZero

Mike is a Professor at Lancaster University. His most recent book is “There is No Planet B”. He is a leading expert in carbon accounting and metrics.