WHICH COUNTRY WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE COVERED BY PLASTIC? – We’ve produced heaps of that stuff, haven’t we?


In the first global analysis of the production of plastics, researchers have calculated that we have created 8.3 billion tonnes (9.1bn tons) of the stuff since the 1950s. What’s more, the vast majority of this – around 79 percent – goes straight to landfill, where it is simply buried and forgotten. Much of this waste also makes it into the oceans. The study, published in Science Advances, found that just 9 percent of all plastics are recycled, while a further 12 percent are incinerated.

The study looked at the production of all plastics, from resin to fibers. They found that its production has increased from around 2 million tonnes (2.2m tons) a year in 1950, to a staggering 400 million tonnes (440m tons) in 2015. This makes plastic one of the most produced man-made materials, with the exception of things like steel and cement. But while these are used in construction, and will be put to use for decades, the overwhelming majority of plastic is “single use” and discarded straight away.

Poor Argentina, as if the country doesn’t have enough problems as it is. A century ago it used to be quite a wealthy and vibrant society, subsequently ruined by decades of Peronist statism, and crony capitalism and corruption. But I’m told Buenos Aires is still a lovely city and the Argentinian pampas produce some very good quality beef, so perhaps we should cover someone else instead?

Argentina is some 2,780,400 km2 in area. Perhaps we could platic-coat a fraction of Russia (17,098,246 km2)? Or Kazakhstan  (2,724,900 km2)? I’m sure Borat won’t mind. The possibilities are really endless once you start to consider various combination. My personal favourite would be Saudi Arabia (2,149,690 km2) and Yemen (527,970 km2) covered in 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic. After all, plastic derives from oil, so it’s a matter of returning the byproduct to where it belongs. You can have a go at this parlour game.

(Bad) jokes aside, this is an important environmental problem and I remain in hope that science and technology will progress sufficiently over the next decade or so to come up with a process to successfully deal with this sad detritus of our civilisation.