Just The Facts

The Rise of Plastic

The past, present and future of plastic production.

Credit: Alaettin YILDIRIM Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • About 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013.
  • About 4% of the petroleum consumed worldwide each year is used to make plastic.
  • From 1950 to 2012, plastics growth rose from 1.7 million tons to nearly 300 million tons of today.

1. Plastic was first invented in the 1860s and developed for industry in the 1920s.

2. Plastic production exploded in the 1940s, when it became one of the fastest-growing global industries.

3. About 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, a 3.9% increase over 2012. Global production of plastic has continued to rise for more than 50 years.

4. From 1950 to 2012, plastics growth averaged 8.7% per year, rising from 1.7 million tons to the nearly 300 million tons of today.

5. Worldwide production grew as plastics gradually replaced materials like glass and metal in many consumer goods.

6. Plastics are synthetic materials manufactured from polymers, or long chains of repeating molecules.

7. They are derived from oil, natural gas, and recently from plants like corn and sugarcane.

8. Plastics made from plants still represent only a small portion of overall production.

9. About 4% of the petroleum consumed worldwide each year is used to make plastic, and another 4% is used to power plastic manufacturing processes.

Sources: Worldwatch Institute and The Globalist Research Center.

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