WASHINGTON — Industry has made more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950 and there’s enough left over to bury Manhattan under more than 2 miles of trash, according to a new global study.
Plastics don’t break down like other human-made materials, so three-quarters of the stuff ends up as waste in landfills, littered on land, and floating in oceans, lakes, and rivers, according to the research reported in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances .
‘‘At the current rate, we are really heading toward a plastic planet,’’ said study lead author Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The plastics boom started after World War II, and now plastics are everywhere. They are used in packaging like plastic bottles and consumer goods like cellphones and refrigerators. They are in pipes and other construction material. They are in cars and clothing, usually as polyester.
The study calculated that of the 9.1 billion tons made, nearly 7 billion tons are no longer used. Only 9 percent got recycled and another 12 percent was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land and in water.
China makes the most plastic, followed by Europe and North America.