The life cycle of plastics

Statista overview report on the global impact of plastics throughout production, use, and disposal

The life cycle of plastics

Plastics are ubiquitous modern materials that have an exceedingly wide variety of incarnations and uses. Broadly defined, plastic refers to a substance or material that is easily shaped or molded. For the purposes of this report, however, plastic(s) refers to "a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft, and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form."
In 2019, plastic production amounted to 368 million metric tons worldwide. Plastics have many indispensable uses in modern society, such as in medical devices that save lives, but they are also used in ways that cause massive amounts of unnecessary waste.   

This report explores how the global plastic pollution crisis has developed, from the very first plastics produced to the current overload of cumulative plastic waste.

Table of contents

Plastic history and production

  • Introduction
  • Invention timeline
  • Production: historic & outlook figures
Plastic consumption
  • Plastics by sector
  • Consumption by type of plastic
  • Plastic waste trade flows
Plastic pollution crisis
  • Plastic recycling
  • Decomposition rates of plastic
  • Micro- and macroplastic pollution
  • Emissions of plastic life cycle
The way forward
  • Bioplastics
  • The role of technology & individuals
  • Accountability of MNCs
  • Government policies

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