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DATE: August 5, 2018

SNIP: In the 1950s, a new material burst onto the scene that would change the world forever. Cheap, durable, sanitary, strong, and light.

And today, there are literally thousands of raw categories of plastic, according to Fred Betke, founder of Delta Pacific Products, which makes plastic parts for medical instruments.

The technical name is polypropylene, and all almost everything plastic starts out as pellets. They’re available in every color under the sun.

After 65 years of making plastic, we’ve pretty much mastered the art. What we haven’t yet figured out is what to do with plastic once we’re done with it.

“It lasts a really long time,” said Roland Geyer, professor of environmental science at UC Santa Barbara. “It doesn’t biodegrade. So, it just sits there.”

Geyer has studied how much plastic we throw away. “We have statistics reaching all the way back to the dawn of plastic mass production, 1950. And if we add it all together, it’s 8.3 billion metric tons. So, if we take that and spread it out evenly over California, the entire state of California would be covered. And that would be an ugly sight.”

“Every single year, somewhere between 5 and 12 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean,” Geyer said. “Plastic in the ocean has a tendency to break down into other smaller pieces. And these tiny pieces then get taken up even lower down in the food chain. So, we know that it ends up on our dinner plates.”

Geyer says that as of 2017, the world recycles only about 9 percent of all our plastic. Even if you’re good about using your recycling bin, your plastic may never actually get recycled. It’s easy and economical to recycle clean, pure plastic. But well over half of the plastic we throw in our bins is contaminated by food, paper labels, or other materials.

Staring on January 1 of this year, China stopped accepting other countries’ plastic unless it is impossibly pure. “If you are sending any scrap it should not have more than 0.5% of foreign matter,” Bagaria said.

“So it’s gotta be 99.5% pure?”

“Pure plastic. And that was obviously unattainable.”

“We cannot imagine life without plastics. But we cannot continue to lead our life the way we are. It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s use this planet Earth, then we will move to another planet.’ No, this is what we have. We need to take care of this.”