The Growing Problem of Plastic Waste

Mike Hosey
5 min readJul 21, 2020

Ever since its invention, we have produced and consumed an incredible amount of plastic. Globally, an estimated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste have been disposed of with 9% of that being recycled, 12% incinerated and 79% going to landfill. Each year we produce an additional 300 million tonnes of plastic waste and that is projected to continue.

How we manage that is the multi-billion dollar question. Too much of it ends up in the natural environment and is having major impacts that will affect this planet for decades. Attempts to clean that up are beginning and showing promising results, but the plastic tap is still running and there’s little sign of it being turned off.

If we assume that plastic will continue to be produced for decades to come with no sign of letting up, we have three options to manage that:

  1. We send our waste to landfill
  2. We burn it
  3. We recycle it

Burying Our Plastic Habit

The vast majority of our waste goes to landfill and much of that is plastic. When buried underground in landfill sites, plastic remains there, inert, out of sight and out of our mind. It won’t break into microplastics and, assuming the landfill site is properly contained, it will remain in the ground, unable to pollute the environment.

The problems arise when plastic waste is dumped into landfills that are illegally developed. There are stringent regulations that landfills must abide by here in the UK and in much of the developed world but not in much of the developing world. Without the regulations that are in place to protect the natural environment and human life, plastic can be blown or washed out of landfills, or leach into soils and groundwater sources — something India is having difficulty dealing with.

The UK is running out of landfill capacity (Source: Edie)

Here in the UK we’re running out of landfill capacity. In 2017, a report calculated that the UK had 6.8 years of landfill capacity left — that takes us just beyond 2022. In that time more landfills will likely open and more capacity will be found, but the amount of waste we’re producing will soon overrun what space there is and we’ll have to ship it overseas or found other ways of getting rid of it.

Mike Hosey

| Founder of | Masters in Sustainable Development | Interested in all things sustainable |