A new report has revealed that the US is the largest source of plastic waste worldwide. The federal government needs to develop a new strategy to reduce the amount of plastic that ends-up in the oceans.
The advent of flexible, cheap plastics has created a global deluge in plastic waste. The report states that the US is the largest contributor to disposable plastics. This plastic waste ends up entangling, choking marine life, causing ecosystem damage, and causing pollution up the food chain.
Plastic waste has increased dramatically in the US since 1960. The country now generates approximately 42m metric tonnes of plastic waste per year, or 130kg of waste per person in America. This is more than all the member countries of the European Union combined. The report also found that the US produces two to eight times more municipal waste than other comparable countries.
The rapid growth of American plastic production has meant that the recycling infrastructure has not kept up. Littering, dumping, and inefficient waste disposal in landfills have caused the release of up to 2.2 million tons of plastic each year. This includes everything from plastic bottles and straws to packaging. Data gaps in tracking may make it even more difficult to track.
Many of these plastics end up in the oceans via rivers and streams.
At least 8.8m tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean each year. This is equivalent to dumping a garbage truck full of plastic in the ocean every minute. Scientists have predicted that this number could rise to 53m tons annually if current trends continue. This is approximately half the weight of all fish caught in the oceans each year.
Plastic waste is a social and environmental crisis that the US must address, according to Margaret Spring (chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium). Spring chaired a group of experts that compiled the following: The congressionally mandated reportNational Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Spring added: The US’s plastic waste has many consequences. It impacts inland and coastal communities, pollutes our rivers, lakes and beaches, and can be found in our waterways. This places social and economic burdens upon vulnerable populations. It also threatens marine habitats and wildlife, and can contaminate the waters that sustain human life.
According to the committee’s report, a new national strategy should be developed by next year in order to stop the plastics from entering the ocean. The report recommends that the strategy should reduce plastic production, especially for non-reusable or recyclable plastics, promote alternative materials, and establish better standards for waste collection.
Any effort to reduce plastic pollution will be influenced by wider industrial and international trends. The US, like many other developed countries in the world, used to ship plastics to China as a way to reduce its waste problem. However these imports were stopped in 2018 by the Chinese. This has resulted in an increase in plastic waste being sent to other countries like Vietnam and Thailand. However, these imports were stopped by the Chinese in 2018.
As its primary business is being affected by the climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry is now considering a massive expansion in plastic production. Plastic polymers can be made from crude oil feedstock. The industry is betting on a glut in new plastic to flood the market, and consequently, waterways, beaches, and oceans in the next few years.
The issue is urgent because production is increasing, and waste generation is increasing. Therefore, leakage impacts could increase as well, according to Jenna Jambeck who is a member the scientific committee behind this report.