A new paper published in Science Advances reveals that the United States has generated the most plastic waste globally, and that a large amount of it ends up in the environment despite the relatively robust waste infrastructure in the US compared to other countries. The paper, written by Kara Lavender Law, Natalie Starr, Theodore R. Siegler, Jenna R. Jambeck, Nicholas J. Mallos and George H. Leonard, follows a widely cited 2015 study by several of the same authors that examined the sources of ocean plastic pollution.
The 2015 study has been misleadingly used by industry and governments to claim that a handful of rivers in Asia are primarily responsible for the plastic pollution crisis, despite the fact that many US corporations are the ones selling plastic products overseas and that the Global North sends much of its plastic waste to these countries to deal with.
In response to the recent paper, Greenpeace USA Global Plastics project leader Graham Forbes said, “For years, corporations and governments in the Global North have scapegoated countries in Asia for the plastic pollution crisis. This comprehensive study now reveals that the United States has generated more plastic waste than any other country, and an enormous amount of that is ending up in our environment. This proves that the recycling infrastructure argument we see from industry is a ruse. Plastic producers and major consumer goods companies have argued that if we just build up recycling infrastructure in Africa and Asia, then we can continue churning out single-use plastic. The US has a relatively robust waste infrastructure, yet an estimated five times as much plastic pollution entered the oceans in 2016 than in 2010. The US needs to stop blaming other countries for its problem and give up its addiction to single-use plastic.
“The United States is the second largest exporter of plastic waste globally. This analysis shines a spotlight on the amount of waste likely discarded as we ship it off to countries that cannot handle it. Even as many Americans have access to plastic collection, much of that is not being reprocessed into new materials. Much of this plastic eventually ends up polluting our environment, but at least it is out of sight and out of mind for elected officials and corporations in the US that desperately want to keep the plastic industry destroying our communities, oceans and waterways.
“The idea that we can just continue to prop up recycling to tackle the pollution crisis is a fantasy pushed by corporations since the 1970s. This analysis shows that plastic production has grown 26 percent from 2010 to 2016 alone, and the pollution crisis is only worsening due to the pandemic. The researchers are clear in their assessment that the best way to reduce plastic in the environment is by producing less of it. To address the worsening pollution crisis, governments and corporations in the United States and globally need to stop conning the people they serve and get serious about ending our reliance on throwaway plastic.”
To read the Science Advances paper, visit https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/44/eabd0288. For more information on Greenpeace, visit www.greenpeace.org/global/.