New study on plastic polluters – USA is not great

A new study looking at plastic pollution source hit >1 news feed this week which highlights both the importance and the source quality based on recent experiences. Study’s lead-off summary makes it clear: quote, “Plastic waste affects environmental quality and ecosystem health. In 2010, an estimated 5 to 13 million metric tons(Mt) of plastic waste entered the ocean from both developing countries with insufficient solid waste infrastructure and high-income countries with very high waste generation. We demonstrate that, in 2016, the United States generated the largest amount of plastic waste of any country in the world (42.0 Mt). Between 0.14 and 0.41 Mt of this waste was illegally dumped in the United States, and 0.15 to 0.99 Mt was inadequately managed in countries that imported materials collected in the United States for recycling. Accounting for these contributions, the amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States’ contribution among the highest in the world. (my bold)

Here are the top 10 countries as of 2016 based on this study

The study correctly and importantly points out that USA waste export strategy has failed on two accounts: first, a material portion of the exported waste for recycling gets dumped, not recycled; second, China has stopped accepting household plastic waste, quote:

Although 9.3% of the plastic waste generated in the United States in 2016 was collected for recycling, the global market–driven export mainly to lower-income countries for processing ultimately resulted in substantial leakage of plastics to the environment. Since 2016, China has implemented a policy effectively prohibiting the
import of “personal/household waste plastic,” “unsorted waste paper,” and other types of solid waste (28). Consequently, the total amounts of plastic and paper scrap exported from the United States in 2019
had fallen from 2016 values by 66 and 17%, respectively, with collective exports to China and Hong Kong dropping by 94% for plastic scrap and 60% for paper scrap.”

Our plastic waste management practices are some of the worst in the world:

USA plastic waste management practices and global impact are NOT great. We have work to do and it is work we cannot export out to another country. We need to strap in and take care of it …

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