“Plastic waste is an environmental and social crisis that the US needs to affirmatively address from source to sea.”
The United States of America has been named the biggest plastic polluter globally in a new report submitted to the federal government.
According to the congressionally mandated report published in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) , America contributed around 42 million metric tons in plastic waste in 2016 — more than twice as much as China and more than the countries of the European Union combined.
The analysis also found that the country currently generates about 42m metric tons of plastic waste annually, amounting to about 130kg of waste for every person in the US.
The UK is next on the list at 99 kilos per person per year, followed by South Korea at 88 kilos per year.
Causes of plastic pollution
Ineffective recycling efforts and increased production in cheap plastic with little or no recyclable qualities are considered the main culprits contributing to the plastic menace.
Since recycling facilities are unable to keep pace and have been overburdened for years, around 2.2m tons of plastic – which includes everything from plastic bottles and straws to packaging – “leak” into the environment each year.
Much of this waste eventually ends up in the world’s oceans.
‘Environmental and social crisis’
According to global data, at least 8.8m tons of plastic waste enters the marine environment annually, which is “equivalent to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every single minute.
If current trends continue, scientists have estimated this total could reach 53m tons annually by 2030.
Margaret Spring is the chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
She said: “Plastic waste is an environmental and social crisis that the US needs to affirmatively address from source to sea.
“Plastic waste generated by the US has so many consequences, impacting inland and coastal communities, polluting our rivers, lakes, beaches, bays, and waterways, placing social and economic burdens on vulnerable populations, endangering marine habitats and wildlife and contaminating waters upon which humans depend for food and livelihoods.”
Christy Leavitt, Oceana’s plastics campaign director added: “The finger-pointing stops now. We can no longer ignore the United States’ role in the plastic pollution crisis, one of the biggest environmental threats facing our oceans and our planet today.”
Measures to tackle the problem
The report has recommended a number of measures to address the crisis – which include reducing virgin plastic production, promoting alternative materials and rolling out better standards for waste collection, among others.
It has also called for the country to develop its national strategy no later than the end of 2022.
“This is the most comprehensive and damning report on plastic pollution ever published,” Judith Enk, president of the Beyond Plastics nonprofit said.
Urging policy makers and business leaders to read the report and take action, she added: “It is a code red for plastics in the ocean and documents how litter cleanups are not going to save the ocean.”
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