Holding China and other countries accountable for global pollution must not keep us from taking a closer look in the mirror, especially when it comes to plastics pollution and our oceans.
“According to a new study published Friday in the journal Science Advances, the United States is actually a much bigger part of the global plastics problem.
Using 2016 municipal solid waste data from the World Bank — the most recent available — Mallos and his colleagues attempted to refine some of the calculations made in the 2015 paper. They looked at 215 countries, considering the amount of plastic each nation received from the U.S., as well as its overall percentage of mismanaged waste as reported by the World Bank. United Nations data helped them calculate that, in 2016, more than half of the recyclable plastic collected in the United States was sent abroad to be dealt with — 89 percent of the time to countries with inadequate waste management infrastructure, like China and Indonesia. As a result, up to 1.1 million tons (1 million metric tons) of exported American plastic waste — the equivalent of about 13.6 Washington Monuments — ended up polluting the environment abroad.
The researchers also estimated that Americans generated up to 1.38 million tons (1.25 million metric tons) of plastic pollution domestically, through illegal dumping and littering. All told, that means the United States may have contributed as much as 2.48 million tons (2.25 million metric tons) of plastic pollution into the global environment. Considering the fraction that wound up within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of a coastline, the researchers estimated that up to 1.6 million tons (1.45 million metric tons) of plastics — the weight equivalent of nearly 160 Eiffel Towers — may have ended up polluting coastal ecosystems. With that higher-end estimate, the United States would be the world’s third-worst offender for its contribution to coastal plastic pollution.”
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