America is World’s Biggest Source of Ocean Plastic Pollution, Reveals a Study

Ocean plastic has emerged as yet another massive problem that the planet is currently dealing with. While countries are thriving to dispose of their plastic waste in an efficient and environmentally-friendly manner, a recent study has revealed that America is the world’s biggest source of ocean plastic pollution.

The United States has contributed a massive amount of plastic waste to the environment, including the oceanic ecosystems, despite having strict waste management infrastructure to collect, transport, and process waste. Majority of citizens have access to waste and recycling collection, yet illegal dumping and littering is still prevalent in the country.

The study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, has revealed that the US is the top generator of plastic waste in the world and as high as the third top generator of ocean plastic waste. While earlier studies have suggested that Asian countries are responsible for the majority of ocean plastics, the new study eradicates this assumption by accounting the plastic that US ships abroad.

America is World's Biggest Source of Ocean Plastic Pollution

America is the world’s biggest source of ocean plastic pollution | Image: Ocean Conservancy

The scientists from Sea Education Association, DSM Environmental Services, University of Georgia, and Ocean Conservancy used plastic waste generation data from2016, which provides the latest available global numbers. The study noted that over half of all plastics collected for recycling (1.99 million metric tons of 3.91 million metric tons) in the US were shipped abroad.

According to the lead author and Sea Education Association professor of oceanography Dr. Kara Lavender Law,

For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste, let alone the vast amounts delivered from the United States. And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment.

The study also indicated that although 9.3 percent of the plastic waste generated in the United States in 2016 was collected for recycling, the global market-driven export primarily to developing countries for processing ultimately resulted in significant release of plastics to the environment. Since 2016, China has implemented a policy that strictly prohibits the import of plastic waste, paper waste, and various other solid waste, preventing the US from dumping its plastic waste there.

About 88 percent of this staggering pile of waste was exported to countries that are struggling to effectively manage, recycle, or dispose of plastics; and between 15 to 25 percent was low-value or contaminated, meaning it was effectually unrecyclable.

Factoring in these numbers, the researchers estimated that up to 1 million metric tons of plastic waste generated by US likely ended up pollution the environment outside country borders. The conclusion of the study is baffling, but there could a heinous truth hidden behind it.

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