More plastic than ever is being used by Americans, and the waste exported for recycling is mishandled.
The United States contribution to coastal plastic pollution worldwide is significantly larger than previously thought. Possibly by as much as five times more.
According to studies and research, the Americans use more plastic than ever before. The United States does not have sufficient infrastructure to handle the recycling demands at home therefore, it exports about half of its recyclable waste.
About 88% of the total exported waste ends up in countries which are considered to have inadequate waste management.
“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,” said Kara Lavender Law, research professor of oceanography at Sea Education Association.
Studies estimate that in 2016, the United States contributed between 1.1 and 2.2 million metric tons of plastic waste to the oceans through a combination of littering, dumping and mismanaged exports. At the most, it would be a fivefold increase of waste.
Out of the plastics that go into the United States recycling system, about 9 percent of the country’s total plastic waste, there is no guarantee that they’ll be remade into new consumer goods.
The recycling landscape has changed since 2016. China and many countries in Southeast Asia have stopped accepting plastic waste imports. Lower oil prices have further reduced the market for recycled plastic.