The US is responsible for way more of the plastic polluting the world’s oceans than previously thought, a new study reveals. When it comes to the countries that contributed the most to coastal plastic pollution, the US could rank as high as third in the world, it estimates.
“Plastic pollution globally is at crisis level,” says Nick Mallos, senior director of the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program and co-author of the paper published today in the journal Science Advances. “Most problematic is that rather than looking the problem in the eye, for more than 30 years, [the US] outsourced our waste problem to developing countries,” Mallos says.
For years, Asian countries like China and Vietnam have ranked much higher than the US on lists of coastal plastic polluters. But much of the problem actually starts thousands of miles away, in the plastic-hungry US. An older study, conducted by some of the same researchers, ranked the US 20th among countries that mismanaged the most plastic waste in 2010. But that study didn’t look into whether waste was mismanaged after it was exported to another country for recycling. This time, the researchers looked at data for 2016 and considered how waste was treated after it was shipped abroad. They found that America’s share of mismanaged plastic waste jumped by up to 400 percent compared to the 2010 figure.
Americans, on average, generated the most plastic waste per capita globally, according to the study, which