The United States Is Contributing Much More to Global Plastic Pollution than Previously Realized
By Jim Clugger
American consumers believe that plastic consumption is without consequence because of waste management and recycling systems present in our advanced economy. However, a new analysis of worldwide plastic pollution casts these beliefs into serious doubt.
The analysis led by Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association, which is published in Science Advances, shows that the United States is among the largest plastic polluters in the world. Of the 50 countries included in the study, the US ranks in the range* of 3rd to 12th worst plastic polluter in the world.
The scourge of plastic pollution is relentless, with shameful records set on a yearly basis: from record-breaking numbers of items collected at beach cleanups to record-breaking microplastics pollution, and record-breaking plastic chemicals in the natural environment. Plastic pollution is unsightly, damages ecosystems, and threatens human health. Now we are realizing that the U.S. is contributing to these issues more than previously thought.
One clear way to reduce our contribution of plastic pollution is to consume less plastic. We here at Littorary are committed to eliminating the use of plastic in our product wherever possible, which is in line with guidance provided by the study authors.
"The solution has to start at home. We need to create less, by cutting out unnecessary single-use plastics; we need to create better, by developing innovative new ways to package and deliver goods,” study co-author Nick Mallos told Science Daily.
It’s well established that the U.S. produces the most plastic waste in the world due to our consumption habits. However, the nation’s advanced waste management and recycling systems were thought to substantially prevent this waste from polluting the environment. The authors studied factors that add to mismanaged waste including litter, illegal dumping, and exported waste. Based on these factors, the study reveals that this mismanaged waste, small as the percentage may be, is having an outsized impact because of the large volume of waste generated in the U.S.
Mallos goes on to say, "The United States generates the most plastic waste of any other country in the world, but rather than looking the problem in the eye, we have outsourced it to developing countries and become a top contributor to the ocean plastics crisis.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to make the plastics crisis even worse. The novel coronavirus has led to increased plastic production, increased plastic use, and reduced plastic recycling. The pandemic made worse an already broken model of consumption.
In a separate study linking plastic pollution to COVID-19 led by the University of Aveiro, the authors warn, “It is of utmost importance to recognize that human health is connected and dependent on the health of our environment and ecosystems, and if humanity does not respect such connection, and continuing thinking on ‘today’ instead of ‘today in prole of a sustainable future’, there will not exist a future.”
The scale of the plastic pollution crisis requires that society treats solutions to the problem as both imperative and urgent. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has created a pathway to a sustainable future with its ReSource Plastic initiative. The WWF outlines three goals for the program: 1. Eliminate unnecessary plastic, 2. Where plastic cannot be eliminated, shift to sustainable inputs, and 3. Double global recycling and composting. The WWF has partnered with corporations responsible for a significant amount of plastic pollution and one can only hope they are able to achieve their goals.
We here at Littorary strenuously agree with the first two steps of WWF ReSource Plastic initiative and we are starting where they rightly focus the attention of their first step, eliminating unnecessary plastic.
Our team is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the environmental burden. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in a more environmentally responsible manner. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the experience and sustainability that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.
*Uncertainty in the estimates of illegal dumping and exported waste led to a range of total mismanaged waste.