US and UK Citizens Are World’s Biggest Sources of Plastic Waste

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The U.S. and UK produce more plastic waste per person than any other major countries, according to new research. The analysis also shows the U.S. produces the most plastic waste in total and that its citizens may rank as high as third in the world in contributing to plastic pollution in the oceans. Previous work had suggested Asian countries dominated marine plastic pollution and placed the U.S. in 20th place, but this did not account for U.S. waste exports or illegal dumping within the country. Data from 2016, the latest available, show that more than half of the plastic collected for recycling in the U.S. was shipped abroad, mostly to countries already struggling to manage plastic waste effectively. The researchers said years of exporting had masked the U.S.’s enormous contribution to plastic pollution.

The latest study, published in the journal Science Advances, used World Bank data on waste generation in 217 countries. It focused on the U.S. and used additional data on littering and illegal dumping within the country and on contamination by exported plastic, which is likely to be dumped rather than recycled. The researchers found the U.S. produced the most plastic waste by World Bank reckoning, at 34m tonnes in 2016, but the total increased to 42m tonnes when the additional data was considered. India and China were second and third, but their large populations meant their figures for per capita plastic waste was less than 20% of that of U.S. consumers. Among the 20 nations with the highest total plastic waste production, the UK was second to the U.S. per capita, followed by South Korea and Germany. “When the researchers estimated how much of each country’s plastic waste ends up in the oceans, Indonesia and India ranked highest,” the report adds. “The U.S. ranked between third and eleventh, depending on the assumptions made about waste leakage into the environment. The analysis found that up to 1 million tons of exported U.S. plastic waste ended up as marine pollution.”

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