The United States is the world’s largest plastics polluter

The United States is by far the largest plastic waste polluter in the world, according to a new report presented to the federal government on Wednesday calling for the adoption of a national strategy to address the growing crisis.

The United States contributed about 42 million metric tons (MMT) in plastic waste in 2016, more than double that of China and more than the countries of the European Union combined, according to the analysis.

On average, each American generates 130 kilograms of plastic waste per year, followed by the British, with 99 kilos per year, and then the South Koreans, with 88.

The report, titled “Recognition of America’s Role in Global Ocean Plastic Debris,” was mandated by Congress as part of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, adopted in December 2020.

“The success of the miraculous invention of plastics in the 20th century has also produced a flood of plastic waste on a global scale, seemingly everywhere we look,” wrote Margaret Spring, who chaired the expert committee that compiled the report.

Global plastic production increased from 20 million metric tons in 1966 to 381 MMT in 2015, a 20-fold increase in just over half a century, according to the report.

Attention to ocean debris initially focused only on ships and marine sources, but it is now known that almost any plastic on land has the potential to reach the oceans via rivers and streams, the report adds.

Research has shown that nearly 1,000 marine species are susceptible to becoming entangled in plastics or ingesting microplastics, which then reach humans through the food web.

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