US must cut plastic production to save oceans, report says

The United States must act to reduce plastic waste in the oceans by developing a comprehensive national strategy that includes reducing plastic production, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has determined.

While only 4.3 percent of Earth’s population resides in the United States, the country was the ‘world’s largest producer of plastic waste’ in 2016 and surpassed that of all European countries combined – generating a total of 42 million metric tons of that waste that year, the report found.

The entire world produces about 242 million metric tons of plastic waste per year, of which about 8 million metric tons enter the oceans, according to the NAS, an independent body of scientists created by former President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

“Plastic waste is an environmental and social crisis that the United States must tackle affirmatively from source to sea,” said Margaret Spring, chair of the committee behind the report and head of conservation and science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in a statement.

So much plastic waste is dumped in the ocean around the world that amounts to dumping a plastic garbage truck into the ocean every minute, according to the report. Meanwhile, the waste devastates the health of the oceans and marine life. Without rapid changes in current practices, the authors warned, plastics will continue to pile up with adverse effects.

“The plastic waste generated by the United States has so many consequences: impacting inland and coastal communities, polluting our rivers, lakes, beaches, bays and waterways, imposing social and economic burdens on vulnerable populations, endangering habitats marine life and wildlife, and contaminate the waters upon which humans depend for their food and livelihoods, ”Spring said.

If the current trajectory continues, the amount of plastics dumped in the ocean could drop from the current 8 million metric tonnes to 53 million metric tonnes per year by 2030, or “about half the total weight of fish caught in the ocean. the ocean every year “. the study found.

The report recommended that the United States establish “a coherent, comprehensive and cross-cutting federal research and policy strategy” to reduce plastic waste. This policy, according to the authors, is expected to be developed by a panel of experts or an external advisory body by the end of 2022, and its implementation assessed by the end of 2025.

The authors also called for better data collection to better understand the sources and patterns associated with plastic waste in the ocean, advising the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct a national coastal survey every five years.

During the five-decade period from 1966 to 2015, global plastic production grew nearly 20-fold, from 20 million metric tonnes to 381 million metric tonnes, according to the report.

The authors said the United States is drastically reducing its production of solid waste, noting that materials could be designed with an “end-of-life strategy that strives to conserve resource value” and that current recycling processes remain “largely insufficient” to manage American plastic waste. .

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) – a trade group that represents 28 companies, including oil giants, major chemicals and plastics manufacturers – agrees with the report’s finding that a comprehensive political strategy to reduce plastic waste is necessary. However, the ACC criticized the study’s recommendation that plastic production should be limited.

“Today’s report from the National Academy of Sciences highlights the importance of the transition to a circular economy to conserve resources, protect the environment and prevent plastic from entering the ocean,” said Joshua Baca , ACC vice president of plastics, in a statement. . “Plastic is a precious resource that should be conserved in our economy and out of our environment. “

Baca stressed the importance of implementing a comprehensive political strategy that aims to accelerate a circular economy, in which production focuses on lengthening the life cycle of products and reducing waste. The ACC, he explained, urged Congress to adopt such a policy and urged the United Nations Environment Assembly to start negotiating a global treaty on waste management infrastructure.

“There is significant alignment in what the plastics value chain and the NAS report are calling for, especially to improve access to waste collection and recycling infrastructure,” Baca said, noting that since 2017, more $ 7.5 billion in advanced recycling projects have been announced or are already operating.

“Unfortunately, the report also suggests restricting plastic production to reduce marine debris,” Baca said. “This is misguided and would lead to supply chain disruptions, economic and inflationary pressures on already injured consumers, and worse environmental outcomes, especially related to climate change. “

In a preface to the report, however, Spring wrote that while plastics may have been a “20th century miracle invention”, this innovation “has also produced a deluge of plastic waste on a global scale, apparently everywhere we look.” .

“The problem of plastic waste in the oceans is inextricably linked with the increasing production of plastics and the way we use and treat plastic products and waste from their beginning to the end of their useful life,” he said. -she adds.

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