Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

The United States’ contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean

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Science Advances  30 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 44, eabd0288
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd0288

Abstract

Plastic waste affects environmental quality and ecosystem health. In 2010, an estimated 5 to 13 million metric tons (Mt) of plastic waste entered the ocean from both developing countries with insufficient solid waste infrastructure and high-income countries with very high waste generation. We demonstrate that, in 2016, the United States generated the largest amount of plastic waste of any country in the world (42.0 Mt). Between 0.14 and 0.41 Mt of this waste was illegally dumped in the United States, and 0.15 to 0.99 Mt was inadequately managed in countries that imported materials collected in the United States for recycling. Accounting for these contributions, the amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States’ contribution among the highest in the world.

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