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
  • Fig. 1 Schematic diagram illustrating the major quantitative results of the analysis of plastic waste generation in the United States in 2016 and the estimated mass of plastic waste that was mismanaged domestically by littering and illegal dumping and also abroad during processing of material collected for recycling in the United States that was exported to countries with greater than 20% inadequately managed waste (see the main text for details).

  • Table 1 Countries with the highest plastic waste generation in 2016.

    Calculations using data reported in (18), with a refined estimate for the United States (bold text). EU-28 countries are reported collectively (italics).

    CountryPlastic waste
    generation
    (metric tons)
    Total waste
    generation
    (metric tons)
    % Plastic in
    solid waste
    2016 Population
    (millions)
    Per capita plastic
    waste generation
    (kg/year)
    United States42,027,215320,818,43613.1323.1130.09
    United States34,020,748263,726,73212.9323.1105.30
    EU-2829,890,143243,737,46611.7511.254.56
    India26,327,933277,136,1339.51,324.519.88
    China21,599,465220,402,7069.81,378.715.67
    Brazil10,675,98979,081,40113.5206.251.78
    Indonesia9,128,00065,200,00014.0261.634.90
    Russian Federation8,467,15659,585,89914.2144.358.66
    Germany6,683,41251,410,86313.082.381.16
    United Kingdom6,471,65032,037,87120.265.698.66
    Mexico5,902,49054,151,28710.9123.347.86
    Japan4,881,16144,374,18911.0127.038.44
    Thailand4,796,49427,268,30217.669.069.54
    Korea, Rep.4,514,18618,576,89824.351.288.09
    Italy3,365,13029,009,74211.660.655.51
    Egypt, Arab Rep.3,037,67523,366,72913.094.432.16
    France2,929,04232,544,9149.066.943.81
    Pakistan2,731,76830,352,9819.0203.613.42
    Argentina2,656,77118,184,60614.643.660.95
    Algeria2,092,00712,378,74016.940.651.59
    Malaysia2,058,50113,723,34215.030.767.09
    Spain1,832,53320,361,4839.046.539.42
  • Table 2 Defined terms used in this study and estimated values for each treatment category for U.S. plastic waste generated in 2016.

    Mt, million metric tons.

    Terms used in
    this study
    DefinitionTreatment of U.S.
    plastic waste in
    2016 (Mt)
    Inadequately
    managed waste
    Solid waste that is not
    collected and/or
    properly contained
    because of lack of
    waste management
    infrastructure
    0
    LitterSolid waste that is
    intentionally or
    unintentionally
    disposed into the
    environment despite
    the availability of
    waste management
    infrastructure
    0.84
    Illegal dumpingDisposal of waste in
    an unpermitted area
    (37) despite the
    availability of waste
    management
    infrastructure
    0.14–0.41
    Exported, inadequately
    managed plastic waste
    Plastic waste
    collected for recycling
    in the United States
    that was exported to
    countries where it
    was inadequately
    managed
    0.15–0.99
    Mismanaged wasteSum of above
    categories
    1.13–2.24
  • Table 3 Countries with the highest mismanaged plastic waste generated by coastal populations in 2016.

    The two U.S. estimates (bold text) provide lower and upper bounds reflecting contributions from domestic litter (0.31 Mt), domestic illegal dumping (0.05 to 0.15 Mt), and inadequate management of plastic waste generated during the processing of imported U.S. plastic and paper scrap in countries with greater than 20% inadequately managed waste (0.15 to 0.99 Mt). Mt, million metric tons. HIC, high income; UMC, upper middle income; LMC, lower middle income.

    CountryMismanaged
    plastic waste
    (Mt)
    Income statusCoastal population
    (millions)
    Per capita plastic
    waste generation
    (kg/day)
    % Plastic in
    solid waste
    % Mismanaged
    waste
    Indonesia4.28LMC202.490.6814.061
    India3.16LMC201.200.579.579
    United States, upper bound1.45HIC117.942.7213.12.98
    Thailand1.16UMC26.731.0817.662
    China1.07UMC270.940.449.825
    Brazil1.03UMC78.681.0513.525
    Philippines1.01LMC92.060.3910.674
    Egypt, Arab Rep.0.71LMC24.820.6813.090
    Japan0.67HIC114.260.9611.015
    Russian Federation0.62UMC10.931.1314.298
    Vietnam0.57LMC59.460.3412.264
    United States, lower bound0.51HIC117.942.7213.12.33
    Bangladesh0.36LMC75.870.284.797
    Kuwait0.35HIC3.031.5920.0100
    Oman0.35HIC3.831.1821.0100
    Dominican Republic0.33UMC8.831.1110.094
    Malaysia0.33UMC24.901.2315.020
    Mexico0.27UMC24.481.2010.923
    Argentina0.26HIC17.581.1414.625
    Peru0.25UMC14.670.7710.558
    Italy0.25HIC34.591.3111.613

Supplementary Materials

  • Supplementary Materials

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

    Kara Lavender Law, Natalie Starr, Theodore R. Siegler, Jenna R. Jambeck, Nicholas J. Mallos, George H. Leonard

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