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Report dissects US responsibility for plastic waste in oceans

by Cheryl Hogue
December 1, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 44


Photo shows plastic refuse under water.
Credit: Shutterstock

The US plays an oversized global role in contributing plastic waste to the oceans, a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine committee says in a report released Dec. 1. The US is the world’s largest generator of plastic waste by mass and per capita, the report finds. Plastics recycling can be complicated because items are made from many combinations of resins and additives and sometimes include layers of various materials, the report says. Consequently, with the price of raw materials kept artificially low by fossil fuel subsidies, virgin plastics are more profitable for companies to produce than recycled products, the committee finds. The report also critiques plans of many manufacturers to turn to chemical recycling—breaking plastics into component molecules and reusing them as feedstock—as a way to reduce waste. “Such processes remain unproved to handle the current plastic waste stream and existing high production plastics,” the report says. It emphasizes the need for a US policy to reduce plastic waste in the environment, a goal that US plastics makers fully agree with, Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the industry group American Chemistry Council, says in an emailed statement.


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