US Needs to Take Responsibility for Worldwide Plastic Pollution in Oceans

Plastic waste of all shapes and sizes permeates the world’s oceans. It can be found on beachesIn fishAnd even in Arctic sea ice. Und a new reportThe National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine make it clear that the U.S. is a major problem.

As the report shows, the U.S. produces a large share of the global supply of plastic resin — the precursor material to all plastic industrial and consumer products. It also imports and exports billions of dollars’ worth of plastic products every year.

On a per capita basis, the U.S. produces an order of magnitude more plastic waste than China — a nation often vilified over pollution-related issues. These findings follow a 2020 study which concluded that the U.S. was the most plastic-producing nation in the world. largest global source of plastic wastePlastics that are later sent to other countries may be mismanaged.

And only a small fractionRecycled plastic is found in U.S. household waste streams. The study calls current U.S. recycling systems “grossly insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity and quantity of plastic waste.”

Scientists who study the human body are called scientists. effects of plastic pollutionOn marine ecosystemsWe view this report as a first step in a long journey to reduce ocean plastic pollution. While it’s important to make clear how the U.S. is contributing to ocean plastic waste, we see a need for specific, actionable goals and recommendations to mitigate the plastic pollution crisis, and would have liked to see the report go further in that direction.

Plastic is Increasingly Found in Seafood

Marine plastic pollution was first documented by researchers in the late 1960s early 1970s. After the 2000s, scientific and public interest in the topic exploded. oceanographer Charles MooreThe attention was drawn to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a region in the central north Pacific where ocean currents concentrate floating plastic trash into spinning collections thousands of miles across.

More plastic garbage patches are now being found in the South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean. Unsurprisingly, plastic is ubiquitous in marine food webs. Over 700 marine speciesPlastic has been found to be consumed by some people, including over 200 species of fish that humans eat.

Plastic is also consumed by humans. fragments into beveragesFood packaging and inhale microplastic particles in household dust. Scientists are only beginning the process of assessing what this means for public safety. Research has shown that plastic-associated chemicals can cause allergic reactions. interfere with hormones that regulate many processes in our bodies, cause developmental problems in childrenOr alter human metabolic processes in ways that promote obesity

A Need for a National Strategy

The new report provides a comprehensive overview of marine plastic pollution that is grounded in science. Many of the conclusions and recommendations in the report have been made in different forms over years. We believe that the report could have done more in order to promote those discussions.

For example, it strongly recommends developing a national marine debris monitoring program, led by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. We are in agreement with the proposal. However, the report doesn’t address what to monitor, how it should be done, or the specific goals of monitoring.

We believe that the federal government should form a coalition of agencies such as NOAA, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Institutes of Health to combat plastic pollution. This has been done in the past to respond to severe pollution events such as the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spillBut not for long-term issues like marine debris. Although the report suggests a cross government effort, it does not provide details.

Graphic showing main types of waste collected on U.S. beaches by Surfrider Foundation
Graphic showing the main types and amounts of waste collected by U.S. beaches Surfrider Foundation

An Underfunded Problem

Actions to detect, track and remove plastic waste from the ocean will require substantial financial support. But there’s little federal funding for marine debris research and cleanup. In 2020, for example, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program budget request was $US7 million, which represents 0.1% of NOAA’s $5.65B 2020 budget. Proposed funding for Marine Debris Programme increased by $9 million for fiscal 2022This is a first step in the right direction.

Even so, making progress on ocean plastic waste will require considerably more funding for academic research, nongovernmental organizations and NOAA’s marine debris activities. These programs will be supported more effectively, raise public awareness, and help close knowledge gaps.

Corporate Responsibility and Equity

The private sector has a key role to play in reducing waste and plastic use. We would have liked to have seen more discussion in this report about how industries and businesses contribute to the accumulation and role of these industries in solving the problem.

The report correctly identifies plastic pollution as an environmental justice issue. Plastic pollution is a significant problem in low-income and minority communities. oil drilling emissionsToxic chemicals released during the production or incineration of plastics. Some proposals in the report, such as better waste management and increased recycling, may benefit these communities — but only if they are directly involved in planning and carrying them out.

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The study also highlights how plastic production needs to be reduced and how effective plastic recycling can be scaled up. More public and private funding would be more effective in reducing single-use disposable items.

Plastic pollution threatens the world’s oceans. It also poses direct or indirect risks to our health. We hope this helps. bipartisan support this study has receivedThis is a sign that the U.S. leaders are willing to take broad-reaching action to address this critical environmental issue.

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