Dec 09 (IPS) – Plastic waste of all shapes and sizes permeates the world’s oceans. It appears on beaches, fish and even in the Arctic sea ice. And a new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine makes it clear that the United States is a big part of the problem.
As the report shows, the US produces a large share of the world’s supply of plastic resin, the precursor material for all industrial and consumer plastic products. It also imports and exports billions of dollars worth of plastic products every year.
Per capita, the United States produces an order of magnitude more plastic waste than China, a nation often vilified for pollution-related issues. These findings are based on a study published in 2020 that concluded that the United States is the world’s largest source of plastic waste, including plastics shipped to other countries that are then mishandled.
And only a small fraction of the plastic in U.S. household waste streams is recycled. The study says that the current recycling systems in the United States are “largely insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity and amount of plastic waste.”
As scientists studying the effects of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems, we consider this report to be an important first step in a long way to reducing plastic pollution in the oceans. While it’s important to make it clear how the U.S. contributes to the plastic waste of the oceans, we see the need for concrete, actionable goals and recommendations to mitigate the plastic pollution crisis, and we’d like the report to go further in this regard. direction.
Plastic appears in seafood
Researchers began documenting marine plastic pollution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Public and scientific interest in the subject erupted in the early 2000s after oceanographer Charles Moore drew attention to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a region of the central North Pacific where ocean currents concentrate floating plastic garbage in revolving collections of thousands of miles.
More patches of plastic waste have now been found in the South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Not surprisingly, plastic permeates marine trophic networks. More than 700 marine species are known to ingest plastic, including more than 200 species of fish eaten by humans.
Humans also consume plastic that breaks down into beverages and food from packaging and inhale microplastic particles into household dust. Scientists are just beginning to assess what this means for public health. Research so far suggests that exposure to chemicals associated with plastics may interfere with hormones that regulate many processes in our body, cause developmental problems in children, or alter human metabolic processes in a way that promotes obesity.
Need for a national strategy
The new report is a science-based overview of marine plastic pollution. However, many of its conclusions and recommendations have been proposed in different ways over the years, and in our view the report could have done more to advance these discussions.
For example, he strongly recommends the development of a National Marine Waste Monitoring Program, led by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Waste Program. We agree with this proposal, but the report does not address what to do, how to do it, or what the specific goals of monitoring should be.
Ideally, we believe that the federal government should create a coalition of relevant agencies, such as NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health, to address plastic pollution. Agencies have done so in the past in response to acute pollution events, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, but not because of chronic problems such as marine litter. The report also proposes an intergovernmental effort, but does not provide details.
A problem with little funding
Actions to detect, track and dispose of plastic waste from the ocean will require substantial financial support. But there are few federal funds for marine litter research and cleaning. In 2020, for example, the NOAA Marine Waste Program budget request was $ 7 million, which represents 0.1% of NOAA’s $ 5.65 million budget on 2020. The proposed funding for the Marine Waste Program has been increased by $ 9 million for fiscal year 2022, which is a step in the right direction.
However, advancing ocean plastic waste will require significantly more funding for NOAA’s academic research, non-governmental organizations, and marine litter activities. Greater support for these programs will help close knowledge gaps, raise public awareness and stimulate effective action throughout the life cycle of plastics.
Corporate responsibility and equity
The private sector also plays a crucial role in reducing the use and waste of plastics. We would like to see more discussion in the report on how companies and industries contribute to the accumulation of ocean plastic waste and its role in solutions.
The report rightly points out that plastic pollution is a matter of environmental justice. Minority and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by many activities that produce plastic waste, from oil drilling emissions to toxic chemicals released during the production or incineration of plastics. Some of the proposals in the report, such as better waste management and increased recycling, can benefit these communities, but only if they are directly involved in planning and carrying them out.
The study also highlights the need to produce less plastic and increase the effective recycling of plastic. More public and private funding for solutions such as reusable and refillable packaging, reduced packaging and standardized plastic recycling processes would increase the chances of consumers to abandon single-use disposable products.
Plastic pollution threatens the world’s oceans. It also carries direct and indirect risks to human health. We hope that the bipartisan support that this study has received is a sign that American leaders are willing to take far-reaching action on this critical environmental issue.
Matthew Savoca, postdoctoral researcher, Stanford University; Anna Robuck, postdoctoral researcher, Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicineand Lauren Kashiwabara, a master’s student in the biological sciences, University of the Pacific
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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