"No single solution" is sufficient to address the United States' contribution to ocean plastics, which is "outsized compared with other nations" and "not possible" to define because of gaps in monitoring and reporting, a new report says.
The report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended the United States "substantially reduce solid waste" production, while calling for it to create a national strategy by the end of 2022 to reduce its contribution to plastic waste in the ocean.
The American Chemistry Council called the recommendation to restrict plastic production "misguided," adding it "would lead to supply chain disruptions, economic and inflationary pressure on already hurt consumers, and worse environmental outcomes, particularly related to climate change."
In 2019, about 19 percent of global plastic production occurred in North America, second to Asia, the report said. Plastic production is projected to increase by 200 percent by 2035, and by 350 percent by 2050, it added.
Authors of the report also call for materials and products to be designed with an end-of-life strategy.
Many current strategies have barriers created at the production stage, the report said, like subsidized, and therefore artificially low-priced, virgin plastics being more profitable to produce.
"More than 90 percent of plastics are made from virgin fossil feedstocks, which utilizes roughly 6 percent of global oil consumption," it said.
The authors also recommend the country establish a nationally coordinated monitoring system to track plastic pollution "in order to understand the scale and sources of the U.S. plastic waste problem, set reduction and management priorities, and measure progress in addressing it," a Dec. 1 news release said.
Compared to mismanaged plastic waste from other countries, the United States was the "third to 12th-largest contributor" of plastic waste into coastal environments, according to the report.
"The finger-pointing stops now," Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement. "We can no longer ignore the United States' role in the plastic pollution crisis, one of the biggest environmental threats facing our oceans and our planet today."
"Much of the plastic waste that threatens critical ecosystems, wildlife and human health around the globe originates here in the U.S., and our country's leaders have a responsibility to change that," Leavitt added.
"The primary finding from the report is that the U.S. needs a coherent and comprehensive policy strategy to reduce plastic waste in the environment," ACC's statement said. "America's plastic makers fully agree … particularly in improving access to waste collection and recycling infrastructure."
The U.S. faces a difficult task in creating standardized, systematic data collection to understand the extent and patterns of plastic waste, the report said. But doing so would help to create interventions or mitigation actions like source reduction policies.
A comprehensive life-cycle monitoring system, which currently doesn't exist, it said, could help to find "hot spots," or regional differences in amounts and trends of coastal debris.
"The known estimates, while likely conservative, convey the enormous scale of the problem," the report said.
U.S. solid waste management systems are "advanced overall," the release said. But plastic waste still "leaks" from those systems, "intentionally or unintentionally," at a rate of 1.13-2.24 million metric tons per year, based on 2016 estimates, the report said. Those estimates include domestic leakage and mismanagement of exported plastic scrap by the United States to other countries.
The report called the country's current recycling processes and infrastructure "grossly insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity, and quantity of plastic waste in the United States."