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Plastic use – digging behind the figures

Plastic use – digging behind the figures


A recent study in Scientific Advances has highlighted that some figures on plastic use by countries can be misleading.

The Guardian reported that “Previous work had suggested Asian countries dominated marine plastic pollution and placed the US in 20th place, but this did not account for US waste exports or illegal dumping within the country.”

The study found that the plastic waste generated in the USA in 2016 was up to five times that in 2010 and the country was the largest generator of plastic waste. The study took into account waste processed and dumped within the USA, but also the significant amount that is sent to developing countries for “processing/recycling”. This component of waste that is sent abroad is missed out from some countries’ figures, giving a misleadingly low figure for the waste they generate. There are also concerns that waste sent to developing countries is not recycled, but simply dumped, and often makes its way into oceans. It also helps to contribute to a misleading view that it is developing countries that are dumping most plastic in the oceans, when it is the waste generated elsewhere and off-loaded in those countries that accounts for a significant element of ocean plastic. The Guardian reported in 2019 that US plastic was being sent to some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal, where labour is cheap and environmental regulation limited.


The UK was also a high producer of plastic waste, taking into account its waste exports.


This study highlights the need for responsible global citizens to look behind the headline figures and to dig more deeply when considering their – and their countries’ – plastic waste.


And some good news on ocean plastic


The November meeting of the IUCN World Conservation Congress backed a call for an international treaty to stop ocean plastic pollution.


We can add our own voices to the call to stop ocean pollution by joining 2 million others and signing WWF’s petition on the subject.


What can we do about it?


WWF gives practical suggestions on how we can reduce our own personal waste:

7 ways to reduce waste

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