• Plastic Waste Per Person - Which Countries Are the Worst?

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Plastic Waste Per Person - Which Countries Are the Worst?

Nov 19 2020

The USA and the UK are the biggest sources of plastic pollution per person in the world, according to new research. The study, published in the academic journal Science Advances, found that Americans produced a whopping 105kg per person every year. The UK wasn’t far behind them, contributing 99kg per person per annum, while South Korea (88kg), Germany (81kg) and Thailand (70kg) rounded out the top five.

In terms of the total amount of plastic pollution generated, the USA was top of the pile once again. India and China came second in that particular leader board, but due to their massive populations, they actually produced 20% less refuse per person than the USA. The news is a wake-up call to the biggest economy in the world, which has traditionally ranked far lower in such lists.

US pollution higher than expected

In previous research, the USA hasn’t even made the top 10 countries for amount of plastic produced per person. However, those studies neglected to factor in the waste that was shipped abroad to be recycled by other countries, which accounted for more than half of all such items. While the figure actually being recycled in America is still very low at just 9%, it’s enough of a game changer to catapult them into first place in both the total waste and per capita lists.

What it means in real terms is that despite boasting just 4% of the global population, America is responsible for 17% of its total plastic waste production. One of the more unsettling environmental implications of coronavirus is that that figure is only likely to rise, given that the 328 million people living in the country will likely consume large amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) in a bid to fend off the virus, much of which is only single-use.

The unknown cost

It’s a very disappointing outcome for one of the world’s richest countries, whose underperformance has been disguised by exporting until now. But with China refusing to accept foreign recycling materials in 2018 and India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam following suit in the intervening years, the States are now shipping their waste to some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Senegal. Not only is labour incredibly cheap in these locales, but standards for dealing with the pollution are also markedly lower.

What happens to that waste is not yet fully understood, but the environment continues to be contaminated by plastic items on an alarming scale. Not only are our seas and oceans filled with such waste, but airborne microplastics are even endangering our lungs and it’s not yet known what the long-term effects of consuming these potentially deadly substances could be. All of this points towards the fact that concerted efforts must be taken urgently if we are to avoid drowning in a sea of plastic pollution of our own making.

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