Plastic Waste in the United States - Statistics & Facts

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to collect and monitor the disposal of waste less than half a century ago. Plastics are growing increasingly common in municipal solid waste. They are primarily used in nondurable products which range from diapers to shower curtains to medical devices. Despite its prevalence, only a small percentage of plastic that is generated in the United States is recycled. Plastic waste is sometimes burned in waste to energy facilities, but the majority of plastics are sent to landfills. There are seven different codes stamped on plastic containers to indicate different resin types, however only those with “1”s and “2”s are easy to recycle. Informing and educating the general public on how to properly recycle has also been lacking. Single stream recycling allows for consumers to mix all materials, however, this creates difficulties and increases costs for recycling facilities.

Prior to March 2018, when China implemented a crackdown on U.S. plastic scraps, the U.S. exported about half of its plastic scrap to China. Since the ban, some waste collection agencies have increased prices or even suspended curbside pickup service. This incident makes it obvious that the development of more viable solutions to managing plastic waste is essential for plastic producers, recyclers, as well as corporations that regularly use plastic. It takes hundreds of years for plastic that is sent to landfills or haphazardly disposed to properly degrade. Plastic waste slowly breaks down into secondary microplastics that are less than five millimeters in length and have been documented in every part of the environment. The environmental devastation caused by plastic waste and the inevitable fragments is evident in our terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Plastic waste is a global environmental problem which must be recognized by consumers, government, and industry.

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