The Outsized Role of the U.S. in Ocean Plastics


The United States should create a national strategy by the end of 2022 to reduce its contribution to plastic waste in the ocean, including substantially reducing the amount of solid waste generated in the U.S., says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in a Dec. 1, 2021 press release. The report also recommends the U.S. establish a nationally coordinated and expanded 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.

Reckoning with the U.S Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste concludes plastic waste in the U.S. is ubiquitous and increasing. Worldwide, at least 8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year — the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute — and in 2016 the U.S. generated more plastic waste than any other country, exceeding that of all European Union member states combined.

The report says today’s recycling processes and infrastructure are grossly insufficient to manage the complexity and quantity of plastic waste produced, and that a large portion of plastic waste is disposed of in landfills. 

It recommends that the U.S. develop a national strategy by the end of 2022, and review its impacts by 2025.  It advises that there is no single solution, and recommends that the strategy include interventions in the following six areas:

  • Reducing plastic production, especially for plastics that are not reusable or practically recyclable, thereby decreasing the need for waste management — for example, by establishing a national cap on virgin plastic production.
  • Innovating design and materials to develop substitutes that degrade more quickly or can be more easily recycled or reused, such as through government-sponsored research and development collaborations.
  • Decreasing waste generation by reducing the use of disposable plastic products intended for short periods of use, including by limiting products and creating targets for recycling — for example, by creating a ban on specific products based on their toxicity or necessity.
  • Improving waste management, including infrastructure, collection, treatment, leakage control, and accounting — for example, by establishing regulatory limits on plastic or microplastic waste discharged into the ocean by river systems.
  • Capturing waste in the environment, including from ground litter, storm water, or directly from waters where it accumulates — such as during river or beach cleanups.
  • Minimizing at-sea disposal by directly targeting the flow of plastic from vessels or platforms — for example, by increasing enforcement for dumping trash at sea.


See the links below for report highlights and an Interactive Overview. A  prepublication copy of the full report is available now for $69. (Prepublications are non-proofed copies made available to the public immediately) Preorders are being taken for the final paperback version.

Download Report Highlights:

Interactive Overview:


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