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Friday, December 09, 2022

President Biden Can Lead on Ending Plastic Pollution of Our Ocean

The amount of plastic that flows into our ocean is almost unimaginable—11 million metric tons a year globally—and it’s getting worse. As The Pew Charitable Trusts found in the 2020 report “Breaking the Plastic Wave,” that annual flow will increase to 29 million metric tons by 2040 without urgent and ambitious action from political and industry leaders. That’s the equivalent of dumping 70 pounds of plastic waste along every foot of coastline around the world.

However, there is hope. “Breaking the Plastic Wave” found that if every government, business, and individual embraces systemic change—from plastic production to disposal—using technologies that are available today, we can reduce the amount plastic waste flowing into our oceans by more than 80% by 2040.

Plastic pollution is often seen as a problem of developing countries without adequate waste management services. But the United States has the highest per capita plastic waste generation in the world at more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) per person per year. The country can take action to slow this alarming trend, and President Joe Biden could use his State of the Union address to outline these changes.

The US could adopt a system change strategy at the federal and state levels that would implement solutions across the US plastic production, consumption, and distribution infrastructure. A joint statement from the US and France to support negotiations on a global plastics treaty at the United Nations Environment Assembly, ongoing through March 2, is a good start for international cooperation, which will be crucial to solving the plastic pollution problem.

The world needs to act now to put in place substantial measures to reduce plastic production and consumption and improve recycling rates. There’s no single solution to plastic pollution, but with rapid and concerted action from governments and companies, plastic waste could be greatly reduced in a generation. The US must lead on solving this huge and growing problem—for the long-term good of our ocean and all of us who depend on it.

Winnie Lau is a senior manager with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ preventing ocean plastics project,

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