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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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Page 21
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26132.
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1 Introduction Global ocean plastic waste originates from materials introduced in the 20th century to deliver wide-ranging benefits (Thompson et al. 2009). Plastics increased an era of disposability for products and packaging used for a short time and then thrown away. The result has been a dramatic rise in plastic waste, some of which leaks to the environment, including the ocean. Plastic waste has a range of adverse impacts, some of which are only beginning to be recognized and understood (MacLeod et al. 2021). Over the past decade, research on ocean plastic pollution has revealed that plastic waste is present in essentially almost every marine habitat, from the ocean surface (van Sebille et al. 2020) to deep sea sediments (Barrett et al. 2020) and the ocean’s vast mid-water region (Choy et al. 2019). It also affects marine animals, including commercially important species of seafood, and ultimately humans (Barnes et al. 2009, Choy et al. 2019, Lusher et al. 2015, Santos, Machovsky-Capuska, and Andrades 2021). The increasing visibility and scale of harmful effects of plastic pollution—from large items to microplastics—in freshwater and marine systems, along with related social and economic impacts, has brought the problem and the need for solutions to the forefront of public opinion and government concern. Global calls to action from all levels of government, the United Nations, civil society, and industry are translating to goals and plans of action at the national and international levels.1 Local, state, and federal governments are simultaneously testing new policies and laws in response to public concerns. Society is grappling with the massive and increasing scale of global plastic waste: beach cleanups, local bans, extended producer responsibility schemes (Abbott and Sumaila 2019), “circular economy” commitments (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017, U.S. Plastics Pact 2021), country-level plans and commitments (European Commission 2018, 2020), and calls for a global treaty (CIEL 2020, Karasik et al. 2020). The urgency has also prompted explosive growth in research, pilot approaches, and technology innovation globally. These efforts are moving forward quickly and will continue to provide new information and insights after the release of this report. Decision makers are calling for reliable syntheses of scientific knowledge and of global and national data (Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada 2020). This report is intended to provide such an assessment. Definitions of key terms used in this report are found in Box 1.1. STUDY CONTEXT Since the invention of plastics in the 20th century, the production and use of plastics, and the volume of resulting plastic waste, has rapidly risen. The annual global production of plastics grew from about 2 million metric tons (MMT) in 1950 to 381 MMT in 2015 (Geyer, Jambeck, and Law 2017) and is projected to continue to increase (World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company 2016). Figure 1.1 depicts historic and projected plastic production growth, using numbers from Geyer, Jambeck, and Law (2017) and World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company (2016). Despite growing 1 See https://www.gpmarinelitter.org/what-we-do/action-plans. Prepublication Copy 13

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste political and social will to mitigate plastic waste and reduce fossil fuel consumption, the plastic industry expects continued, unfettered growth of plastics demand and production over the next several decades (CIEL 2018). The figure does not include the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on plastic consumption. However, historical trends reveal conditions revert back to the pre-crisis trend (e.g., consumption levels after the 2007–2008 financial crisis). Box 1.2 provides a historical overview of the production and use of plastics. BOX 1.1 Key Terms Used in This Report Plastics: A wide range of synthetic polymeric materials and associated additives made from petrochemical, natural gas, or biologically based feedstocks and with thermoplastic, thermoset, or elastomeric properties used in a wide variety of applications including packaging, building and construction, household and sports equipment, vehicles, electronics, and agriculture, and which occur in a solid state in the environment. Virgin plastic: Plastic resin produced from a petrochemical, natural gas, or biobased feedstock, which has never been used or processed. Solid waste: Residential, commercial, and institutional waste (Kaza et al. 2018). Industrial, medical, hazardous, electronic, and construction and demolition waste are excluded from this definition. Plastic waste: Any plastic that has been intentionally or unintentionally taken out of use and that has entered a waste stream as part of a waste management process or released into the environment. Plastic waste in the environment is typically characterized according to size. Size classifications in this report follow the classifications used by the Join Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of the Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) and adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program (GESAMP 2019). Plastic solid waste: The subset of solid waste that is composed of plastics. Marine debris or marine litter: Any persistent, manufactured, or processed solid material that is directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, discarded, disposed of, or abandoned into the marine, coastal, or Great Lakes environment. This definition excludes natural flotsam, such as trees washed out to sea, and focuses on non- biodegradable synthetic materials that persist in the marine environment (definition adapted from multiple sources). Ocean plastic waste: A subset of marine debris; plastic waste in the marine environment including estuaries, coastlines, seawater (sea surface and water column), seafloor sediments, biota, and sea ice (these are similar ocean reservoirs as defined in Law 2017). Ocean plastic waste / Plastic marine debris / Plastic marine litter / Marine plastic pollution are collapsed for clarity and used interchangeably. Leakage: Loss of custodial control of plastic material to the environment, including during routine activities. Microplastic: A plastic object from 1 to 1,000 um in size as determined by the object’s largest dimension (definition adapted from Hartmann et al. 2019). Plastics are widely utilized throughout society because they have many diverse and useful properties for a broad array of applications. For example, plastics used in piping and other delivery system components help ensure water safety during transport, while plastic packaging extends food preservation and prevents contamination (Andrady and Neal 2009, Matthews, Moran, and Jaiswal 2021, Millet et al. 2018, Sharma and Ghoshal 2018). Compared to other packaging materials, such as glass, plastic packaging uses less material, due to its strength, and less energy during transport, due to its lightweight nature (Andrady and Neal 2009, Millet et al. 2018). In 14 Prepublication Copy

Introduction construction, plastics are widely used because of their durability. Plastics used in medical settings have improved patient and worker safety (e.g., nitrile gloves, disposable syringes, and sterile products such as intravenous bags and dialysis tubes) and have been used to advance healthcare treatments (e.g., absorbable sutures, controlled drug delivery systems, orthopedics, hearing aids, artificial corneas, and prostheses) (Millet et al. 2018, North and Halden 2013). FIGURE 1.1 Global plastic production trend and projected growth. SOURCE: Data from 1950 to 2015 from Geyer, Jambeck, and Law (2017); supplemental material and projected numbers from Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s annual industry growth (World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company 2016). 2016–2020 has an annual 4.8% growth rate, 2021–2030 4.5%, and 2031–2050 3.5%. This does not include COVID-19 impacts. The durability of plastics, and their resulting persistence in the environment, creates a particularly challenging ocean waste problem, as described below. At present, plastic waste is the least recycled and recyclable of all persistent solid waste (glass, metal) in the waste stream and the environment (Coe, Antonelis, and Moy 2019). Moreover, with population growth and consumption per capita increasing worldwide, plastics will continue to pollute the marine environment (Jambeck and Johnsen 2015, Jambeck et al. 2015). Understanding the Problem of Oceanic Plastic Waste When plastics are taken out of use, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they become plastic waste. An estimated 8 MMT of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean each year—the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute (Jambeck et al. 2015). Plastic waste that enters the ocean includes single-use items (designed to be used once before disposal, such as packaging, water bottles, or straws) and durable items. If current practices continue, the amount of plastics discharged into the ocean could reach up to 53 MMT per year by Prepublication Copy 15

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste 2030, roughly half of the total weight of fish caught from the ocean annually (Borrelle et al. 2020, Jambeck and Johnsen 2015, Pauly and Zeller 2016). The United States is a major contributor to global plastic waste: in 2016, the country generated an estimated 42 MMT of plastic waste—the largest mass of plastic waste generated by any country. The European Union (28 countries) generated the second highest amount of waste at 30 MMT, followed by India (26 MMT) and China (22 MMT) (Law et al. 2020) (Table 1.1). BOX 1.2 A Brief History of the Production and Use of Plastics The first fully synthetic plastic, Bakelite or Baekelite (C6H6O·CH2O)n, was developed in 1907 by a researcher looking for a replacement for shellac. Leo Baekeland, the Belgian-American chemist responsible for developing Bakelite, is also credited with first employing the term “plastics” (Watson 2018). The material was patented in 1909 and marketed as a heat-resistant electrical insulator for radio and telephone housing, kitchen appliances, and other products. Plastics are a class of solid synthetic or semi-synthetic materials based on long-chain organic polymers with high molecular mass and mostly linear structure. Polymers are formed when small molecules (monomers) combine chemically to form larger networks of repeating units. Some polymers occur naturally (e.g., rubber, proteins, DNA); others are synthesized. Most synthetic plastic polymers today are derived from fossil hydrocarbons such as natural gas liquids or petroleum. Common polymers include polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, and polystyrene. In 2019, 368 million metric tons of plastics were produced globally (Plastics Europe 2020). Plastic resins are produced primarily in North America, Europe, and Asia. Petrochemical plants convert fossil feedstocks into polymer resins. A key feature of plastics is that they can be molded, pressed, or extruded to form solid objects in a wide variety of shapes with a wide range of properties, including density, strength, and flexibility. Thermoplastic polymers form long, one-dimensional (linear) chains, and can be melted by heating and reformed. Thermosetting polymers undergo an irreversible chemical reaction when they solidify after the initial melting, and cannot be melted and reformed. Plastics can be combined with additives, including colorants, fillers/reinforcements, flame retardants, plasticizers, and stabilizers, to change the properties of the material. Plastics have become ubiquitous in packaging, building materials, clothing, automobiles and consumer products, medical devices, and many other applications. Plastics are versatile, inexpensive, easily mass-produced, durable, and light. Many of the characteristics that make them appealing in the modern global economy—low density, low cost, durability—become problematic when it comes to their disposal. Plastics deployed as “single-use” products or packaging, about 45% of the total produced each year, become plastic waste quickly, often within the year of manufacture (Geyer, Jambeck, and Law 2017). Other plastics remain in use for decades, sometimes repurposed from their original application. Eventually, all plastics are intentionally or accidentally “retired” from use and become waste. Impacts of Oceanic Plastic Waste Plastics have been lauded for their durability, convenience, and affordability. These same attributes make plastics a primary and pervasive environmental contaminant with widespread biological, ecological, and economic impacts (Andrady 2011, Beaumont et al. 2019, Mæland and Staupe‐Delgado 2020, Wright, Thompson, and Galloway 2013). When plastics and plastic waste are inadequately managed, their impacts are seemingly as diverse as the types of plastic itself (Bucci, Tulio, and Rochman 2020). The full ramifications of our reliance on and exposure to plastics continue to be investigated. 16 Prepublication Copy

Introduction TABLE 1.1 Plastic Waste Generation Values Across Countries SOURCE: Law et al. (2020). Impacts of aquatic plastic waste range from entanglement and ingestion by marine life (Kuhn and van Franeker 2020) to associated ecotoxicological effects on a wide variety of taxa (Anbumani and Kakkar 2018, Guzzetti 2018), including humans (see Singh and Li 2012 as one example). Plastic waste also affects microbial ecology as microplastics in wastewater treatment plants have been shown to enrich antibiotic resistance genes and serve as a vector for human and wildlife pathogens (Pham, Clark, and Li 2021). Exposure to marine plastic waste via seafood is likely to be greater for populations that depend heavily on seafood for nutrition. The contributions of environmental plastic waste to blue carbon—carbon captured by the oceans, marine plants and algae, and coastal ecosystems—and impacts on blue carbon sinks relating to biogeochemical cycling and climate change warrant further attention. Finally, the nexus between plastics (production, use, and waste) and socioeconomic factors has varied direct and indirect effects. One example is the ecosystem devaluation and loss of tourism from increased marine debris (Leggett et al. 2014, Leggett et al. 2018). Orange County, California would add $137 million to recreational expenditure and the regional economy if it reduced marine debris to zero. Conversely, if marine debris doubles, it would cost Orange County $304 million (Abt Associates 2019). Importantly, many of these socioeconomic impacts disproportionately affect marginalized communities and are recognized as environmental justice issues (see Box 1.3 for more information, UNEP 2021b). Prepublication Copy 17

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste Environmental and Human Health Impacts Exposure to the jarring, tragic images of iconic megafauna entangled in marine debris are, for many, their introduction to, and remain synonymous with, the ocean plastic waste problem. As early as the 1970s, entanglement in, and ingestion of, marine debris by ocean life was widely observed and recognized as an emerging concern (Laist 1997, Shomura and Yoshida 1985). Presently, 914 species are known to have entanglement or ingestion records (Kuhn and van Franeker 2020). Plastic waste interferes with animal health when it is mistaken for food or is incidentally consumed during feeding activities (see Santos, Machovsky-Capuska, and Andrades 2021 for a recent review). It can range from large plastic pieces ingested by whales to microplastics ingested by organisms of all sizes (Kuhn and van Franeker 2020, Lopez-Martinez et al. 2021). How plastic exposure, via ingestion or other routes, affects organisms is a subject of ongoing research. As one example, interactions of corals with plastics have shown reduced growth (Reichert et al. 2018), impaired feeding (Savinelli et al. 2020), decreased fitness (Savinelli et al. 2020), and reduced calcification (Chapron et al. 2018), among many other negative outcomes (Rocha et al. 2020). Ingestion of plastics entrains plastic pollution in the food web, with potential for bioaccumulation in predators that consume plastic-contaminated prey. Marine plastic waste can also impact services provided by ocean ecosystems, from provisioning services to carbon sequestration. For example, it is impairing the cycling of nutrients and the biological carbon pump, which negatively impacts the ocean’s carbon sink capacity (Galgani and Loiselle 2021, Kumar et al. 2021, Shen et al. 2020, Villarrubia-Gómez, Cornell, and Fabres 2018). There are a wide range of processes by which this occurs. A few examples include marine plastic waste affecting phytoplankton photosynthesis (Galgani and Loiselle 2021, Shen et al. 2020); a thicker barrier hindering air-sea gas exchange (Galgani and Loiselle 2021); microplastics increasing the sinking rates of zooplankton fecal pellets, thereby altering the vertical flow of carbon and nutrients (Cole et al. 2016, Villarrubia-Gómez, Cornell, and Fabres 2018); and plastic particles accumulating on the seafloor and affecting long-term carbon storage (Villarrubia- Gómez, Cornell, and Fabres 2018). Some effects of plastic ingestion may be attributed to chemicals used to manufacture plastics, which can leach from plastics into animal tissues (Engler 2012, Jarosova et al. 2009, Koelmans, Besseling, and Foekema 2014, Teuten et al. 2007). Leaching of chemicals may vary by plastic type, weathering of plastics in seawater, or by reactions with digestive fluids. By 2010, more than 120 scientific studies on the role of plastics and their additives on human and animal health—largely through these compounds’ actions as endocrine disrupters—had been published (Halden 2010). From animal studies, endocrine-disrupting effects from plastics-associated compounds, including reproductive disease, sperm epimutations, and obesity, have been found to transmit to offspring (Manikkam et al. 2013). Recently, microplastics have been found in human placentas examined after birth, despite a plastic-free birthing protocol (Ragusa et al. 2021). Adsorption of exogenous chemicals, metals, and persistent organic pollutants on plastic litter also introduces toxins to the food web when plastics are ingested, although mechanisms and quantities of transfer and their impacts are still being investigated (Amaral-Zettler, Zettler, and Mincer 2020, Kögel et al. 2020, Mato et al. 2001, Rios, Moore, and Jones 2007, Rochman et al. 2013, Rochman, Hentschel, and Teh 2014, Saliu et al. 2019, Saliu et al. 2021, Santana-Viera et al. 2021, Teuten et al. 2007, Wright, Thompson, and Galloway 2013). Trophic transfer of 18 Prepublication Copy

Introduction microplastics through both juvenile and adult salmon predation on zooplankton containing plastics, for example krill and copepods, is estimated at up to 91 plastic particles daily (Desforges, Galbraith, and Ross 2015). Economic Impacts The true economic impact of global ocean plastic waste remains largely unknown, but work to date suggests the costs are substantial. The physical removal of coastal marine debris is costly (Stickel, Jahn, and Kier 2012), but these estimations do not routinely include nonmarket ecosystem service valuations or the depreciation of environmental services and resources. Economic impacts of plastic waste also do not include the costs associated with properly managing waste through the use and ultimate discard of the plastics manufactured. Inextricably linked to ocean plastic pollution’s impacts on individuals, communities, and species are its effects on ecosystems and its economic ramifications. One estimate places the economic damage to marine ecosystems from plastics at a minimum of $13 billion annually (UNEP 2018). Beaumont et al. (2019) show that plastics negatively affect the ability of the marine ecosystem to function fully and therefore reduce its ability to continue to provide marine ecosystem services such as provision of fisheries, carbon sequestration, cultural heritage, and recreation. The authors estimated that the economic cost of marine plastic pollution is $3,300 to $33,000 per metric ton of plastic waste per year. Economic impacts of mismanaged plastic waste can also be estimated from studies of the ecosystem service values the plastic waste may impact. For example, the perceived value of a beach is intimately linked with its overall cleanliness (Leggett et al. 2018), and local plastic hotspots from river influx threaten water quality (Keswani et al. 2016). A study in California determined that removing 50–100% of the litter on Orange County beaches could yield California residents $67–$148 million during the 3 months of summer (Leggett et al. 2014). When nonmarket values are unaccounted and the degradation of ecosystem services is not considered, there is a failure to comprehensively interpret the Total Economic Value. ORIGIN OF THIS STUDY Research on marine plastic pollution has grown at an exponential rate in the past few years along with increased public, governmental, and legislative interest into causes of plastic pollution and potential interventions. One legislative instrument was the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, which was sponsored by a bipartisan group of 19 senators and passed into law on December 18, 2020, in the 116th Congress (Public Law Number 116-224). This law stipulates requirements and incentives to address marine debris and expands the reach of the first Save Our Seas Act (Public Law Number 115-265). This study, among other studies called for in the Save Our Seas 2.0 law, examines U.S. contributions to global oceanic plastic waste. The study was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. Prepublication Copy 19

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste BOX 1.3 The Issue of Environmental Equity U.S. EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (U.S. EPA 2021f). Like other forms of environmental pollution (Castellón 2021, Fernandez-Llamazares et al. 2020, Saha and Mohai 2005), the negative impacts of plastic production, use, and waste are disproportionately experienced by vulnerable populations (or those who are historically disenfranchised) in the United States (Castellón 2021, Mizutani 2018) and abroad (UNEP 2021b). In the United States, communities of color (Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities) have experienced environmental pollution at higher rates than White communities (Bullard 2014, Mizutani 2018). From exploration of oil to extraction to the disposal of plastic waste, there are aspects along the entire life cycle of plastics that have disproportionately harmful effects on marginalized communities, from the local level to the international level (e.g., Bai and Givens 2021, UNEP 2021b). Oil drilling and well fields have negatively impacted Indigenous peoples, globally, who rely on natural resources for subsistence as well as their livelihoods (O’Rourke and Connolly 2003). Oil and natural gas extracted from the land are then sent to refineries to be chemically processed in petrochemical facilities that affect the life quality and potentially the health of residents in communities surrounding the facilities (UNEP 2021b). Communities surrounding chemical processing facilities are known as fenceline communities and are often exposed to toxic pollution (White 2018). Fenceline communities in the United States are disproportionately made up of minoritized groups, including Black Americans, Latinos, and low-income populations (White 2018). Similar to plastic production, plastic waste is also an environmental justice issue. Bullard et al. (2008) built on the 1987 Toxic Wastes and Race report (United Church of Christ 1987), the groundbreaking study that first correlated waste facility sites to demographic characteristics. More than 20 years from the initial report, Bullard et al. (2008) showed that low-income and communities of color still experienced disproportionate exposure to hazardous waste facilities. The Tishman Environment and Design Center (2019) report noted that 58 of 73 (or 79%) municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators are situated in environmental justice (EJ) communities. The report defines EJ communities as communities comprised of 25% or more people of color and/or impoverished people. Plastics make up roughly 13% of MSW and, when burned, release toxic pollutants, such as dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (GAIA 2019, Tishman Environment and Design Center 2019, Verma et al. 2016). Even in small quantities, these pollutants have serious consequences on human health, including increased heart disease risk; intensified respiratory illnesses such as asthma and emphysema; increased rashes, nausea, or headaches; and impaired nervous system (Verma et al. 2016). Intensified respiratory illnesses have further implications for COVID-19, an illness that affects those with impaired respiratory systems more seriously. Internationally, advanced economies externalize the cost of waste management by exporting plastic waste to less advanced economies (Bai and Givens 2021), who ultimately bear the brunt of the economic, social, and environmental costs of plastic waste (GAIA 2019). Prior to 2018, the United States exported most of its plastic waste to China. After China banned most plastic waste imports, the United States diverted its exported waste to other Southeastern Asian countries—namely, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand—although the amount exported reduced significantly (INTERPOL 2020). Because many communities have single stream recycling in the United States, items are often disposed of improperly (UNEP 2021b). This improperly disposed of plastic waste (e.g., non-recyclable plastics and other harmful chemicals leached by certain plastics) is harmful to both environmental and human well-being in the low- and middle-income import countries (Bai and Givens 2021). The increased plastic waste imports in Southeastern Asia have resulted in increased burning of trash, illegal disposal, and unregulated recycling operations (GAIA 2019). This has had broad impacts, including polluted water stores, crop loss, respiratory ailments from burning activities, and organized crime in regions most impacted by the increased plastic waste imports (GAIA 2019). The impacts from U.S.-generated plastic waste on its residents, humankind, and the environment, including the global ocean, are substantial. In this era of intense globalization, the direct and indirect causes of environmental harm are often entangled in complex structures involving local groups, state authority, international bodies, and corporate institutions (Davies 2018). 20 Prepublication Copy

Introduction STUDY SCOPE AND APPROACH This report focuses on those aspects of the uses of plastics and the oceanic waste they generate that are laid out in the statement of task for this study (Box 1.4). The rapid growth and evolution of the salient literature and the sheer scope of the issues involved required that the committee focus the report on the most pressing issues in need of attention. Conversely, the statement of task does not cover all important topics on plastics, such as other Earth system components impacted by plastics, human and environmental impacts of ocean plastic pollution (including microplastics), sources and impacts of derelict fishing gear, detailed impacts of environmental equity, or impacts of land-based waste disposal or incineration methods. The scholarship on these areas is expansive and, where relevant, summaries and references to articles and reports on these topics are included in the text. BOX 1.4 Statement of Task for This Study An ad hoc committee will be convened to undertake a study on the United States contributions to global ocean plastic waste. 1. Evaluate United States contributions to global ocean plastic waste, including types, sources and geographic variations. a. compare to global estimates of plastic waste entering the ocean b. assess US contribution by mass and percentage of total c. evaluate US contribution according to size class 2. Assess the prevalence of marine debris and mismanaged plastic waste in saltwater and freshwater United States waterways. a. include contributions from land-based industry, littering, mismanaged waste, wastewater treatment plant discharge, river discharge, accidental transportation-related releases, or other significant sources b. evaluate how much and what proportion of upstream waste flows downstream to the ocean c. include state of knowledge about distribution and fate of different types of plastic within the water column, nearshore and offshore. 3. Examine the import and export of plastic waste to and from the United States, including the destinations of the exported plastic and the waste management infrastructure and environmental conditions of these locations. a. estimate U.S. virgin plastic shipped internationally for manufacture of plastic products in other countries b. determine the mass and percentage of United States total plastic waste exported (historic and current estimates) and how these estimates compare to other nations c. identify the origin of plastic materials in the US waste stream (plastic feedstock and manufactured products) d. assess the trend of landfill deposits and debris in US waterways following current plastic export bans to other countries 4. Assess the potential value of a national marine debris tracking and monitoring system and how such a system might be designed and implemented. a. consider how the tracking and monitoring system could be used to identify priorities for source reduction and cleanup, assess progress in reducing US contribution to global ocean plastic waste, and determine which existing systems or technologies would be most effective for reducing inputs of plastic waste to the ocean. b. assess how the Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project protocols can inform a nationwide shoreline monitoring effort when implemented at greater spatial and temporal resolution (continued) Prepublication Copy 21

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste BOX 1.4 Continued 5. Develop recommendations on knowledge gaps that warrant further scientific inquiry. 6. Recommend potential means to reduce United States contributions to global ocean plastic waste. Chapter 2 discusses plastic production and global trade in the United States (statement of task [SOT] 1, 2a, 3a). Chapter 3 examines how plastic waste is managed (SOT 2a, 3b, 3c, 3d). Chapter 4 details the transport mechanisms of plastics and the pathways they encounter from source to the ocean (SOT 1, 2a, 2b). Chapter 5 starts off with an overview of global ocean plastic waste and then examines distribution and fate of plastics in the ocean, from estuaries to the open ocean (SOT 1, 2c). Chapter 6 considers tracking and monitoring systems (SOT 4a, 4b). Throughout Chapters 2–6, recommendations of prioritized knowledge gaps and means to reduce plastic waste are explored (SOT 5). Chapter 7 closes the report and provides intervention categories for how the United States might reduce global ocean plastic waste contributions (SOT 6). 22 Prepublication Copy

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An estimated 8 million metric tons (MMT) of plastic waste enters the world's ocean each year - the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute. Plastic waste is now found in almost every marine habitat, from the ocean surface to deep sea sediments to the ocean's vast mid-water region, as well as the Great Lakes. This report responds to a request in the bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act for a scientific synthesis of the role of the United States both in contributing to and responding to global ocean plastic waste.

The United States is a major producer of plastics and in 2016, generated more plastic waste by weight and per capita than any other nation. Although the U.S. solid waste management system is advanced, it is not sufficient to deter leakage into the environment. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste calls for a national strategy by the end of 2022 to reduce the nation's contribution to global ocean plastic waste at every step - from production to its entry into the environment - including by substantially reducing U.S. solid waste generation. This report also recommends a nationally-coordinated and expanded monitoring system to track plastic pollution in order to understand the scales and sources of U.S. plastic waste, set reduction and management priorities, and measure progress.

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