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Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste (2021)

Chapter: 3 Plastic Waste and Its Management

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Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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 38
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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 39
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 40
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 41
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 42
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 43
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 50
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 51
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 52
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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.
×
Page 53
Suggested Citation:"3 Plastic Waste and Its Management." 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 54

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3 Plastic Waste and Its Management Once produced, plastics are formed into a range of products that are used for a period of time. Some products, such as packaging, may have a very short use time while other more durable plastic products may remain in use for decades. There can be a short or long lag time between plastic production and its transformation into plastic waste. Plastic waste is created when, intentionally or unintentionally, plastics are taken out of use and enter a waste stream as part of a waste management process or are released into the environment. This chapter first presents global estimates of plastic waste, followed by a detailed look into U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) characterization, generation, and management. Other sources of U.S. plastic waste are explored. “Leaks” of plastic waste into the environment are discussed. Lastly, this chapter reviews the current regulatory framework of plastic waste management in the United States. Subsequent chapters identify transport, pathways, distribution, and fate of plastic waste that leak to the environment and ultimately to the ocean. NATIONAL AND GLOBAL PLASTIC WASTE GENERATION Plastic waste generation is directly related to the quantity of plastics produced and used. Understanding and estimating plastic waste generation can be challenging; there are a few different estimates from the past few years, which are summarized in Table 3.1. In terms of cumulative generation of plastic waste, Geyer, Jambeck, and Law (2017) estimate that from 1950 through 2015, 6.3 billion metric tons (BMT) of plastic waste were generated globally (Figure 3.1). In addition, Geyer, Jambeck, and Law (2017) estimated that in 2015, 302 million metric tons (MMT) of global plastic waste were generated. According to World Bank annual estimates, in 2016, the world generated 2.01 BMT of waste, of which 242 MMT was estimated to be plastic waste (Kaza et al. 2018). With cumulative quantities of plastic production projected to reach 34 BMT and plastic waste projected to reach 26 BMT by 2050, the total amount of plastics in the waste stream is projected to grow (Geyer, Jambeck, and Law 2017) (Figure 3.1). Table 3.1 also indicates national estimates for U.S. plastic waste generation with estimates of 42 MMT in 2016 by Law et al. (2020) and 32 MMT in 2018 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA 2021b). U.S. MANAGEMENT OF PLASTIC WASTE Municipal Solid Waste This chapter describes solid waste management and primarily focuses on MSW, what people throw away every day at home and on-the-go. It is typically measured in mass per person (per capita) generation rates. This chapter does not include intentional/permitted or unintentional land-based air, water (whether wastewater, stormwater, or other water), or sludge (e.g., from wastewater treatment plants) discharges that may also contain plastics (usually smaller particles such as pre-production plastics or microplastics from clothing) unless they are disposed of as solid Prepublication Copy 35

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste waste. It also does not apply to marine discharges (e.g., lost during shipping, lost or discarded fishing gear) unless recovered and deposited in a solid waste management system. Information on non-solid waste discharges and leakage is included in subsequent chapters. FIGURE 3.1 Global plastic production and waste generation infographic. SOURCE: Geyer, Jambeck, and Law (2017). Graphic credit: University of Georgia. TABLE 3.1 Recent Estimates of Annual and Cumulative Generation of Plastic Waste in the United States and Globally Cumulative Waste Annual Plastic Waste Generation Generation since ~1950 Data Source USA Global USA Global U.S. EPA 2021b 32 MMT in 2018 - [1,000] MMT - Law et al. 2020 42 MMT in 2016 - - - Geyer, Jambeck, and Law 2017 - 302 MMT in 2015 - 6,300 MMT in 2015 Kaza et al. 2018 242 MMT in 2016 NOTE: Square brackets indicate “on the order of” or “approximately.” These estimates were completed by the committee using available data. Municipal Solid Waste Generation The U.S. per person MSW generation rate ranges from 2.22 to 2.72 kg/person/day (4.9–6 lb/person/day) (EREF 2016, Powell and Chertow 2019, U.S. EPA 2021a). This is 2–8 times the waste generation rates of many other countries (Law et al. 2020). Figure 3.2 can be examined to see other countries’ waste generation per capita. The United States generated about 321 MMT of waste in 2016, amounting to 16% of the world’s waste (Kaza et al. 2018, Law et al. 2020). In 2016, the United States was the top generator of plastic waste (Law et al. 2020). This is despite containing 4.3% of the world’s population (World Bank 2021) and being the third most populous country in the world. 36 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management FIGURE 3.2 Waste generation per capita, illustrated in kilograms. SOURCE: Kaza et al. (2018). In theory, managed solid waste in the United States should not contribute to ocean plastic waste as it is contained either by treatment and/or conversion into other products (recycling, composting, incineration) or contained in an engineered landfill environment. In practice, plastic waste still “leaks” from managed waste systems when blowing out of trash cans, trucks, and other managed scenarios. Waste not put into the management system, whether intentionally or unintentionally through actions like illegal dumping and littering, is considered unregulated and illegal waste in the United States. Data on MSW are compiled by U.S. EPA through a materials flow analysis method. The quantities are estimations based on production, along with lifetimes for various products and sectors to estimate the quantity of waste generated in each sector and for particular products. Data are also measured by other industry and academic groups, states, and even cities to inform local waste management. The management of MSW typically takes place at the city or county level in the United States, and nearly every household is provided with a method to formally manage their waste. Other waste streams in the United States that may contain plastics also are described in this chapter, although little is known about their contribution to ocean plastic waste. Municipal Solid Waste Characterization U.S. EPA’s Sustainable Materials Facts and Figures report, which calculates estimates as far back as 1960 and has been published periodically for more than 20 years, focuses on MSW. According to U.S. EPA, the MSW items include “packaging, food, grass clippings, sofas, computers, tires and refrigerators.” However, U.S. EPA does not include in its analysis any materials disposed of in non-hazardous landfills that are not generally considered MSW such as construction and demolition debris, municipal wastewater treatment sludges, and non-hazardous industrial waste, some of which may be composed of plastics. Prepublication Copy 37

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste According to U.S. EPA, the generation of waste is the “weight of materials and products as they enter the waste management system from residential, commercial, and institutional sources and before recycling, composting, combustion or landfilling take place. Pre-consumer (industrial) scrap is not included in the waste generation estimate. Source reduction activities, such as backyard composting of yard trimmings, take place ahead of generation.” U.S. EPA’s materials flow methodology does not consider any “mismanagement” of waste within the United States, such as illegal dumping or littering. The U.S. EPA MSW characterization describes waste both by material type—paper, plastics, metal, glass, etc.—and by products, which are separated into durable goods (typically stay in use more than 3 years), nondurable goods (stay in use less than 3 years), and containers and packaging (typically enter the waste stream the same year they are purchased). Examples of durable goods include appliances, furniture, casings of lead-acid batteries, and other products. Examples of nondurable goods include disposable diapers, trash bags, cups, utensils, medical devices, and household items such as shower curtains. U.S. EPA does not include plastics in transportation products, other than lead-acid batteries, in its management analysis (U.S. EPA 2021a). U.S. EPA estimated that 12.2% of MSW (by mass) was plastics (32.4 MMT) in 2018. However, the estimate for annual generation of plastic solid waste has been as high as 42 MMT when using waste generation rates derived from waste disposal data from MSW management facilities (Law et al. 2020). Plastics are the third highest percentage of material (by mass) in MSW after paper and food waste, and are slightly higher than yard waste (Figure 3.3). FIGURE 3.3 Municipal solid waste generation categorization by mass in the United States for 2018. SOURCE: U.S. EPA (2021a). The steep increase in plastic production described in the previous chapter has been mirrored by an increase in the percent of plastics in U.S. MSW (by mass)—from 0.4% in 1960 to 12.2% in 2018, with a peak of 13.2% in 2017 (U.S. EPA 2020a). The mass of plastic waste generated has been increasing in the United States since 1960, with the fastest increase occurring from 1980 to 2000 (Figure 3.4). 38 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management FIGURE 3.4 U.S. annual plastic waste generation from 1960 to 2018 in million metric tons. SOURCE: U.S. EPA (2020a). Municipal Solid Waste Collection Residential waste is a category of MSW. MSW is broader and includes waste from single- family homes to multi-family housing and waste from commercial and institutional locations, such as businesses, schools, and hospitals. Generally single-use plastics used in the home and packaging for any packed food items will end up in the residential waste stream, as will longer-lived durable goods, when disposed of. In the United States, the residential waste and recycle stream usually is picked up at people’s homes by the local community (either paid through fees or taxes) or a private hauler (hired by the resident), or the resident takes the waste to a transfer station or directly to a management facility (e.g., landfill, or recycling facilities called material recovery facilities [MRFs]). Plastic waste generation at the residential level is not measured or monitored directly. Community members typically do not know how much or what kind of waste they generate. Residential waste and mass of items collected for recycling is recorded at the community level through landfill or MRF disposal. Garbage truck weight is measured at the landfill scale houses for the purpose of calculating tipping fees (e.g., a fee to pay for waste disposal). Outgoing trucks of baled materials (e.g., bales of plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate [PET] or mixed plastics) that are shipped to processing facilities for recycling are also weighed. Since solid waste is typically measured in mass (e.g., for solid waste audits, “tipping” fees at disposal facilities, etc.), but plastic bulk density is low, it weighs very little for how much space it takes up if uncompacted. The bulk density (the weight of the waste divided by the volume it occupies, including the space between waste items) of uncompacted mixed plastics is approximately 121 lb/yd3 (72 kg/m3). For example, trash may look like it is comprised mostly of plastics because film plastics spread out and look large owing to their surface area, and empty plastic containers still take up the space that held the product. Waste collection methods are often determined by population density. For low population densities, curbside collection may not be economically feasible and residents may be required to take their own waste to a transfer station for drop-off, which puts an extra burden on residents. Rural areas not served by curbside collection may manage more MSW, including plastics, “at home” through open burning and dumping privately/illegally (Tunnell 2008). In Virginia, for Prepublication Copy 39

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste example, open burning is still allowed if there is no regular trash collection.1 With population density as a driver for waste generation, higher density areas like urban and suburban areas generate more plastic waste per unit area than rural areas; however, urban areas have more developed waste management infrastructure (e.g., more curbside collection and recycling) than rural areas. This pattern occurs globally as well as in the United States (Schuyler et al. 2021, Youngblood et al. In Review). Although plastic waste quantities generated in urban and rural areas differ and the proportion of plastic waste not collected or captured by waste management systems varies, both are sources of ocean plastic waste (see subsequent chapters). Regardless of population density or land use, coastal areas have greater connectivity to the ocean, placing any uncollected plastic waste from urban, suburban, rural, recreational, industrial, or other human activities at a higher risk of ending up in the ocean. Coastal areas might be subject to greater efforts to reduce, collect, and divert plastic waste sources, but inland areas, especially along waterways, should be managed to reduce plastic wastes moving toward the ocean. Municipal Solid Waste Management In 2018, to manage MSW, the United States landfilled 50%, recycled 24%, composted 8.5%, and combusted 12% of all MSW (U.S. EPA 2021a). Of plastics in MSW, 75.6% were landfilled (comprising 18.5% of all landfilled materials, by mass), 8.7% were recycled, and 15.8% were combusted with energy recovery. While both recycling and combustion capacity expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, these percentages have remained relatively consistent over the past 15 years (Figure 3.5). Decisions about how waste, including plastic waste, is managed are made by state and local governments and other groups, who bear the growing costs and challenges of managing increasing amounts of waste. Plastic products disposed as waste (reported by U.S. EPA in durable goods, nondurable goods, and containers and packaging categories) consist of a wide variety of plastic polymers containing mixtures of chemical additives that allow for an array of properties (Deanin 1975). Thus, the composition of plastics in MSW is incredibly diverse, which creates challenges in waste management systems, especially when sorting materials for appropriate recycling or composting. Landfilling Since the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) passed in 1976, landfills are lined with composite liners to protect the soil and groundwater (e.g., geomembrane and 2 feet of compacted clay), and the liquid that permeates and seeps through the landfill waste is collected and removed. Landfills are sloped to one side with a drainage layer (e.g., sand) so the liquid can quickly run off the liner, collect, and then be pumped out of the landfill. Trucks deposit waste onto the working face of the landfill and bulldozers move the waste. Compacters compress the waste so the landfill is as dense as possible. Once the landfill has reached its fill height, gas wells are installed throughout the landfill to collect released gases (i.e., methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, 1 § 10.1-1308 of the Code of Virginia; §§ 110, 111, 123, 129, 171, 172, and 182 of the Clean Air Act; 40 CFR Parts 51 and 60. “Open burning is permitted for the on-site destruction of household waste by homeowners or tenants, provided that no regularly scheduled collection service for such refuse is available at the adjacent street or public road.” 40 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management and other trace gases). The landfill is then capped with an impermeable layer, which is similar to the bottom layer. Sometimes soil and grass are placed on top of the landfill. After the landfill is closed, it requires at least 30 years of monitoring. None of the highest production plastics (PET, high-density polyethylene [HDPE], polyvinyl chloride [PVC], low-density polyethylene, polyethylene [PE], polystyrene [PS]) biodegrade in a landfill, and they are considered contamination in compost. Since plastic products also contain an array of additives (Deanin 1975), this diversity of plastic waste can challenge recovery and recycling. In addition, plastics can be mixed with food waste, most of which goes to landfills (only 6.3% of food waste is composted, as compared with 69.4% of yard waste, which is restricted from landfills). With the vast majority (76%) of managed plastic waste disposed of in landfills, there are opportunities to reduce this amount and conserve non-renewable resources, increase energy efficiency, and provide economic and environmental benefits through effective source reduction, recycling, and composting. These options are in line with U.S. policy to prevent and reduce pollution at the source whenever feasible (Pollution Prevention Act). These principles are expressed in the RCRA, where the order of preference in managing materials is source reduction, reuse, recycling, and disposal. FIGURE 3.5 U.S. plastic waste management of municipal solid waste from 1960 to 2018 in million metric tons (MMT) per year. Composted levels are at zero during this period. SOURCE: U.S. EPA (2020a). Recycling The statistics reported by U.S. EPA on plastic recycling reflect the amount of plastic waste collected for reprocessing into a secondary raw material, primarily by mechanical recycling. Mechanical recycling requires waste items to first be sorted according to primary material type (polymer resin type), indicated on many household products by the numbered resin identification code (“chasing arrows” symbol). Products might be further sorted according to color, size, or Prepublication Copy 41

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste density before being washed of residues or contaminants, then shredded or chopped into smaller particles that can be remelted and formed into a reprocessed material (Ragaert, Delva, and Van Geem 2017). The increasing diversity and complexity of material and product types present major challenges to recycling, especially when waste is collected in “single-stream” recycling programs, which require mechanical and manual separation at MRFs. Contamination of individual plastic items by food or product residues, and of entire loads by items that are not recyclable (often by people “wish-cycling,” who place items in recycling collection in hopes they might be recycled), increases the difficulty and cost of separation (Damgacioglu et al. 2020). Furthermore, because plastics degrade throughout their life cycle and during reprocessing, recycled materials are frequently used in “downcycling” applications that do not require the same material quality standards as food grade applications, for example (Ragaert, Delva, and Van Geem 2017). For these reasons and others, such as the low cost of primary (usually fossil) feedstocks used to make virgin plastics and fluctuating market demand for recycled materials, the economics of recycling can be extremely challenging (Rogoff and Ross 2016). Further details on where plastic scrap can be exported is illustrated in Box 3.1. A suite of chemical processes, many of which are under development, that aim to break plastic waste down into chemical constituents, which may include the monomer building blocks of the original plastic (total depolymerization) or other intermediates (partial depolymerization), are broadly referred to as “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling”. A major goal of chemical recycling is to produce secondary materials of the same or higher quality than the initial plastic waste itself (“upcycling”), ideally striving for many cycles of polymerization and depolymerization to maximize resource use (Coates and Getzler 2020). Presently, the only forms of chemical recycling utilized in the United States (and only at small scale) are energy-intensive pyrolysis and gasification processes, whose primary products are fuel and other chemical products rather than secondary polymers (Ragaert, Delva, and Van Geem 2017). Priority research opportunities have been identified to inform federal investment in research into new materials, together with the chemical processes to upcycle these materials once they become waste, in order to move toward a more circular life cycle for plastics (Britt et al. 2019). Challenges include incompatibility of different plastic types and large differences in processing requirements (Closed Loop Partners 2020, Hopewell, Dvorak, and Kosior 2009, OECD 2018). Addressing these barriers to plastic recycling can produce co-benefits, including improving energy efficiency, environmental performance, and process efficiency, while creating economic opportunities for new products (U.S. Department of Energy 2021). A variety of prizes or challenge competitions have been designed to stimulate innovation in overcoming the barriers associated with plastic recycling or to minimize reliance upon these difficult-to-manage materials (e.g., Department of Energy Plastics Innovation Challenge, New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize, the REMADE Institute, or the Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment [BOTTLE] Consortium), and some of these efforts have already had results (Rorrer, Beckham, and Roman-Leshkov 2021, Shi et al. 2021). Composting High production plastics such as PE, polypropylene, PS, and PVC are strongly resistant to biodegradation in any environment, due to the strength of the carbon-carbon bond that constitutes the polymer backbone. Therefore, managed composting is not a suitable management strategy for 42 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management the vast majority of today’s plastic waste, which would be contaminants in composting environments. A variety of certified compostable plastics (with ester backbones) have been developed to completely biodegrade (defined by complete metabolism by microorganisms in a specified time period) in managed composting facilities that maintain the specific environmental conditions required for material breakdown. However, the benefits of these products are lost if they are not collected and transported to managed composting facilities. In most regions of the United States such facilities are not available. Even if there are nearby facilities, the consumer must recognize the item as compostable and place it in the correct collection bin, rather than in regular trash or in recycling collection, where it would contaminate the recycling stream (Law and Narayan 2021). Thus, the benefits of compostable plastics can only be realized if sizeable investments in composting infrastructure and consumer education occur. Management of Plastic Containers and Packaging Plastic containers and packaging comprise the largest fraction of the plastic waste stream (41%) and enter the waste stream most quickly after production in the year they are produced. Products in this category also commonly leak from the waste management system (see subsequent section on leakage). U.S. EPA defines plastic packaging as bags, sacks, and wraps; other packaging; PET bottles and jars; HDPE natural bottles; and other containers. It does not include single-service plates, cups, and trash bags, all of which are classified as nondurable goods. Plastic containers and packaging were the highest category within plastic materials in 2018 with an estimated 13.2 MMT generated, or approximately 5.0% of total MSW generation (U.S. EPA 2021b). In 2018, 1.8 MMT (13.6%) of plastic containers and packaging materials was recycled. However, this was lower than the quantity combusted with energy recovery, 16.9% (2.2 MMT), while the remainder (more than 69%) was landfilled (Figure 3.6). The two items most commonly recycled were PET bottles and jars at 29.1% (of total PET bottle waste generation) and HDPE natural bottles (e.g., milk and water bottles) at 29.3% (of total HDPE natural bottle generation). The higher rates of recycling are reflective of the product mass, with containers heavier than film plastics, and their more uniform design characteristics (monochromatic and with fewer additives), which makes these products easier to recycle and the recycled material more valuable. Management by Designing for End of Life The approach of designing products for end of life is embedded in the U.S. EPA’s Sustainable Materials Strategy and related programs (U.S. EPA 2015). However, there are many barriers, including a substantial mismatch between the materials that are created and the ability of the waste management system to accept and transform these materials into a second use or beneficial product (U.S. GAO 2020), such as being effectively recyclable or biodegradable. Part of the solution to this mismatch is to adopt an integrated, life-cycle perspective (Walls and Palmer 2001) in the design of plastic products, especially single-use products, that explicitly accounts for direct and indirect costs associated with the product’s end-of-life disposal. This perspective would reduce the social cost of plastic disposal and waste leakage by pushing producers to design and use more easily biodegradable and recyclable/reusable materials, and by enabling consumers to choose products that permit low-impact disposal (Abbott and Sumaila 2019). Green Engineering principles (American Chemical Society 2021), if followed during material development and product design, can reduce the externalities associated with plastics. Circular Economy concepts, designed to promote “a regenerative system in which Prepublication Copy 43

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops thanks to long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling” (Geissdoerfer et al. 2017), may be helpful as well. FIGURE 3.6 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plastic containers and packaging waste management. Composted levels are at zero during this period. SOURCE: U.S. EPA (2021b). BOX 3.1 Management Through Import and Export of Plastic Scrap Some of the plastic materials sent to material recovery facilities in the United States are exported to other countries after processing. Prior to the import restrictions initially implemented by China at the end of 2017 (resulting in a relative import ban), the United States exported half of its plastic waste intended for recycling to China (Brooks, Wang, and Jambeck 2018). After 2018, plastic scrap previously destined for China was either re- routed to other countries (e.g., Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Turkey) or placed in domestic landfills (INTERPOL 2020). U.S. plastic scrap exports decreased by 37.4% in the first quarter of 2018, largely due to the 92.4% decline in plastic scrap exports to China (Mongelluzzo 2018). In the same time period, U.S. waste exported to Malaysia increased by 330%, to Thailand by 300%, to Vietnam by 277%, to Indonesia by 191%, and to India by 165% (INTERPOL 2020). In 2018, other Asian countries (e.g., Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and India) started to regulate, and sometimes ban, plastic waste imports due to waste surpluses and illegally exported wastes (e.g., hazardous waste mixed in with plastic scrap) (INTERPOL 2020, Staub 2021, Upadhyaya 2019). In 2020, the United States’ top six trade partners (Canada, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Mexico, Vietnam, and Indonesia) accounted for 75% of U.S. exports of plastic scrap (Brooks 2021). Export destinations of U.S. plastic waste can be a source of plastics in the ocean. Recent amendments to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal placed new controls on exports of plastic waste. However, the United States is not a signatory and is therefore not subject to the stricter guidelines of plastic exports. As such, U.S. plastic waste exports have continued, though greatly decreased as described above. In addition, U.S. exports will be affected by decisions of the receiving countries that are parties to the Convention (U.S. EPA 2021h). In the absence of the Basel Convention, the United States could continue to record and document exports by the U.S. Trade Association and U.N. Comtrade. 44 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management Developing alternative materials or other product delivery systems can spark innovation and economic growth in the United States. There are several voluntary corporate commitments to change materials, use more recycled materials, and increase material circularity, so materials and infrastructure development to meet those demands are needed (U.S. Plastics Pact 2021). Efforts could include sustainable packaging associations (precompetitive collaborations) to develop alternative materials and agree on more homogenized packaging designs for end of life, packaging with more value (e.g., single, homogenous materials; design for recycling/end of life), and designing out problematic items/materials (e.g., certain colors, smaller caps/lids). For composting to be a part of an integrated management approach, there is a need for both biodegradable materials and further development and expansion of composting infrastructure in the United States. For a more detailed approach to materials design, please see the recent article by Law and Narayan (2021). Municipal Solid Waste Management Disparities and Environmental Justice 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 2021g). Environmental justice is one of the top priorities of the current U.S. EPA Administrator, Michael S. Regan (U.S. EPA 2021g). Impacts to vulnerable populations occur all along the life cycle of plastics, starting from extraction of oil and natural gas as feedstocks of plastic production and including the production of plastic resins at refining and chemical processing facilities, the use of plastics from smaller or limited packaging choices, and management and leakage of plastic waste to the environment (CIEL 2019, UNEP 2021b). Environmental justice efforts around waste began in the United States with communities (e.g., in Houston, Texas and Warren County, North Carolina) fighting landfills and hazardous waste management facilities in areas populated predominantly by African Americans (Bullard 1990, McGurty 2000). These impacts and concerns continued for years, with research similar to that done on hazardous waste landfills conducted on U.S. non-hazardous solid waste landfills in the contiguous 48 states finding that these landfills are also more likely to be located in counties with higher percentages of poverty and people of color (Cannon 2020). More recently in Houston and Dallas, Texas, studies show people of color are concentrated in neighborhoods closer to MSW landfill facilities where housing prices and median incomes are lower than those just 2 or 3 miles away (Erogunaiye 2019). This research also showed that the magnitude of disparity within 1–3 miles of a landfill had increased over the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015 (Erogunaiye 2019). Additionally, MSW incinerators are disproportionately located in communities with at least 25% people of color and/or impoverished people (Tishman Environment and Design Center 2019). Burning plastics releases toxic chemical pollutants, such as dioxins and furans (Verma et al. 2016), which can have serious health implications for community members (Tishman Environment and Design Center 2019, Verma et al. 2016, and see Box 1.3 for more information on health impacts). U.S. EPA, in line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s directive to all federal agencies to “embed equity into their programs and services to ensure the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals,” announced in April 2021 that it was taking steps to address environmental justice across the agency. These steps include strengthening enforcement of violations, incorporating environmental justice across all its work, improving “early and more frequent engagement with pollution-burdened and underserved communities” and tribal officials, and considering and prioritizing “direct and indirect benefits to underserved communities in the Prepublication Copy 45

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste development of requests for grant applications and in making grant award decisions as allowed by law” (U.S. EPA 2021g). Municipal Solid Waste COVID-19 Impacts The global COVID-19 pandemic has had extensive impacts on the generation and characterization of MSW in the United States. Within 1 week of various city, state, or national mandates for public areas to use and wear personal protective equipment, like masks, these items were reported as litter through the Marine Debris Tracker mobile app and to programs of the Ocean Conservancy (Ammendolia et al. 2021, Marine Debris Tracker 2020, Ocean Conservancy 2021b). In addition, waste collection companies reported decreases in commercial waste collection because people were not commuting to the office or conducting activities outside of home (Waste Advantage Magazine 2020). For the same reasons, residential waste increased by 5–35%, increasing logistical and economic strain on haulers and communities trying to manage MSW (Dzhanova 2020, Redling 2021). Other Types of Plastic Waste (Non-MSW) While some waste categories are included in the measurement of MSW, some other sources of plastic waste are identified below. Only some are measured or monitored under existing federal environmental law. The most consistent and well documented information on U.S. plastic waste comes from data on management of solid waste under RCRA or documentation of waste recovered from or measured in the environment (see Chapters 4 and 5). Because many leakage estimates rely only on MSW data, they are likely conservative estimates. Aside from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Program (Chapter 6), no federal monitoring programs document or monitor the amount of plastic waste contained in air or water discharges, though state and local governments have conducted specific monitoring studies, sometimes with federal support or assistance. Construction and Demolition Debris Starting in 2018, U.S. EPA included construction and demolition debris as a separate section outside of the MSW waste generation in its Sustainable Materials Facts and Figures report (U.S. EPA 2021a). In general, construction and demolition debris materials are durable goods and do not enter the waste stream quickly. However, they are sometimes illegally dumped or managed at unregulated construction sites or abandoned lots (Jambeck 2021), and it is unknown what quantity may be entering the ocean. Construction and demolition debris is also generated in catastrophic events (e.g., hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, etc.), which can generate debris, including plastics, that enters waterways and the ocean. The most prominent example of this occurred when the Tohoku Tsunami hit Japan. Of the 5 MMT of debris generated, 1.5 MMT floated and portions subsequently were transported to the shores of the United States (Murray, Maximenko, and Lippiatt 2018). It is currently unknown how much plastic waste may enter the ocean in U.S. waters from catastrophic events, such as floods. 46 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management Industrial Industrial waste is any waste (including plastics) generated by manufacturing or industrial processes. As solid waste, it can be classified under RCRA as either hazardous or non-hazardous solid waste, and governed by assigned management requirements (see Appendix C: Legal Framework for more information). Industrial waste can include plastic pellets, also referred to as nurdles. Industrial waste can also include sludge and liquid waste from industrial facilities regulated and permitted under other statutes, such as the Clean Water Act (U.S. EPA 2021c); however, the Clean Water Act does not identify plastics as a pollutant for discharge monitoring or limits (Appendix C). However, some chemicals used in plastics (and many other industrial applications) may be separately monitored or regulated. Under the Pollution Prevention Act, which promotes pollution prevention and production, U.S. EPA collects and publicly shares data on industrial facility releases of certain harmful chemicals (including unregulated chemicals) that it lists on the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) (U.S. EPA 2021d). The TRI does not include plastics but does include a number of chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics (Wiesinger, Wang, and Hellweg 2021). Plastic Waste in Wastewater and Stormwater Some plastic waste enters wastewater infrastructure in sewage, sometimes combined with stormwater. Nearly all large plastic items entering sewers and arriving at wastewater treatment plants are removed by bar screens prior to treatment through biological and chemical processes. Most microplastics remain in the post-treatment sludge (managed typically through landfilling or land application) with a smaller amount discharged in treated wastewater, mostly as small fibers and fiber fragments (Carr, Liu, and Tesoro 2016). No federally mandated monitoring of plastic waste occurs at wastewater treatment plants. A 2021 U.S. EPA multisector stormwater general permit has been challenged in court for not sufficiently addressing plastic pollution from pre- production plastic pellets, flakes, and powders (Center for Biological Diversity 2021, U.S. EPA 2021c). Transportation Infrastructure Transportation systems are sources of plastic waste in the environment, including plastics shed from the operation of transportation systems (e.g., from tires, paints, brake linings), litter from passengers (considered MSW) and cargo, and litter from transportation systems themselves (e.g., plastics and chemicals from road paint and asphalts). Transportation systems also tend to be sources of plastics to stormwater and other drainage systems that transport plastic wastes to local waterways and as far as the ocean, with tire particles being a major source of microplastics (Werbowski et al. 2021), as described in Chapter 4. Some industrial plastics from transportation systems appear to have special forms of toxicity. For example, a tire-rubber derived chemical called 6PPD-quinone (also known as (N-(1,3-dimethylbutyl)-N′-phenyl-p-phenylenediamine quinone)) has been identified as a cause of mortality for salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest (Tian et al. 2021). Nonpoint source runoff from highways is subject to management guidance under the U.S. EPA Clean Water Act programs, as well as in coastal and Great Lakes areas through a joint program with NOAA under the Coastal Zone Management Act (U.S. EPA 2021e). Prepublication Copy 47

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste However, current federal law does not require monitoring of the sources of macroplastics or microplastics in transportation systems (Appendix C). Marine Activities The disposal of plastic waste from vessels and at-sea platforms into the ocean is prohibited by the 1988 international maritime regulations (MARPOL Annex V). The United States is a signatory to MARPOL Annex V (an optional, non-mandatory annex of MARPOL), which has been incorporated into U.S. law via the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (33 USC 1901 and 33 CFR 151). However, enforcement of MARPOL Annex V is challenging and compliance is difficult to assess. In addition, accidental loss of plastic waste at sea occurs, such as from abandoned vessels, lost ships and cargo, and release of plastic products or plastic “nurdles” from shipping containers. Some of these losses are recognized at the state legislative level, such as abandoned vessels, which are subjects of public concern, but are not well quantified in the United States or in U.S. waters. One type of maritime-generated ocean plastic waste is abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG). No robust estimates of the total amount of ALDFG generated worldwide or by U.S. domestic fisheries are available (Richardson et al. 2021), though a recent global meta-analysis indicates 5–30% of fishing gear is lost annually worldwide depending on gear type (Richardson, Hardesty, and Wilcox 2019). Industrial trawl, purse-seine, and pelagic longline fisheries are estimated to lose a median of 48.4 kt (95% confidence interval: 28.4 to 99.5 kt) of gear each year during normal fishing operations, but this estimate does not include abandoned or discarded gear; other gears known to become derelict such as pots and traps, pole and line, and driftnets/gillnets; or nearshore and small-scale fisheries (Kuczenski et al. 2021). The role of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries in the generation of ALDFG, or other plastic waste, is also unknown. Lastly, ALDFG resulting from U.S. recreational or subsistence fishing activities is also a source of ocean plastics that is little quantified or understood. There is also growing attention to the contribution of aquaculture activities to plastic waste at a global scale (Sandra et al. 2020), but U.S. contributions have not been assessed. A full description of the types of ALDFG generated in the United States or resulting from U.S.-based fisheries or aquaculture is beyond the scope of this report. U.S. PLASTIC WASTE LEAKAGE Quantities (Mass) “Managed” plastic waste is contained by treatment and/or conversion into other products (recycling, composting, incineration) or contained in an engineered landfill. If not effectively “managed” in these ways it may have intentionally or unintentionally “leaked” into the environment. Plastic waste not making it into (e.g., illegal dumping, litter) or leaking out of (e.g., blowing litter or unregulated leaking or discharge) our management systems is categorized as “mismanaged” plastic waste. Figure 3.7 represents ways waste may leak, even from a solid waste management system reaching 100% of the population. Once in the environment, wastes are more difficult to recover for later treatment or disposal. 48 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management FIGURE 3.7 Points of plastic leakage for municipal solid waste in the United States. Black box with red outline denotes leakage potential. Because U.S. EPA data on MSW do not quantify mismanaged solid waste that leaks into the environment, researchers have developed approaches to derive such estimates, drawing on U.S. EPA reported data and other data sources. Law et al. (2020) quantified the U.S. contribution of mismanaged plastic waste to the environment as 1.13–2.24 MMT in 2016. Mismanaged waste included a model estimate for litter, illegal dumping, and estimates of exported plastics collected for recycling that were inadequately managed in the importing country. Litter—solid waste that is intentionally or unintentionally disposed of into the environment despite the availability of waste management infrastructure—was coarsely estimated as 2% of plastic solid waste generation (owing to a lack of mass-based estimates of litter rates). For 2016, the quantity of plastic litter estimated annually in the United States was 0.84 MMT (Law et al. 2020). Law et al. (2020) estimated that 0.14 to 0.41 MMT of plastics were illegally dumped (i.e., disposed of in an unpermitted area) annually, despite the availability of waste management infrastructure. This estimate comes from assessment of illegal dumping in three U.S. cities (San Jose, California; Sacramento, California; and Columbus, Ohio). The final component of mismanaged solid waste in the Law et al. (2020) analysis is exported plastic scrap collected for recycling that is inadequately managed in the importing country (see Box 3.1). Law et al. (2020) estimated that in 2016, 0.15–0.99 MMT of plastics exported by the United States in plastic scrap and paper scrap (in which plastics are included as contaminants) bales were disposed of during processing and likely entered the environment in the importing country (Law et al. 2020). The total quantity of plastic solid waste from the United States entering the environment in 2016 was estimated to be 1.13–2.24 MMT. Comparing mismanaged plastic waste from other countries, Law et al. (2020) concluded that the United States was the 3rd to 12th largest contributor of plastic waste into the coastal environment with 0.51– 1.45 MMT in 2016. High-Leakage Items Similar to the waste management system categorizing the waste stream by material and products, varying plastic products and materials leak from the solid waste management system in different proportions evidenced by what does, and does not, end up in our environment. Litter surveys and community science efforts (at large scales, see Chapter 6) have shown that while plastics make up a large percentage (70–80%, see Table 3.2) of what is found in the environment as litter, the majority of plastic items are single-use, including packaging, as well as tobacco- Prepublication Copy 49

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste related (e.g., cigarette filters, product packaging, and e-cigarette cartridges) (Public Health Law Center 2020) and unidentified fragments from larger items. These large-scale surveys generally do not include the documenting of microplastic or pre-production resin pellets at a more local level (Tunnell et al. 2020). TABLE 3.2 Top 10 Items Tallied from Each Data Set Compilation Date Range (n = number of Data Set litter items counted) Top 10 in Rank Order Ocean Conservancy’s 2015–July 2021 (n = 18,565,446), Cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic International Coastal Cleanup 82% plastic waste bottle caps, plastic beverage bottles, (USA only) straws, stirrers, other trash, beverage cans, plastic grocery bags, glass beverage bottles, metal bottle caps, plastic lids MDMAP 2009–2021 (n = 895,417), 84% Hard plastic fragments, foamed plastic Accumulation of items plastic waste fragments, plastic rope/net, 2.5–30 cm bottle/container caps, filmed plastic fragments, plastic other, cigarettes, plastic beverage bottles, food wrappers MDMAP 2009–2021 (n = 5,561), 58% Lumber/building material, hard plastics, Accumulation of items plastic waste plastic rope/net, other plastics, 30 cm or larger cloth/fabric, foam plastics, film plastics, other metal, buoys and floats, other processed lumber, plastic bags MDMAP 2009–2021 (n = 71,306), 86% Hard plastic fragments, foamed plastic 2.5 cm + standing stock and plastic waste fragments, plastic bottle or container using MDMAP 2.0 protocol caps, plastic fragments film, plastic food wrappers, other plastics, cigarettes, plastic rope or net pieces, processed lumber–building material, plastic beverage bottles, processed lumber–paper and cardboard Marine Debris Tracker 2011–July 2021 (n = 2,333,337), Plastic or foam fragments, (USA only) 71% plastic waste cigarettes/cigars, plastic food wrappers, plastic caps or lids, other (trash), plastic bottle, plastic bags, paper and cardboard, aluminum or tin cans, foam or plastic cups or plates, straws Mississippi River Plastic March 15–April 25, 2021 Cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic Pollution Initiative (MRPPI) (n = 75,184), 74% plastic waste beverage bottles, foam fragments, aluminum cans, hard plastic fragments, plastic bags, plastic/foam cups, paper and cardboard, film fragments. Note: PPE was 1–2% of all litter found NOTE: If an item labeled “Other” was in top 10, the 11th ranking item was also included since “Other” can include a wide array of items. MDMAP = Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project, PPE = personal protective equipment. 50 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management While historically marine litter studies and land-based work have not always been consistent in terms of methods used (Browne et al. 2015), there has been consistent, even if opportunistic, data collection through a few community science-based initiatives. These include the International Coastal Cleanup, which has been collecting data annually for more than 35 years; NOAA’s Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project initiative; and opportunistic data from the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker (initially funded by NOAA) as well as a scientifically designed targeted data collection event in the Mississippi River corridor in 2021 (Youngblood, Finder, and Jambeck 2021). For more information about these programs, please see Chapter 6 on Tracking and Monitoring. The Cost of Leakage While the drivers for leakage of plastics into the environment are complex and varied (see previous section), the cost and burden are borne by communities, especially residents. The United States spends roughly $11.5 billion on cleanup from trash leakage into the environment (Keep America Beautiful Inc. 2010). States, cities, and counties together spend at least $1.3 billion. Cleanup is often a hidden cost within employee salaries or other projects, which makes it difficult to determine the actual cost to local governments. For example, the Georgia Department of Transportation spends more than $10 million on annual labor and equipment costs necessary for picking up and disposing of trash from state roadways (GDOT 2020). CalTrans costs have grown from $65 million in 2016–2017 to $102 million in 2018–2019 to keep trash off of transportation areas (CalTrans 2020). CURRENT REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR U.S. MANAGEMENT OF PLASTIC WASTE Starting in the 1970s, the United States created several legal frameworks designed to control and prevent the release of harmful, toxic, or hazardous substances, as well as manage transportation, treatment, and disposal of specific wastes. This body of law applies to many materials originally created for societal benefit that were later found to be harmful to human or environmental health, such as polychlorinated biphenyls or chlorofluorocarbons. These U.S. laws address waste disposal and pollution prevention, control, and cleanup across geographic boundaries (by air, water, and soil) by setting science-based criteria and technology-based limits at the federal level, and use command and control or more flexible compliance methods (e.g., cap and trade incentives). Various levels of delegations are shared with state and local authorities. In addition, states may have delegated or parallel requirements. In 1976, in the wake of a national hazardous waste crisis, Congress fundamentally changed the way solid and hazardous waste is managed in the United States by enacting RCRA.2 RCRA, implemented by U.S. EPA and the states, created a “cradle to grave” solid and hazardous waste management system. This hazardous waste management system prohibited the previous practice 2 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) - Public Law 94-580, October 21, 1976, (42 U.S.C. 6901-6992; 90 Stat. 2795), as amended by P.L. 95-609 (92 Stat. 3081), P.L. 96-463 (94 Stat. 2055), P.L. 96-482 (94 Stat. 2334), P.L. 98-616 (98 Stat. 3224), P.L. 99-339 (100 Stat. 654), P.L. 99-499 (100 Stat. 1696), P.L. 100-556 (102 Stat. 2779). Prepublication Copy 51

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste of open dumping and replaced it with requirements to use engineered and regulated landfills, composting, and recovery systems like recycling.3 RCRA has management requirements assigned to either “solid waste” or “hazardous waste” and currently treats plastic waste as a subset of “municipal solid waste” for disposal in landfills or by incineration. Other U.S. environmental laws focus on preventing, controlling, and cleaning up discharges of pollutants, hazardous substances, and other contaminants to air and waters (including coastal and marine waters). These include laws enacted to control the discharge of pollutants or hazardous substances from certain facilities into the environment, such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Ocean Dumping Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. In 1980, Congress assigned liability for cleanup and compensation for injury and contamination from historic contamination by enacting the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund). All of these laws are implemented by U.S. EPA as the lead agency. U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA have major roles for cleanup, removal, and damage assessment for injury in coastal and marine environments. Neither the Clean Water Act nor the Clean Air Act controls or measures releases of plastic waste from littering, mismanaged waste, sewage outfalls, runoff, industrial emissions, or other sources. The legal or regulatory definitions of “pollutants” or “hazardous substances” do not include plastics or plastic pollution, though legal challenges are testing whether some may be included based on toxicity or other regulatory criteria. No specific plastic effluent limits for industrial wastewater, stormwater, and plastic production facilities exist unless established under a Clean Water Act regional protocol to protect certain receiving waters from specific discharges, such as from stormwater systems. These include Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits for “trash” in local water bodies in various locations. While these TMDLs are not specific to plastics, plastic waste is included in trash. The state of California has set plastic discharge limits to govern pre-production plastic discharges. NOAA plays a leading federal role in plastic waste prevention, removal, cleanup, and restoration through a range of environmental authorities including the Clean Water Act and Ocean Dumping Act, which relates to ship-based disposal. Its most comprehensive role on ocean plastic waste is under the 2006 Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, amended in 2012, 2018, and 2020 (Marine Debris Act), which specifies its role in cleanup, government coordination, grantmaking, and research. The Marine Debris Act does not provide specific authority for any federal agency to regulate the production, transportation, or release of plastic waste. The most specific legislative action around plastic pollution in aquatic and marine environments was the 2015 Microbead Free Waters Act, which prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics and other products, like toothpaste, that contain plastic microbeads. U.S. EPA operates the non-regulatory Trash Free Waters program, which engages with states and communities on pilot prevention projects. Most information available on U.S. plastic waste amounts, management, and leakage derives from solid waste data collected by U.S. EPA under RCRA, with other data from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, import or export data, and some state and local research, cleanup, or pilot projects. 3 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 40, Parts 239–282. 52 Prepublication Copy

Plastic Waste and Its Management CHAPTER SYNOPSIS The potential for mismanaged waste starts at the generation of waste (discarded materials), although reused or donated materials are not categorized as waste. With the scale of U.S. waste generation, there is an opportunity to reduce the amount of waste produced, both for the environment as well as the economy, given that all waste management activities take effort, money, energy, and often transportation. As indicated in this chapter, there are multiple paths by which waste can enter into the environment. The next chapters describe how leaked plastic waste travels through the environment and the ocean. PRIORITIZED KNOWLEDGE GAPS As illustrated throughout this chapter, there are few data sources to understand sources, types, and relative scale of plastic waste generated and disposed or leaked to the environment beyond MSW in the United States. Specifically, there is a lack of plastic waste data on industrial wastes including pre-production plastics and fibers, nonpoint sources of waste like runoff, point sources, wastewater treatment outflows, and sludge applications. Furthermore, direct measurements of plastic waste and leakage, in different geographic regions of the United States and urban/rural environments, are necessary to improve and better constrain source estimates from existing crude (order-of-magnitude) model-based estimates, as illustrated in the U.S. EPA data. FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION Finding 4: The United States is the largest generator of plastic solid waste, by mass and per capita. Plastic product end-of-life disposal can be improved by enhancing the capability of municipal solid waste systems to collect, sort, and treat specific materials and products, and by considering end- of-life disposal in plastic material and product design and manufacture. Finding 5: Although recycling is technically possible for some plastics, little plastic waste is recycled in the United States. Barriers to recycling include the wide range of materials (plastic resins plus additives) in the waste stream; increasingly complex products (e.g., multi-layer, multi- material items); the expense of sorting contaminated, single-stream recycling collections; and the low cost of virgin plastics paired with market volatility for reprocessed materials. Finding 6: Chemical recycling processes that strive toward material circularity, such as depolymerization to monomers, are in early research and development stages. Such processes remain unproven to handle the current plastic waste stream and existing high production plastics. Finding 7: Compostable plastics may replace some products currently made with unrecyclable materials. However, successful management of compostable plastics requires widely available managed composting facilities and consumer awareness on product disposal in dedicated compost collection, neither of which exists today. Prepublication Copy 53

Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste Conclusion 2: Materials and products could be designed with a demonstrated end-of-life strategy that strives to retain resource value. Conclusion 3: Effective and accessible solid waste management and infrastructure are fundamental for preventing plastic materials from leaking to the environment and becoming ocean plastic waste. Solid waste collection and management are particularly important for coastal and riparian areas where fugitive plastics have shorter and more direct paths to the ocean. Conclusion 4: The United States has a need and opportunity to expand and evolve its historically decentralized municipal solid waste management systems, to improve management while ensuring the system serves communities and regions equitably, efficiently, and economically. Conclusion 5: Although recycling will likely always be a component of the strategy to manage plastic waste, today’s recycling processes and infrastructure are grossly insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity, and quantity of plastic waste in the United States. Recommendation 1: The United States should substantially reduce solid waste generation (absolute and per person) to reduce plastic waste in the environment and the environmental, economic, aesthetic, and health costs of managing waste and litter. 54 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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