Headimage abstract

US causes the most plastic waste

According to a US study, the United States of America is the biggest producer of plastic waste worldwide. In 2016, some 42 million tons of plastic waste was generated there – more than twice as much as was produced by China and more than all the countries of the European Union together, write the authors of an expert report. The report from the non-profit National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine was submitted to the US government, and contains a number of recommendations. Above all the production of new plastics should, in the opinion of the academies, be reduced.


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are private, non-profit institutions. Their aim is to give "expert advice on some of the most urgent challenges for the nation and the world" on scientific, technological and medical topics. For the report entitled "Reckoning with the U.S. role in global ocean plastic waste" published in December 2021, the authors evaluated government and industry data, statistics and scientific studies, which the World Bank makes available in its open database. Information was also fed into the report from studies that were carried out by scientists and other experts from non-governmental organisations and universities. According to the study, every US citizen causes on average 130 kg of plastic waste per year, followed by South Korea with 88 kg per capita per year. Germany is listed in eighth place in the report with a good 81 kg per head in 2016. The EU average including UK is around 55.5 kg per citizen. The authors give China's contribution as just under 16 kg per head. According to the report, an estimated eight million tons of plastic waste gets into the world seas every year. The proportion for which the United States or other countries are responsible can only be estimated approximately. These estimates of the discharge of plastic waste into the environment, including land, aquatic ecosystems, coastal areas and oceans are based, says the report, on data relating to the occurrence and management of plastic waste. The figures draw primarily on global data that were compiled and reported by the World Bank. According to an investigation from the year 2020 by Law et al., which is quoted in the study, the US accounts for between 0.51 and 1.45 million tons. This means that the country is in third to twelfth place of the countries causing plastic waste that gets into the oceans. One of the reasons for the increasing quantity of plastic waste in the world seas, says the report, is that the recycling cannot keep pace with plastic production. It was therefore particularly important to produce less new plastic. Other measures proposed in the report relate to the use of materials that degrade faster and can be more easily recycled, reducing certain non-returnable plastics and improving waste management, for example through technologies for removing microplastic from effluent.

Further information: download the study „Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste“



  •, (Dec. 12, 2021)
  • national academy press (Dec. 2021)
  • Photo: ©, Claudio Schwarz

Go back