How America Is Sabotaging The Global War On Plastic Waste

When President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Save Our Seas Act into law last October, he painted a grim picture of just how dire marine plastic pollution had become.

“Every year, over 8 million tons of garbage is dumped into our oceans,” he declared. “This waste, trash and debris harms not only marine life, but also fishermen and coastal economies along America’s vast stretches.”

However, the Trump administration has refused to recognize America’s role in the ocean plastic crisis and has repeatedly tried to stymie international efforts to tackle the problem, while boosting the plastic industry at home.

Trump has blamed “many countries of the world” for the marine plastic problem, calling out China and Japan by name. “The bad news is [this garbage] floats toward us” from “other countries very far away,” the president said last year, adding that the U.S. is then “charged with removing it, which is a very unfair situation.”

While it is true that Asia is the source of an estimated 80% of marine plastic pollution, what Trump failed to mention was that most of it doesn’t actually originate there.

It’s an uncomfortable fact that ... the vast majority of the waste in these Asian countries that are ending up in the oceans actually come from the U.S. and Europe,” David Azoulay of the Center for International Environmental Law said from Geneva on Thursday.

The U.S., which is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of plastic, is also the No. 1 exporter of plastic scrap

For decades, it sent much of this waste to China, which had processed about 45% of the world’s plastic scrap until it decided in 2018 to bar most of these imports. As a result, China’s Southeast Asian neighbors have been deluged with American plastic waste. Unlike China, however, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to properly handle this onslaught.

As a HuffPost investigation uncovered earlier this year, bales of plastic trash from countries like the U.S., U.K. and Australia are being illegally dumped or burned across Southeast Asian countries. Local activists in Malaysia said at the time that the U.S. and other wealthy nations were using the region as a “dumping ground.”

A Greenpeace activist at a dumpsite in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Jan. 30. Unlicensed recyclers are illegally burning or dumping waste plastics at sites across the country.

A Greenpeace activist at a dumpsite in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Jan. 30. Unlicensed recyclers are illegally burning or dumping waste plastics at sites across the country.