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Plastic Trash in the Ocean is a Global Problem, and the U.S. is the Top Source

Plastic Trash in the Ocean is a Global Problem, and the U.S. is the Top Source – type of article


Paper or Plastic?

By M. Paultz

Paper or plastic? This was a common question at the grocery store. When I was a kid and would go grocery shopping with my mother, this was always the problem. Should we be good to the environment and get a paper bag, or use the more convenient plastic bag? We would often choose the hidden, worse option: a paper bag inside a plastic one. Eventually, the grocery stores only offered plastic bags. 

It shows that businesses will use what is convenient and cheap. Businesses will not always consider the environment in their decisions. In the U.S., we are one of the top producers of plastic waste. According to NOAA, in 2016, the U.S. produced 42 million metric tons of plastic; 1.45 million tons of that waste ended up in coastal environments. 

States and Businesses are Fighting Back


The U.S. federal government has not passed any regulations on plastic bag usage. The government is allowing states, cities, and businesses to decide how to handle plastic. Many states have yet to create policies, but some have laws to stop plastic use. Policies will vary from state to state.

States are Saying No to Plastic

Some states decided to create plastic bans. These bans will vary from state to state. Some of the bans will also include social programs educating people about plastic.  10 of the 50 U.S. states currently have some laws on plastic and how businesses can use them. Here are examples of two states that have banned the use of plastic products in certain areas.

The plastic bag ban in New York started on March 1, 2020. New York took it further, banning plastic bags and enacting a 5-cent fee to request paper bags. New York also offers anyone who takes the “Zero Waste Pledge” a free reusable bag. 

Starting May 4, 2022, New Jersey created a law to prevent using single-use plastic carry-out bags and foam food containers. Plastic straws would be by request only. The NJ called the campaign “Bag Up NJ” for consumers to use reusable bags. 

Businesses are Choosing to Act 

The process of states creating these laws is lengthy. Businesses decided to take action instead of waiting for laws to change. These businesses are finding a balance between their profits and helping the environment. 

Dunkin Donuts, American Airlines, and United Airlines stopped using plastic stirrers and straws. Walmart, Target, and CVS have partnered in the “Beyond the Bag” campaign. The campaign will help companies find the best solution for retail bag use. 

These changes might seem small but have a big impact. For example, American Airlines banning plastic straws and stirrers will save 71,000 pounds of plastic waste. Many of these companies operate nationwide. Changes that they make will have an effect across the country. 

The Cost of the Delay

States and businesses are attempting to make changes. The issue is that it is coming later than it should have. The environment continues to be the victim due to the delays in creating regulations. According to the NCSL, only 10 of the 50 states have bans on plastic usage. The first ban on plastics came in 2014 from California. It took 50 years for the states to research the dangers of plastic pollution and make changes. 

Even though the bans are a step in the right direction, it is not enough. These bans are only for certain plastic products, such as plastic bags. Retailers can still use plastic cups, straws, stirrers, and other plastic products.

The U.S. and Plastic Production

According to the EPA, the U.S. has continued increasing plastic production yearly. Recycling began in the 1980s but did not keep up with plastic production. In 1980, the U.S. recycled 0.29% of the plastic it produced. In 2018, the U.S. only recycled 8.66% of our plastic products, which is a slight jump in recycling over a nearly 40-year period. During that same 40-year period, the U.S. increased plastic production by 19%. Plastic production continues to grow faster than recycling efforts. 

Inefficient Recycling 


The U.S. has two issues with recycling. First is the need for better recycling methods across the country. Second, there needs to be more clarity about what can to recycle. No federal programs help direct recycling efforts. Each state, and often, each city, will create its recycling methods. 

Since states and cities create their recycling programs and there are no standards. Ball Corporation found that only six states were above the 50% recycling rate mark, while many were in the 10% to 20% range. Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Alaska were below 10%. It is shocking to see neighboring states, North Carolina, recycling 23% of their waste and South Carolina only 8%.

Pizza boxes are an example of how much knowledge the public lacks. I ask family and friends living in different cities whether we recycle pizza boxes. Dominos started a campaign printed on their pizza boxes stating, “Please recycle me.” Many towns in New Jersey and across the country cannot clean the food and grease off of the pizza box to recycle it.

There is Always Hope

The U.S. is trying to make some positive changes. We still lag behind other countries in our recycling. Several countries created solid laws and regulations on plastic production and usage. These countries also have a good recycling culture.

The U.S. government is relying on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help make positive changes. The EPA has the “National Recycling Goal” to have the U.S. recycling rate at 50% by 2030. With Congress’s recent passage of the Save Our Seas Act, the U.S. will let the EPA help set up better recycling programs across the country.

The U.S. could look at other countries to see their recycling programs. countries are recycling at a higher rate than the U.S. These countries have engaged the public in the process and have succeeded in working together to solve this issue.

The German System

Among all the countries in the world, Germany is leading the way in plastic recycling. According to The Guardian, Germany recycles 68% of their plastic. The U.S. only recycles a tenth of what Germany is recycling. Germany created a system that relied on the public to help alongside the businesses. 

Germany will use six separate bins for recycling their products. Germany asks that people be responsible and separate all their products for recycling. This saves time and money. In the U.S., many cities only have one standard container for all recyclable products. I remember when we used to sort paper and plastic products in New Jersey, but today we use only one bin. Yet, we stopped sorting to help save time. This only served to hurt the local government. They had to invest more time and effort to sort products.

Contact your local legislator today!


Contact your local representative. Let them know that you want a ban on using single-use plastic products. The less plastic we use, the less will end up in our water. The U.S. can stop being one of the world’s biggest producers of plastic products and help save our oceans!

Host a Beach Cleanup with Ocean Blue Project


Help us tackle plastic pollution in our one world ocean and start your own Do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) cleanup! By yourself or with friends or family, every piece of plastic you recover helps reduce ocean pollution, save wildlife, and protect the health of future generations through a beach cleanup volunteer near me D-I-Y effort!

What’s in the sea mirrors debris that washes from our streets. Whether you live near a coast or the headwaters of the Colorado River, cleaning up your community will help reach our goal to remove five million pounds of plastic from our interconnected One World Ocean by 2025!

Millions of seabirds and marine organisms die after mistakenly ingesting plastic debris in and near the ocean. The good news is that recovering even a few pieces of plastic debris can help save the life of an eagle, a penguin, or a dolphin. Cleaning up more can help save an albatross, a turtle, a sea bass or a whale, and many other species.

Author Bio: Michael Paultz lives in New Jersey and advocates for clean beaches, oceans, and rivers. As someone who enjoys the outdoors, he wishes to keep the world full of natural beauty.