Assessment and recommendations

Addressing key environmental challenges

The United States (US) is the world’s largest economy based on nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. Its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has been more rapid than in most other OECD countries. The surge in energy prices and supply disruptions in 2021 have been accelerating due to the Russian war in Ukraine and lockdowns in the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) related to COVID-19. These trends have put pressure on price inflation. As a result, the pace of GDP growth is anticipated to weaken in 2022 and 2023 (OECD, 2022[1]).

The United States has made progress in decoupling emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), air pollutants, water abstractions and, more recently, domestic material consumption from economic and population growth (Figure 1). However, high consumption levels, intensive agricultural practices, climate change and urban sprawl and densification continue to put pressure on the natural environment, causing habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. Further efforts are needed to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, address the growing risks related to climate change, reverse the loss of biodiversity and improve water management.

Over the past decade, the United States has made progress towards its climate objectives, with a recent ramping up of ambition and acceleration of action. At COP26 and COP27, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In November 2021, the government published its Long-Term Strategy (LTS) on climate-setting goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. In line with its LTS, the United States submitted a Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC, which set an economy-wide target of reducing its net GHG emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels in 2030. In August 2022, landmark legislation to advance climate action, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), was passed, providing at least USD 369 billion for investment in programmes aimed at enhancing energy security, tackling climate change and lowering costs for consumers (Congress, 2022[2]). The Act sets out an expansive set of policies that should play a significant role in promoting clean energy and reducing GHG emissions.

The US gross1 GHG emission per capita and per GDP are among the highest in the OECD due to the dominance of fossil fuels in the energy mix, which account for a larger share than in most other OECD countries (OECD, 2023[3]). The absolute decoupling of GHG emissions from GDP growth over the past decade has been mainly due to the continued shift from coal towards less carbon-intensive energy sources (i.e. natural gas and renewables) in the electric power sector, as well as improved energy efficiency. As a result, the country surpassed its 2020 target of net2 economy-wide GHG emissions reductions of 17% below 2005 levels (Figure 2). The country is broadly on track to achieve 26-28% emissions reductions below 2005 levels in 2025.

The IRA, along with measures adopted in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), bolsters efforts to further reduce GHG emissions. International Energy Agency projections estimate these measures to result in around 40% fewer CO2 emissions in 2030 relative to 2005 levels (IEA, 2022[4]). Preliminary assessments from the US Department of Energy project that the IRA and IIJA, in combination with current policies and past actions, will drive 2030 economy-wide GHG emissions to 40% below 2005 levels (Department of Energy Office of Policy, 2022[5]). Expected emissions reductions are contingent on the capacity of the public and private sector to rapidly scale investments. Additional actions at either federal and/or state, Tribal and local level will be required to reach the 2030 target and to keep the net-zero-by-2050 target within reach.

Emissions of most air pollutants have decreased since 2010 due to implementation of regulations related to the Clean Air Act, emissions control technologies used in road vehicles and electric power generators switching from high- to low-sulphur coal and installing flue gas desulfurisation particulate control equipment. The United States reached its 2020 Gothenburg Protocol objectives3 for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and non-methane volatile organic compounds emissions. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions have been declining but remain above the 2020 target.4

National average population exposure to PM2.5 concentrations is among the lowest in the OECD. There are significant disparities in population exposure to air pollution, but national averages of ozone, PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2 and carbon monoxide concentrations are below national standards. As a result, premature deaths attributed to ambient PM2.5 exposure and related economic costs are well below OECD averages (OECD, 2023[3]). However, certain areas fail to reach annual PM2.5 standards, with Los Angeles, the South Coast air basin and San Joaquin Valley in California in non-attainment, posing a risk to human health (US EPA, 2022[6]).

The United States is a megadiverse country, hosting more than 60 000 species; about one-third of plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. Pressures from land conversion, wildfires, floods and droughts intensified by climate change, intensive agricultural practices, pollution, invasive species and climate change increasingly threaten biodiversity and alter ecosystems. Projections show this trend will continue with suburban and exurban areas5 projected to expand by 15-20% by 2050 (compared to 2000). Meanwhile, cropland and forest areas are projected to decline by 6% and 7%, respectively, by 2050 (compared to 1997) (IPBES, 2018[7]).

In 2021, the government set the national goal to conserve at least 30% of land, freshwater bodies and ocean areas by 2030, similar to targets under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity6. This is a significant increase in ambition and the first quantitative target on protected areas adopted at the federal level (White House, 2021[8]). As of 2022, 13% of land was designated as protected areas, less than the OECD average of 16%. An additional 17% is protected for multiple uses. Only about 1.6% of land has management effectiveness evaluations (UNEP-WCMC, 2023[9])7 At the same time, marine protected areas covered 19% of the US exclusive economic zone less than the OECD average of 21%. The US classification includes the Great Lakes in marine waters, which increases the share of marine waters that are protected to 26%, Meanwhile, most marine protected areas are located near remote Pacific Islands (although they do have management effectiveness evaluations). Given its size, the United States has the second largest (after Australia) protected areas network in terms of total area covered among OECD countries.

Since 2010, freshwater abstractions have decreased due to less water-intensive industries and broad efficiency gains in water use. However, per capita total abstractions and abstractions for public supply remain among the highest in the OECD (OECD, 2023[3]). Although the United States generally has abundant freshwater resources, national trends mask important subnational differences. Water scarcity is a pressing issue in many parts of the US West and Southwest, where water demand for irrigation exceeds available water resources.

Water quality has improved over the last 50 years but issues remain that need to be addressed. Up to date, comprehensive information to monitor water quality is lacking.8 The EPA developed the National Aquatic Resource Surveys in the early 2000s, in cooperation with state and Tribal partners, using a statistical survey design and consistent monitoring methods to report on the condition of the nation’s waters (EPA, 2022[10]). Overall, almost 70 000 water bodies nationwide do not meet water quality standards (US GAO, 2022[11]). High nutrient levels, in particular excess phosphorous, are a main threat to water quality, with approximately 40% of rivers, stream miles and inland lakes in poor condition for phosphorus (EPA, 2022[10]) (EPA, 2022[12]). Reflecting the progress made, the National Rivers and Streams Assessment showed a significant decrease (-17.7 percentage points) in the number of river and stream miles in poor condition for phosphorus between the 2013-14 and 2018-19 assessments (EPA, 2022[12]). The main sources of pollution are agricultural and industrial activities, especially petroleum and natural gas production (including hydrologic modifications), atmospheric deposition and municipal industrial discharges/sewage (US GAO, 2022[11]).

As of 2020, 97% of the population used a safely managed drinking water service (UNSTAT, 2022[13]). Nevertheless, 489 836 households lacked complete plumbing, 1 165 community water systems were in serious violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and 21 035 Clean Water Act permittees were in significant non-compliance. Some measures were taken to improve monitoring of drinking water quality. These include the 2021 revision of the Lead Copper Rule and the 2019 launch of a web-based application for Underground Injection Control programmes. However, more data are needed on unregulated contaminants to reflect the frequency of health-based and monitoring violations by community water systems or the status of enforcement actions. In addition, more data are needed on water utility management (US GAO, 2022[14]; US GAO, 2021[15]). To address some of these issues, the EPA is proposing the first-ever national drinking water standard to limit six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – the latest action to combat PFAS pollution under the PFAS Strategic Roadmap (EPA, 2023[16]).

In 2020, 98% of the population used a safely managed sanitation service,9 as defined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, about one of every five housing units is not connected to a community sewer system, or lacks access to wastewater treatment and relies on other facilities such as a private septic system (US EPA, 2021[17]). Many of these private systems do not perform properly. Evaluating the extent of this challenge is difficult, as nationwide census data on household sanitation have not been gathered since 1990 (UNC, 2017[18]). Tribal Nations disproportionately lack in-home access to drinking water and sanitation services.

Investments in green growth

Demand for infrastructure services in the United States has been increasing due to economic and population growth, as well as shifting patterns of urbanisation. At the same time, government investment in infrastructure as a share of GDP (excluding national defence) decreased over 2010-19 (BEA, 2022[19]). For basic infrastructure (e.g. transportation and utilities), real net investment per capita declined after the 2008-09 financial crisis until 2019, hovering close to its lowest level since the 1950s (Bennett et al., 2020[20]). A decade of chronic underfunding of infrastructure investment contributed to the accelerated ageing of infrastructure. This, in turn, generated a multitude of socio-economic impacts, ranging from public health to environmental pressures to economic challenges. In addition, climate change impacts increased the need for resiliency.

The IIJA, passed in 2021, provides the largest and most comprehensive funding for infrastructure in recent US history. Alongside the IRA, it will help close a significant portion of the US infrastructure funding gap by providing USD 1 200 billion, including about USD 550 billion for new projects (Figure 3). Of the IIJA funding, around USD 190 billion is allocated to investments in clean energy and mass-transit (IEA, 2022[4]). An important share of IIJA funding allocated to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focuses on water infrastructure. This leverages State Revolving Funds, which have a demonstrated track record in facilitating low-cost, long-term financing for investment in water-related infrastructure. Replacing lead pipes is a centrepiece of the IIJA to address health threats posed to communities across the country.

IIJA funding will also accelerate pollution clean-up and prevention, with an intended focus on environmental justice10 (EJ) to address disproportionate pollution burdens in communities. Under the primary pollution cleanup statute - the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) - the National Priority List11 (NPL) identifies sites of national priority among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories. CERCLA provides EPA with authority to address contaminated sites, and/or require responsible parties to pay for or address the pollution. The total number of polluted sites active on the NPL has remained steady since the late 1980s (US EPA, 2022[21]). IIJA funds are expected to not only boost Superfund site remediation, but also increase cleans up of brownfield sites, which is expected to help create jobs. The location of hazardous waste sites close to disadvantaged communities raises EJ concerns. More than one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within 3 miles (5 km) of a Superfund site (US EPA, 2021[22]).

The Superfund program takes actions “necessary to protect the public health or welfare or the environment” and ensures fair treatment and meaningful participation in environmental decision-making for communities with EJ concerns. The Hazard Ranking System (HRS) is the principal mechanism EPA uses to place hazardous waste site on the NPL. It uses numerical inputs to assess the relative potential of sites to pose a threat to human health or the environment (US EPA, 2022[23]). To the extent EJ issues and cumulative impacts and risks can be quantified, such matters may to be taken into account in the scoring of the site by ensuring that overburdened communities are properly identified and documented. EJ should be considered more systematically in listing decisions, either by quantifying EJ considerations to integrate them into the HRS, or by requiring EJ to be considered in addition to the HRS scoring.

The wave of massive investment in a short timeframe arising from the IIJA (five years), alongside the IRA (ten years), is expected to intensify competition in supply chains and the labour market. Supply chain challenges are especially prominent for critical minerals required for the low-carbon transition. Moreover, supply chain challenges are compounded by the domestic content requirements for federally funded infrastructure brought about by the Build America, Buy America Act, passed concurrently with the IIJA (The White House, 2022[24]). Since 2009, after the financial crisis, the US labour market has increasingly tightened. This situation creates a capacity challenge to ensure adequate human resources for IIJA implementation within federal agencies, local authorities and the private sector. Moreover, adequate and accessible technical assistance should be available to local authorities to implement IIJA projects.

The scale of investments and their rapid deployment may also lead to crowding out of alternative sources of finance for infrastructure and green investment. Abundant grant funding for infrastructure may reduce demand for repayable financing including from EPA financing facilities, as well as crowd out opportunities to mobilise commercial finance. Further, even after completion of IIJA capital investments, reliable funding capacity is needed at local level to operate and maintain the infrastructure over operational lifetimes.

The successful implementation of the largest infrastructure investment in recent US history will require robust cross-sectoral (inter-agency) and multi-level (between federal, state, Tribal and local jurisdictions) collaboration. Given often decentralised planning and implementation, infrastructure governance in the United States faces shortcomings, notably related to long-term strategic vision and ensuring efficient and effective procurement (OECD, 2022[25]). The establishment of the Interagency Federal Infrastructure Implementation Task Force, as well as co-ordinators at both federal and local levels, are positive developments. There is value in considering retaining some of these institutional arrangements beyond the remit of the IIJA to be tasked with cross-sectoral and cross-state advisory about infrastructure priorities and best practices (OECD, 2022[26]).

The permitting process has also been cited as the primary reason for the long duration of certain infrastructure projects in the United States. The process is complicated and lengthy for interstate transmission projects, in particular (Sud and Patnaik, 2022[27]). In the context of the Biden-Harris Permitting Action Plan, federal agencies are undertaking co-ordinated action to facilitate efficient and effective permitting and environmental reviews. Recent permitting reforms have made a welcome start to improve co-ordination under the IIJA, increase federal authority over transmission, allocate funding for reviewing agencies via IRA and accelerate grid interconnections by clustering nearby proposed applications to be considered together (Sud and Patnaik, 2022[27]). Nevertheless, to implement the vision of the IIJA and the IRA and meet time-bound climate, environmental and social objectives, further streamlining of the permitting process is needed, including reviews pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), without undermining the integrity of the process.

Selected policy instruments to support green growth

Major infrastructures programmes, such as those funded by the IIJA, need to undergo federal environmental review, a key provision of NEPA. The law requires agencies to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if the environmental impact of a proposed action is judged to be significant. Though projects requiring EIS are a small portion of projects subject to NEPA review, they are likely to be complicated and expensive, including most interstate renewable energy projects.

Despite the rigorous process, NEPA does not mandate the preparation of a cost-benefit analysis of significant proposed actions, including a monetary assessment of the climate damages (or benefits) associated with a proposed project. The lack of a mandate for such analyses results in the inconsistent application of the social cost of greenhouse gases (SC-GHGs) across projects. Numerous legal challenges to NEPA analyses argue that quantifying GHG emissions alone fails to convey the climate impacts of projects (Sarinsky et al., 2021[28]). Specifically, they argue that NEPA analyses should go beyond merely quantifying expected impacts on emissions and present information about projected climate impacts through the application of estimates of the SC-GHGs. While the considerable time required for environmental diligence is widely assumed as a cause of delay, a study found that a less rigorous analysis often fails to deliver faster decisions (Ruple, Pleune and Heiny, 2022[29]). Incorporating the SC-GHGs can make the process more efficient and enhance the quality of the review. Following guidance issued in January 2023, EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality recommend that agencies provide additional context for GHG emissions, including through use of the best available SC-GHG estimates (CEQ, 2023[30]).

Procurement decisions and selection of infrastructure projects more broadly should systematically consider climate change. Though SC-GHG estimates are regularly incorporated into regulatory cost-benefit analysis, federal grants to states for infrastructure projects do not require consideration of climate impacts through the SC-GHGs estimates in the project selection phase (OECD, 2022[26]). Absence of consistent consideration of climate change impacts risks locking in high emissions infrastructure inconsistent with national emission reduction goals. The IIJA allocates funding to a broad range of infrastructures not only focused on environmental goals but also other policy objectives. Consequently, mainstreaming climate considerations in all projects will be critical to avoid undermining progress towards the climate targets.

Further, the need to systematically consider climate impacts on infrastructure and designing for resilience is increasingly pressing. Water infrastructures are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, and the United States showed progress by leveraging the Clean Water Act’s enforcement framework and providing tools for the vulnerability assessment of utilities. Despite these efforts, Congress has not required the incorporation of climate resilience in the planning of all water projects that receive federal financial assistance (US GAO, 2020[31]). Failure to systematically incorporate climate resilience into the systems can result in costly exposure and vulnerability to climate risks and premature obsolescence (Brown, Boltz and Dominique, 2022[32]). For the waste sector, EPA has taken some actions to manage climate risks, including integrating climate information into site-level decision making. Leveraging IIJA funding, the waste sector has a potential for further improvement, especially in adapting to climate change.

Environmentally related taxes accounted for 0.7% of GDP in 2020 in the United States, which is the lowest among the G7 and lower than the OECD average of 1.4%. Similar to other OECD countries, energy and transport account for most environmentally related taxes (OECD, 2023[33]). Among categories, climate- and air pollution-related taxes dominate, while taxes related to biodiversity and ocean are relatively few. The IIJA reinstated the excise taxes imposed on certain chemicals and imported chemical substances (known as the Superfund chemical taxes) beginning 1 July 2022 (Internal Revenue Service, 2022[34]). The IRA also reinstated the excise taxes imposed on certain petroleum products to fund the Superfund Trust Fund and authorised a new methane fee that will start at USD 900 per metric tonne of methane in 2024 and reach USD 1 500 per metric tonne of methane in 2026 (IEA, 2022[35]).

Among economic instruments for biodiversity, tradeable permit systems are particularly common in the United States (OECD, 2021[36]). National mitigation banking is the largest and growing environmental restoration programme in the country, contributing to water resource management and biodiversity objectives. The market has been growing rapidly since its inception in the 1990s, in terms of both the number of transactions and price per credit (US Army Corps of Engineers, 2022[37]). The programme has restored over 2 800 square kilometres of private land from 1995 to 2021 (Davis and Johnson, 2022[38]). It has also improved environmental outcomes, while providing efficient compliance options for developers.

Water and wastewater tariffs – key economic instruments to help recover costs of water services – are typically set at the municipal level. The United States has the largest variance of tariffs among cities compared to other G7 countries, ranging almost ten-fold among cities in 2021, reflecting diverse contexts across the country. The water tariff has increased significantly from 2012 to 2021, faster than the increase of other household utility bills (Bluefield Research, 2021[39]). Nevertheless, water tariffs are still insufficient to achieve full cost recovery. Ageing drinking water infrastructure, declining water use and stagnant funding resulted in water utilities struggling to cover the cost of operations and maintenance. The situation is even worse for vulnerable communities with EJ concerns, with a trilemma among sustaining financial viability for utilities, maintaining infrastructure and ensuring water affordability (Bash et al., 2020[40]). Innovative approaches that address water affordability issues with different types of customer assistance programmes in the United States (Bash et al., 2020[40]) could be expanded to reach struggling communities. This is a central focus of EPA’s expanded technical assistance programmes under the IIJA. It is working with states to update definitions of disadvantaged communities and to leverage grant and forgivable loan funds to maximise water infrastructure improvements in disadvantaged communities, while mitigating rate impacts.

Although only a third of GHG emissions is subject to a positive carbon price (OECD, 2022[41]), the United States has considerable experience with a variety of tax incentives to mobilise private capital for investment in renewable energy. Over 2010 to 2020, renewable energy showed strong growth in the United States. This was the case for both electricity installed capacity and energy production, driven by solar photovoltaic and wind (Figure 4). These two renewable sources, supported by the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC), experienced real growth of private investment almost two-fold over 2010-20 (BEA, 2021[42]).

The IRA modifies and extends both the ITC and PTC until 2024, and then replaces them with the new ITC and PTC starting from 2025. The new instruments will be more flexible so they can be used for diverse clean electricity technologies (BPC, 2022[43]). The IRA also improved the design of the tax credits by making them refundable and transferable (Pomerleau, 8 November 2022[44]). With these new tax credits, the US annual solar and wind additional capacity is expected to expand around 2.5-fold over 2021-30 (IEA, 2022[4]). The IRA also establishes new PTCs for qualifying clean hydrogen,12 nuclear power and eligible clean energy technology components produced in the United States.13 The expansion of these tax credits is expected to help progress towards the national GHG emissions reduction targets. The new ITC will also include incentives to support EJ considerations with bonus credits for facilities located in low-income communities and on Tribal lands.

In addition to tax credits, the Act provides funding to EPA to establish a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund grant programme, a portion of which will be used to capitalise financing entities to deploy funds for projects that reduce air pollution. EPA will provide grants to these entities to fund projects, activities and technologies that reduce GHG emissions, such as low- and zero-carbon technologies. A total of USD 27 billion is provided to EPA to grant before September 2024. Over half of the funding is dedicated to investment in low-income and disadvantaged communities, which will advance EJ objectives (US EPA, 2023[45]).

Environmental justice

In the United States, environmental justice (EJ) is defined 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”. EJ is a complex issue arising at the intersection of disproportionate burden and excess vulnerability to environmental harms related to the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of communities (e.g., in terms of race, ethnicity, income, Indigenous population), as well as issues of disparate access to environmental amenities, and the cumulative nature of such burdens, vulnerabilities and disinvestment experienced by these communities over time.

Decades of research have established that low-income households, Indigenous communities and people of colour in the United States are disproportionately exposed to pollution and other environmental risks (Mohai, Pellow and Roberts, 2009[46]; Banzhaf, Ma and Timmins, 2019[47]). For example, despite overall declines in air pollution, racial-ethnic and socio-economic disparities in exposure to such pollution have persisted. Evidence shows that people of colour are exposed to disproportionately high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These exposure disparities arise in the case of most types of PM2.5 sources, resulting in higher-than-average exposures for people of colour and lower-than-average exposures for white people (Tessum et al., 2021[48]).

At the federal level, the focus on EJ has been progressively strengthened and mainstreamed across government agencies, driven by a series of Executive Orders.14 Most recently, in 2021, the government gave further impetus to address EJ as an integral part of the missions of federal agencies, including to address historical disparities.15 In support of a whole-of-government approach to EJ, the Justice40 initiative is a major recent development to help steer 40% of the benefits of relevant federal programmes towards disadvantaged communities. Ensuring that benefits are targeted to the most overburdened and disadvantaged communities is critical to achieving EJ goals. However, there are multiple challenges inherent in identifying and defining such communities. To date, there has been no consistent approach to defining disadvantaged, underserved or overburdened communities across federal agencies and states. This has created a patchwork of approaches to identify and support communities with EJ concerns.

Recent years have seen a major step-change in the priority placed on EJ, which is now firmly at the core of EPA activities. This includes setting standards, permitting facilities, awarding grants, issuing licences, promulgating regulations, and reviewing proposals by federal agencies. For the first time, the EPA Strategic Plan (2022-26) has an explicit strategic goal on EJ, equity and civil rights, supported by specific objectives and targets.16 Prior EJ plans and strategies have lacked quantified targets with specific timeframes and indicators to measure progress, impeding transparency and accountability.

To improve accountability, the agency has set an ambitious priority goal to develop tools and metrics for the EPA and its Tribal, state, local and community partners to advance EJ and external civil rights compliance. Specifically, EPA aims to develop and implement a cumulative impacts framework, issue guidance on external civil rights compliance and establish at least ten indicators to assess EPA’s performance in eliminating disparities in environmental and public health conditions. It will also train staff and partners on how to use these resources. The development of robust tools and metrics is a commendable and important step forward.

Another major milestone was the creation in October 2022 of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (EJECR) within EPA. It aims to deliver on increased ambitions to mainstream EJ in agency activities more systematically. The EJECR represents a tripling of staff focused on delivering the agency’s EJ objectives. A national-scale programme on EJ adds significant capacity and resources, although it should not lose sight of meaningful engagement with local communities.

Over the years, various activities and programmes have been developed to promote EJ throughout EPA’s core functions. For example, compliance and enforcement activities seek to address violations of environmental laws in the most overburdened communities and direct more resources to these communities. However, more can be done to prioritise such communities effectively. In the case of funding commitments for pollution abatement activities, on average less than 20% were in areas of potential EJ concern between 2014 and 2021. Reinforced efforts to ensure timely compliance and enforcement activities in a greater number of communities of potential EJ concerns are a welcome pillar of EPA’s 2022-26 Strategic Plan.

EPA has developed an environmental justice screening and mapping (EJSM) tool, “EJScreen”. This tool provides a nationally consistent dataset and approach for combining environmental and demographic indicators to consider EJ issues. In addition, the White House Council on Environmental Quality has developed the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to support the Justice40 Initiative. Given the need for such tools to use nationally consistent data, these tools do not cover all relevant EJ issues and indicators as such data do not exist for all EJ issues. However, they can serve as an important starting point for more context-specific, state-level EJSMs. Several states have developed their own EJSM tools; a leading example is California’s CalEnviroScreen. These tools facilitate assessment of cumulative exposures and impacts at a more granular level. The tools are powerful means to better understand and map potential EJ concerns and inform actions to address them.

There are a number of opportunities to improve the design, consistency and implementation of national and state-level EJSM tools, while continuing to retain flexibility so such tools can respond to context-specific needs. Such tools can be improved by standardising methodologies and definitions, filling spatial data gaps and expanding indicators relevant to understanding cumulative exposure burdens. The development of additional state-level EJSM tools could be supported, especially in regions with the most communities with EJ concerns. Moreover, local communities should play a more active role in the design and implementation of tools. This will allow them to better advocate for themselves, increase environmental health literacy and risk awareness, add first-hand credibility and build trust between stakeholders. Finally, well-designed EJSM tools should be mobilised to drive policies, impact evaluations and more equitable decision making, and to prioritise and track investments, where appropriate.

Trends in marine litter, including plastic pollution

Plastic is now the most ubiquitous human-made substance on the planet (Worm et al., 2017[49]). The production and use of plastic materials – macro- and microplastics – come with several negative consequences for human health, the environment and climate, including contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and the degradation of ecosystems (Geyer, Jambeck and Law, 2017[50]; OECD, 2022[51]; OECD, 2021[52]). Plastics resist degradation and can last for prolonged periods of time once leaked into the environment. This, in turn, can lead to contamination of freshwater systems, entanglement of, or ingestion by various forms of marine life and other serious consequences for society and the environment.

Global plastic production (and hence plastic use and waste) has increased exponentially since the “great acceleration” in the middle of the 20th century. Between 1950 and 2019, annual plastic production was estimated to have increased from approximately 2 million tonnes (Mt) (Geyer, Jambeck and Law, 2017[50]) to 460 Mt (OECD, 2022[51]). Data on plastic resin production in the United States alone are not available. However, for all of North America, 70 Mt of plastic resin was produced in 2019. This constituted 19% of the global total and continued an increasing trend over 2010-20 (NAS, 2022[53]).17

Global plastic production and subsequent use are projected to continue increasing in coming decades with the growth of both population and per capita gross domestic product (WEF, 2016[54]; Borrelle et al., 2020[55]; Lau et al., 2020[56]; OECD, 2022[51]). Plastic use is expected to grow to as much as 1 231 Mt annually by 2060 (OECD, 2022[51]). Plastic use in the United States has been increasing over time, doubling from 42 Mt in 1990 to more than 84 Mt in 2019 (OECD, 2022[51]). While North America and Europe have accounted for most global plastic use to date, this will likely shift to countries outside of these regions by 2060 (OECD, 2022[51]).

From global production and use of plastic, the world generated an estimated 353 Mt of plastic waste in 2019 (OECD, 2022[51]), estimated to be on the order of 12% of total waste (Kaza, 2018[57]). The growth in plastic production, use and waste generation has led to increasing volumes being mismanaged,18 leaking19 into the environment, which can result in marine litter. OECD projects that global volumes of mismanaged plastic waste will almost double from 79 Mt in 2019 to 153 Mt in 2060, occurring largely in non-OECD countries (OECD, 2022[51]).20

Similar to global trends, the volume of plastic waste generated in the United States has been increasing. The country was the top generator of plastic waste overall at 72.8 Mt in 2019, and at 221 kg per capita (OECD, 2022[51]). Plastic waste generation is projected to almost double in the United States to 141.7 Mt in 2060, or to more than 350 kg per capita (OECD, 2022[51]).

Similar to other OECD countries, waste collection rates in the United States are high (Kaza, 2018[57]). In 2018, the United States landfilled half of its municipal solid waste and recycled almost a quarter of it (US EPA, 2021[58]). However, of the plastics in municipal solid waste, 76% were landfilled, 9% were recycled and 15% were combusted with energy recovery (US EPA, 2021[58]). While both recycling and combustion capacity expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, these shares have remained relatively constant over the past 15 years (NAS, 2022[53]). According to modelled data in OECD (2022[51]), 4% of total plastic waste (comprised of municipal solid waste as well as waste from industry, including building and construction) was recycled in the United States in 2019, much lower than the rate of 14% for the same year in the European Union or the non-EU OECD members’ rate of 8% (Figure 5). Similarly, this rate is below the average global rate of 9% (Sakthipriya, 2022[59]). In addition, many other OECD countries outpaced the growth in US recycling rates of plastic waste over 2010-19 (Figure 5). As such, advances are needed to close the gap between the United States and the top countries in terms of plastic recycling rates.

US sources of plastic waste leakage into the environment include mismanagement of waste domestically and by trading partners. Specifically, the United States contributed between 0.51-1.45 Mt of plastic waste to the coastal environment. It was estimated to be among the largest contributors of plastic waste into the coastal environment in 2016, when the fate of plastic waste exports was included (Law et al., 2020[60]).21 More recently, the OECD estimated 0.95 Mt of plastic leaked into the environment within the United States in 2019 (OECD, 2022[51]). The total figure consisted of 0.14 Mt of macroplastics from littering (15%), 0.42 Mt of macroplastics from mismanagement (44%) and 0.39 Mt of microplastics (41%). Based on US production, use, waste and leakage rates of plastics, an estimated 10.9 Mt of plastics had accumulated in US rivers by 2019.

As with trends in production, use and domestic waste volumes, the volume of global trade in plastic waste increased significantly between 1993 and 2016 (723% and 817% for imports and exports, respectively). It became a significant feature of plastic waste flows from the United States (Brooks, Wang and Jambeck, 2018[61]). China banned most plastic waste imports in the first quarter of 2018. Immediately afterwards, US exports of plastic waste to Southeast Asian countries increased compared to the previous quarter. Specifically, exports rose to Malaysia by 330%, to Thailand by 300%, to Viet Nam by 277% and to Indonesia by 191%. However, the total amount exported decreased significantly (by 37.4%) (Figure 6) (Mongelluzzo, 2018[62]; INTERPOL, 2020[63]; Brown, Laubinger and Börkey, 2023[64]).

Global trade volume also decreased from 14 Mt in 2015 to 7.5 Mt in 2019 (OECD, 2022[51]). US volumes decreased by over half to 0.62 Mt in 2020, mainly due to plastic waste import restrictions in China before the 2018 ban (Brown, Laubinger and Börkey, 2023[64]). In 2018, other Asian countries (e.g. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Chinese Taipei and India) started to regulate, and in some cases ban, plastic waste imports due to waste surpluses and illegally exported wastes (Upadhyaya, 28 August 2019[65]; INTERPOL, 2020[63]; Staub, 2021[66]). By 2020, the United States’ top six trading partners (Canada, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Mexico, Viet Nam and Indonesia) accounted for 75% of US exports of plastic waste (Brooks, 2021[67]). In 2021, the United States was among the four largest OECD exporters and importers of plastic scrap and waste (OECD, 2022[68]). Despite the recent declining trend in trade volumes, significant leakage into the environment through exports of plastic waste likely continues.

Assessment of US policy approach

US recycling is heterogeneous and complex, and secondary plastic is generally not cost-competitive with primary plastic. Local recycling programmes commonly face challenges of contamination, low collection and limited kerbside pick-up that serves only 59% of US households (US GAO, 2021[69]). These conditions generate overall low profitability for recyclers and provide limited information to support local decision making. In that context, in 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) articulated a National Recycling Strategy and a goal to more than double the national recycling rate of municipal solid waste to 50% by 2030.

The National Recycling Strategy is intended to facilitate the transition to a circular economy by improving markets for recycled commodities, increasing collection, reducing contamination, increasing data collection, and enhancing policies and programmes. For example, it proposes using extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies, landfill fees, pay-as-you-throw fees and deposit-refund arrangements. It also identifies strategic objectives and stakeholder-led actions to create a stronger, more resilient and cost-effective domestic municipal solid waste recycling system.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) defines EPA's role in municipal waste recycling as issuing guidelines; setting national standards for the environmentally sound management of waste; and providing funding and information for local programmes. Under RCRA, states and municipalities have primary responsibility for managing municipal waste within their jurisdictions, such as providing services to collect and sort recyclables. In recent years, EPA has increased funding and information to local governments and recycling programmes. Meanwhile, the federal government allocated an additional USD 350 million to improve recycling programmes through the IIJA. It also provided research funding through the Department of Energy’s Plastics Innovation Challenge.

Federal investments in understanding and defining the problem of marine litter have been significant from 2006-22. The United States has funded research through grants and partnerships with subnational governments and stakeholders, as well as through standardised protocols for reporting. The EPA Trash Free Waters Program has developed the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol that considers site conditions, material types and item types. This helps users identify both what is getting into nearby waterways and inform tailored management interventions to address the particular trash stream in a given locale. The programme has also developed a citizen science Beach Microplastics Protocol to help engage the concerned public in the issue of plastic pollution. In addition, it is leading an effort to model the total weight of solid waste materials getting into domestic waterways, including separating out (to the degree data allows) material types, item types and geographic distributions of such waste materials in waterways.

In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program implements the Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP). The MDMAP engages partners in the United States and internationally to survey and record the amount and types of marine debris and litter on shorelines. It provides a survey protocol and other tools to measures macro-sized marine debris and an online database to enter and display data. It also functions as a network of partnering organisations and citizen science volunteers for monitoring litter. In addition, it has provided community-based and local grants for research and monitoring that have raised awareness of marine debris, enhanced understanding of the extent of the problem and related risks, and helped identify clean-up and mitigation priorities (NAS, 2022[53]).

Despite these advances, there is no comprehensive national monitoring system for plastic production and use, plastic pollution, including waste production and leakage. Marine litter datasets are not well integrated and there is no way to track the effectiveness of policy responses (NAS, 2022[53]). An integrated monitoring system based on standard protocols drawing on multiple, complementary systems would enhance understanding of the challenge and inform targeted responses. Such a system would be enhanced by investing in emerging technologies such as remote sensing to enhance spatial and temporal monitoring of plastic waste.

Should significant additional public funding be made available, the United States could expand efforts into a co-ordinated monitoring system and establish a national baseline shoreline survey of litter. Additionally, increased funding may increase the diffusion of citizen science tools and support the research agenda into mitigating the impact of microplastics in the environment, among others. These efforts could expand from monitoring plastic pollution at the waste stage of the life cycle (where it is more difficult to address the problem) to enhancing the availability of information about the full life cycle of plastics. To that end, it could focus on reporting from actors in the production and use stages where data and information are still lacking.

A number of international agreements and national environmental laws form the basis for policy responses to US marine litter. They focus on preventing, controlling and cleaning up discharges of pollutants, hazardous substances and other contaminants to air and waters, including coastal and marine waters. In addition to environmental legislation, the Marine Debris Act of 2006 provides the core of the government’s response to marine litter. This act was reauthorised and updated three times, most recently in 2020 as the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. Given the wide range of federal agencies with mandates or programmes relevant to marine litter, the United States has long recognised the value of interagency co-ordination. Recently, Congress strengthened the role of the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee to co-ordinate delivery of policies (including regulatory actions, monitoring, education and research). Building on this, the United States should continue to enhance co-ordination at federal and subnational levels.

Most federal policies focus on provision of financial assistance to subnational governments, which have generally adopted more regulations and economic instruments. While counts to date are not comprehensive, reviews suggest a wider array of policy instruments to address marine litter or plastic pollution, including regulatory bans, at subnational levels. Notable examples include banning or charging fees for use of specific products (such as single-use plastic bags or plastic bottles) (Karasik, 2020[70]; Diana et al., 2022[71]). The state of California is a notable early adopter of novel policy responses to plastic pollution (Karasik, 2020[70]), some of which could be implemented or promoted at the federal level. These include EPR, and other elements in California’s Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packing Producer Responsibility Act (SB 54).

The federal government’s efforts to close leakage pathways for macroplastics have mirrored its overall policy approach. Specifically, it has focused largely on providing funding and information to subnational governments, civil society organisations, academia and private entities for solid waste management (e.g. through the Trash Free Waters Program) and broader awareness raising, as well as trash capture and removal efforts (e.g. through the Marine Debris Program). Stronger instruments, such as bans on frequently littered items at the subnational level, lead to a wide and growing range of different approaches across states.

The two largest sources of microplastic leakage, wastewater sludge (44%) and tyre abrasion (26%), are not addressed at the federal level. The 2015 regulatory ban of plastic microbeads in rinse-off cosmetic products and rinse-off cosmetic/other-the-counter drugs, such as toothpaste, is the lone federal steering instrument to address plastic leakage. This leaves major sources of overall marine plastic pollution unmitigated. However, the Save Our Seas Act 2.0 mandated the NOAA and EPA to develop a report on microfibre pollution that will also outline a path forward for US agencies to address this problem. The report is expected to be published in 2023.

In the short or medium term, the United States could pursue “stronger” instruments to prevent litter. For example, it could apply a national ban on some of the most frequently littered items following the lead of subnational governments. Connecticut HB 5360, for example, uses label requirements to target microfibres emitted during laundering. Additionally, federal policy responses could target the production, use and end-of-life stages of the microplastic life cycle using various regulatory or economic policy approaches. These include EPR, regulatory standards, tariffs or taxes, or labelling (OECD, 2021[52]).

The Clean Water Act (CWA) provides federal authority that may be useful to diminish marine litter pathways. The CWA requires discharge permits (issued by either state governments or EPA) to set limits on pollutants – including trash and plastic waste – for water bodies identified as “impaired” (i.e. not meeting water quality standards) by those specific pollutants. It also directs state governments to identify required reductions in trash loadings (“Total Maximum Daily Loads” or “TMDLs”) to trash-impaired water bodies consistent with water quality standards. In addition, it introduces instruments to enforce these limits, for example, in enforceable discharge permits. There is a lack of data and in many cases difficulty in correlating trash loading volumes to water quality impairments. Consequently, to date, only a relatively small number of states have listed water bodies impaired by trash or plastic pollution, and even fewer have developed trash TMDLs. That said, the CWA can be a viable mechanism to help restrict marine litter pathways, albeit typically at the end of product life cycle, which means higher abatement costs.

Doubling the recycling rate for municipal solid waste by 2030 and achieving higher rates of plastics recycling will likely require new policy instruments to improve economic incentives for recycling. To date, the federal government has used enabling instruments to restrain demand and affect product design. These largely include research studies and provision of information such as studies to minimise the creation of new plastic waste; to identify the most efficient and effective economic incentives to increase recycled content used by manufacturers to produce plastic goods and packaging; and to provide funding to local governments and partners for education and outreach. There is no use of economic instruments, such as landfill fees and taxes, and pay-as-you-throw and EPR measures at the federal level. However, federal procurement standards contribute to driving positive change to influence product design in this market.

Overall, the US policy approach to address marine litter lacks clear and ambitious targets. In some instances, standards are in place, while more steering instruments are introduced at the subnational level. Almost all federal policy instruments are enabling instruments with lower levels of compulsion. Most of these are focused on macroplastic leakage from mismanaged waste or litter (Figure 7).

The US policy response landscape to address marine plastic and litter has several gaps. There is limited guidance from the federal level to increase uniform uptake of EPR for any source of marine litter and plastic. Federally driven policy, co-ordination and harmonisation could reduce risk of fragmentation of producer requirements stemming from the proliferation of packaging EPR initiatives at the subnational level. This would, in turn, reduce the cost of doing business for producers.

Another gap in the US policy approach is the lack of target setting at the federal level for plastic reduction and design. In this respect, the United States lags behind Japan and other OECD countries (mostly in the European Union). OECD analysis on waste management and circular economy highlights that setting clear policy objectives and targets, actions to meet them and a process for monitoring implementation help improve countries’ environmental performance (OECD, 2019[72]). National targets to reduce single-use plastics and to use recycled content, among others, could help put the United States on an advantageous path to reduce the impacts of plastic pollution. The federal government could also provide guidance on product design, including on how to modulate EPR fees.

Environmental justice (EJ) and equity considerations are rising on the US policy agenda but have not yet been systemically considered in the context of marine litter. Federal agencies take a whole-of- government approach to identify vulnerable, underserved and/or overburdened communities and address their environmental and public health concerns more effectively. EPA’s newly established Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, Strategic Plan 2022-26 and additional funding for EJ provide expanded resources to address EJ as a core, cross-cutting priority. For the Trash Free Waters Program, EJ is one consideration for targeting of projects in particular locales. The NOAA Marine Debris Program promotes EJ and equity considerations in its various domestic grant programmes by encouraging applicants and awardees to support principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion when writing their proposals and performing their work. This may include collaborating with diverse entities and groups. It also highlights the importance of considering working with the most vulnerable or underserved communities, which are often low-income, those already overburdened by pollution, those who lack economic or social opportunity, and people facing disenfranchisement.

The understanding of EJ implications of marine litter and related policy responses is limited to date. Examples of impacts in communities with EJ concerns include the siting of petrol-chemical facilities, waste collection and treatment infrastructure, as well as related pollution burdens. Lack of adequate drinking water services can result in increased plastic water bottle use in communities and thus increase plastic waste. The impacts of marine litter on freshwater bodies and coastal environments negatively affect cultural practices, subsistence activities, and economic and recreational activities, such as fisheries and tourism, and decrease the amenity value of impacted areas.

To strengthen EJ considerations in the context of marine litter and plastic pollution, the federal government should analyse EJ implications of marine litter and related policy responses. Analyses should target the full life cycle of plastics from production and use through recycling and waste disposal. To understand the EJ implications of policy responses, it should consider the effects of various measures, such as product bans, as well as their impact on rates of use of substitutes to plastic products or landfilling rates.

The government should systematically advance the mainstreaming of EJ considerations and establish clear commitments on EJ in the context of marine litter. Measuring progress towards those commitments will require effective tracking, monitoring and public reporting on progress at all stages of the plastic life cycle. EJ mapping and screening tools, such as EJScreen, are a promising start. However, such tools can be further developed to include indicators relevant for understanding the disparate impacts on communities related to marine litter and plastics from production to waste generation and leakage into the environment.

Multi-country comparison of policy approaches to address marine litter

Both Japan and Indonesia have developed national action plans on marine litter, which include national targets for addressing the issue. Indonesia focuses on closing leakage pathways, while Japan focuses on reduced demand and optimised design for circularity, and reduced plastic waste. The United States does not have a national action plan, but it has set a national recycling target for municipal waste to double the recycling rate by 2030. Furthermore, the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act does mandate that EPA develop, in consultation with stakeholders, a “post-consumer materials and water management” strategy. This strategy is still under development but specifically addresses the issue of trash loadings – especially plastic waste – into domestic waterways and the oceans. The plans also aim to spur innovation in plastic design, alternatives and recycling, among others. All three countries have emphasised research and monitoring to understand the causes and extent of marine litter through a range of different surveys, technologies and methods.

The three countries take different policy approaches, although with some shared features. Indonesia focuses on closing leakage pathways by providing funding and information to local governments and programmes to increase handling of waste. US federal policies focus on closing leakage pathways by funding local waste management, and anti-litter and recycling programmes. This includes a significant new investment from the IIJA and in the Plastics Innovation Challenge. In contrast, Japan has a more comprehensive and varied approach, leveraging a mix of steering and enabling instruments. These incentivise the recycling industry as a growth opportunity and develop bioplastic alternatives. The Japanese government also provides funding and information to local recycling programmes. Strong regulatory instruments increase incentives, restrain demand and optimise product design for circularity.

Japan’s approach to addressing marine litter and plastics could be a model for the United States in many ways. First, Japan has an ambitious plan to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050 and to reduce single-use plastics by 25% by 2030. This reflects a strong commitment from the federal government to address marine litter and plastics, which could help set industry, consumer and other stakeholder expectations and drive action at all levels of government. Second, it has ambitious plastic recycling targets that aim for all plastic waste to be reused or recycled by 2035. Third, apart from its ambitious targets, Japan is committed to provide legislative backing to these ambitions. For example, it passed the Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics in 2022.

Indonesia’s approach to addressing marine litter and plastics could also help the United States develop globally significant reduction targets for closing leakage pathways of macroplastics. By 2025, Indonesia aims to reduce the volume of plastic waste leaking into oceans by 70%. This target indicates that Indonesia recognises marine litter and plastic pollution as a significant human health, environmental pollution and economic issue that requires significant mitigation – if not elimination of all waste leakage – to resolve.


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← 1. Excluding emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry.

← 2. Including emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry.

← 3. The United States has defined different pollution management areas (e.g. states covered) for each pollutant target. For sulphur oxides, nitrous oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds, the reduction target applies to all US states except Hawaii. For PM2.5, the emission reduction target applies to Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

← 4. Based on OECD calculations using state emissions data.

← 5. Suburbs lie just outside of the city, whereas exurbs are areas farther out, beyond the suburbs. Exurbs tend to be situated in more rural areas. They can be near farmland or even the beach.

← 6. The United States is not party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). US policy often tracks and reflects global treaties to which it is not a party (e.g. the Convention on Migratory Species and portions of the CBD itself such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety).

← 7. Protected Area Management Effectiveness evaluations can be defined as: “the assessment of how well protected areas are being managed – primarily the extent to which management is protecting values and achieving goals and objectives" (Hockings et al., 2006[73]).

← 8. Water quality monitoring occurs at various levels, which can make it difficult to report at a national scale.

← 9. Population using an improved sanitation facility that is not shared with other households and where excreta are safely disposed of in situ or treated off site.

← 10. In the United States, environmental justice is defined 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.

← 11. The NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.

← 12. Qualified clean hydrogen is defined as hydrogen that is produced through a process that results in a life cycle greenhouse gas emissions rate not greater than 4 kg of CO2e per kg of hydrogen. In addition, the facility’s construction must begin before 1 January 2033.

← 13. Eligible components include solar components, wind turbine and offshore wind components, inverters, many battery components, and the critical minerals needed to produce these components.

← 14. In 1994, EO 12898 Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations focused attention on environmental justice across the entire federal government for the first time.

← 15. In 2021, the EO 13985 Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government and EO 14008 Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad were issued. The latter directs agencies to advance EJ “by developing programs, policies and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts”.

← 16. The strategic goal 2 is “Take decisive action to advance environmental justice and civil rights” with objective 2.1 “Promote environmental justice and civil rights at the federal, tribal, state and local levels”; objective 2.2. “Embed environmental justice and civil rights into EPA programs, policies and activities”; and objective 2.3 “Strengthen civil rights enforcement in communities with environmental justice concerns”.

← 17. Based on data from the American Chemistry Council, NAS (2022[53]) estimated that plastic resin produced in North America for thermoplastics in 2020 largely comprised high density polyethylene commonly used for milk bottles and detergent bottles (25%); linear low-density polyethylene commonly used for single-use plastic bags, reusable bags, trays and containers, food packaging film, etc. (25%); polypropylene commonly used for food packaging, candy and snack wrappers, etc. (19%) and polyvinyl chloride commonly used for window frames, pipes, floor and wall coverings, etc. (17%).

← 18. OECD (2022[51]) defines mismanaged waste as “waste that is not captured by any state-of-the-art waste collection or treatment facilities”. It includes waste that is burned in open pits, dumped into seas or open waters, or disposed of in unsanitary landfills and dumpsites.

← 19. OECD (2022[51]) defines plastic leakage as “plastics that enter terrestrial and aquatic environments”.

← 20. See Section 4.3 in (OECD, 2022[51]).

← 21. Depending on assumptions about domestic illegal dumping, and domestic illegal dumping (0.05 to 0.15 Mt), and inadequate management of plastic waste generated during the processing of imported US plastic and paper scrap in countries with greater than 20% inadequately managed waste (0.15 to 0.99 Mt) (Law et al., 2020[60]). The authors estimate that the US contribution to the coastal environment of between 0.51 and 1.45 Mt plastic waste represents between 2.33-2.98% of the total amount of plastic waste generated in the United States in 2016.

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