Our World Data – Hannah Ritchi: “Many countries ship plastic waste overseas. How much of the world’s waste is traded, and how big is its role in the pollution of our oceans? Most of the plastic that enters the oceans from land comes from rivers in Asia. More than 80% of it.Only a small amount comes from rivers across Europe and North America. Together, rivers in these regions contribute just 5% of the global total. This would suggest that the world’s richest countries don’t contribute much to the problem of plastic pollution. But, these numbers only look at the plastic that is emitted domestically. They don’t consider the fact that many countries export plastic waste overseas. If it was the case that the UK exported a lot of its plastic waste to countries where waste management systems are poor, and lots of plastic leaks into the environment, the UK would have a large indirect impact on ocean pollution. Here I use global data to understand the scale of plastic waste trade. I look at who the biggest exporters and importers are, and where this waste ends up. I estimate that a few percent – possibly up to 5% – of the world’s ocean plastics could come from rich countries exporting their waste overseas. That could bring the total up to 10%: 5% directly from rivers in these regions, plus a further 5% from trade…”
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