Equilibrium & Sustainability

More Americans want Congress to prioritize plastic waste problem: poll

Nearly a quarter of Americans surveyed in a new opinion poll identified plastic waste pollution as an issue that Congress must address in the next two years, according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).

This figure — 23 percent — marked a sharp rise from a similar poll taken in 2020, when just 16 percent of respondents considered plastic waste pollution a priority matter for lawmakers, the poll found. Meanwhile, more than 75 percent of respondents said they believe that none or only a small portion of the plastic waste generated in the U.S. actually gets recycled.

“On a daily basis, nearly all Americans interact with plastic and create waste, in some form – making it one of the most tangible environmental issues we face today,” Erin Simon, the WWF’s head of plastic waste and business, said in a statement. 

“This polling shows that not only are Americans in tune with the scope of our plastic waste problem in the U.S., they’re also ready and willing to take action and think companies and policymakers should do the same,” Simon added.

The WWF published these results, produced by Denver-based research firm Corona Insights, ahead of Wednesday’s World Oceans Day.

The poll — which surveyed 1,028 people across the U.S. from various demographics and political affiliations — found that 85 percent of Americans were either very or moderately frustrated that plastic waste in the U.S. often ends up in the ocean.

A large majority of respondents likewise expressed dissatisfaction with the country’s insufficient recycling capacity, and with the fact that many items deposited for recycling do not actually end up recycled, according to the survey.

Democratic-leaning respondents were more likely to indicate that such circumstances were “very frustrating” than their Republican-leaning peers, the poll found.

While survey respondents across the board expressed a willingness to decrease the amount of plastic waste they produced, they also voiced concern that their efforts might be in vain, according to the poll.

Three-quarters of respondents said that they would like to recycle more of their plastic waste, while 78 percent noted a preference for plastic products that can be reused and 75 percent for items with minimal plastic packaging, the survey found.

But more than 50 percent of respondents said they believe that their actions would have no impact on the overall amount of plastic waste in the U.S., the results showed.

When asked to select groups that they believe should be responsible for reducing plastic waste, 90 percent of the respondents chose businesses that produce or sell plastic as having such a duty — up 4 percentage points since 2020, according to the poll.

More than half of respondents — 53 percent — said they believe that such businesses represent the group most responsible for reducing plastic waste, which is a 6 percentage-point jump from 2020, the survey found.

While the percent of respondents citing plastic waste pollution as a high-priority issue rose significantly in the past two years, the matter remained less pressing than many other concerns.

Trumping plastic waste pollution as a top-five issue was affordable health care, with 60 percent of respondent support; strengthening the economy, with 55 percent; fixing the immigration system, with 42 percent; and addressing climate change, with 40 percent.

Also above plastic waste was improving education, with 39 percent; reducing disparities between the wealthy and the poor, with 35 percent; addressing racism, with 32 percent; defense from terrorism, with 31 percent; reducing the budget deficit, 31 percent; and safer gun policies, 28 percent.

But with almost a quarter of respondents deeming plastic waste a primary concern, the WWF said policymakers must take action to fix this problem.

In a separate policy guidance document, they offered various recommendations for transitioning from what the authors described as “a linear to a circle economy” — or one “that is restorative and regenerative, where materials are recycled and reused to their fullest extent.”

Their guidance advocates for “harmonized policies across borders,” as well as clear targets for recycling, recovery and reuse set in legislation, so that producers can be held accountable to make progress.

“Americans are frustrated and want to find ways to solve our plastic waste crisis,” Anthony Tusino, senior program officer for plastic policy advocacy at the WWF, said in a statement.

While policymakers may be aware of the problem, they will need to implement policies that overhaul the management of plastic waste, according to Tusino.

“Together we can identify solutions and create a future where plastic no longer ends up in nature.” he added.

In response to the WWF poll, Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council — a trade group that includes major plastic manufacturers — agreed “that more must be done so plastics remain in our economy and out of our environment.”

“WWF’s public opinion polling on plastic and waste management reinforces the need for Congress, state and local governments and the plastics value chain to do more to address waste and foster a circular economy,” Baca said in a statement, noting that plastic makers last year released a “5 Actions” plan backing this goal.

Baca acknowledged that “Americans are skeptical of recycling and want businesses to take more action in reducing plastic waste,” adding the 5 Actions plan would require a 30 percent recycled plastic standard by 2030 for all U.S. packaging.

“We hope to work collaboratively with Congress, WWF and other stakeholders to pass meaningful legislation to accelerate a circular economy for plastics,” Baca said.

Tags Erin Simon Plastic Plastic pollution Plastic recycling Recycling World Wildlife Foundation

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