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Background

Plastic pollution is a global crisis with impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, climate, marine economies, and human health. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Often stemming from waste mismanagement, plastic pollution is a major environmental issue because most plastics do not biodegrade and instead break down into microplastics, which are 5 millimeters or smaller in size. Microplastics are estimated to persist in the environment for centuries, or even longer.

We can combat plastic pollution through:

  • Circular approaches across the lifecycle of plastic;
  • Environmentally sound waste management; and
  • Trade-friendly policies that increase reuse, recycling and recovery of plastic.

Addressing this crisis requires international cooperation, as plastic pollution does not respect political boundaries.

A Global Agreement on Plastic Pollution

At the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) meeting in March 2022, the United States joined other countries in adopting a resolution on plastic pollution. The resolution, titled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards and International Legally Binding Instrument”, launched a process to develop a new legally-binding instrument on plastic pollution, with the aim of concluding negotiations by 2024.

This is the moment to turn the tide on plastic pollution. It is time to leverage investment, innovation, and global action to make real progress. The United States supports the development of an ambitious global agreement that will combat plastic pollution through party-driven actions, innovative new policies, and an enhanced complementary role for stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, indigenous communities, and sub-national governments.

OES Work on Plastic Pollution

  • The State Department, through the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), leads the negotiation process for the U.S. government toward a global agreement on plastic pollution. OES is coordinating with the U.S. interagency and consulting with industry and NGO stakeholders and Tribal and subnational governments to leverage resources, craft innovative solutions, and drive domestic and international ambition to combat the plastic pollution problem.
  • OES, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), supports the development of National Marine Litter Action Plans in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Panama.  For example, OES is supporting pilot projects focused on solid waste management in remote communities, including assisting with the development of a marine waste management strategy for two national fishing sectors in Costa Rica.  EPA and OES also recently funded the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) and Panama Small Grants Program, which support community-led projects that improve solid waste management and address land-based sources of marine debris.
  • OES supports a project in Senegal focused on improving solid waste management and encouraging innovation along the entire plastic supply chain.
  • In 2022, the State Department and USAID leveraged $75 million for global, national, and local programs to combat plastic pollution and build capacity in countries around the world to address this important crisis.  The State Department is partnering with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and others to build capacity in key developing countries, including small island developing states in the Pacific and Caribbean, to participate ambitiously in negotiations on a new global agreement on plastic pollution, establish national action plans to combat plastic pollution, and share information and good practices on waste management. The Department is also supporting pilot projects under the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Partnership, providing seed funding for the Marine Debris Foundation, and contributing to action on plastic pollution through the World Bank Pro-Blue Fund.
  • In the past, OES also has supported grants and cooperative agreements to support other initiatives that aim to reduce marine debris, including: the 5-Gyres Asia Pacific Action Against Plastic Pollution; All Hands on Deck – A Community-Based Marine Litter Reduction Programme; Building Ecosystems to Reduce Waste in Our Oceans – Ocean Plastic Prevention Incubators; Social Mobilization for Marine Waste Management in Vietnam; and Accelerating Efforts to Reduce Ocean Plastic in Vietnam.

Additional Resources

Further information on U.S. government action on plastic pollution can be found in our fact sheet and on the following websites:

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future