The United States produced more plastic waste than any other country in the world in 2016 -- about 92.6 billion pounds, researchers have now discovered.
The findings of a study published by Science on Friday also suggest that despite a "robust and accessible waste management system" between 309 million and 904 million pounds of plastic waste was illegally dumped in the U.S.
Another 331 million to 2.2 billion pounds was mismanaged after it was shipped to other countries for recycling, the study found. More than 88% of waste was shipped to countries that inadequately managed more than 20% of waste.
The authors of the study used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with an assumption of a 2% litter rate to make the determination.
The researchers also determined that the U.S. contributed up to five times more plastic waste to coastal environments in 2016 than it did in 2010.
Scientists have found that plastic waste contaminates all major ecosystems and are concerned about the potential for plastic to affect wildlife and human health. especially as smaller and more widespread plastic particles are identified in natural environments.
Global plastic production increased 26% between 2010 and 2016, from about 736,000 pounds to about 974,000 pounds, according to the study.
The countries that followed the U.S. in plastic waste production were also the ones with the highest populations, China and India, followed by the 28 countries collectively within the European Union.
However, the researchers cautioned that since the data in the study is now several years old, the plastic waste cycle may have been further altered by societal changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.