Quantification and Evaluation of Plastic Waste in the United States

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To develop viable solutions for reducing plastic waste, spatially explicit data on the management of these materials are critical. Here we employ statistical and geospatial methods to present a comprehensive assessment of plastic waste in the United States by resin type at the state, county, and local levels. Of the estimated 44 Mt of plastic waste managed in 2019 domestically, approximately 86% was landfilled, 9% was combusted, and 5% was recycled. Landfilled plastics represented significant losses to the country's economy in 2019: an average of US$7.2 billion in market value, about 3.4 EJ as embodied energy (equivalent to 12% of energy consumption by the industrial sector), and 1.5 EJ as an energy source (equivalent to 5.5% and 5% of energy consumption by the industrial and transportation sectors, respectively). Lastly, we posit that substantial amount of landfilled plastic waste could be recovered through advanced sorting, existing, and emerging recycling processes.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number106363
Number of pages8
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
StatePublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-78634


  • Landfilled plastic waste
  • Plastic waste
  • Plastic waste management
  • Plastic waste value
  • United States


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