The U.S. Plastics Problem: The Road to Circularity

January 2022
ELR 10018
Ruth Jebe

Plastics pollution has been an issue in the United States since discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch catapulted it to the forefront of news reporting. Regulatory and academic activity around plastics has had a common feature: it focused almost exclusively on one stage in plastics’ linear model and framed the problem as a waste problem. Challenges have come in two forms: the shift from the linear production model of take-make-waste to a sustainability paradigm represented by the concept of circular production, and disruption of the global plastics waste supply chain occasioned by changes in China’s waste import policies. These shifts are forcing countries to reassess their approach to plastics. This Article argues for an expanded view of the U.S. plastics problem, one that reframes the problem around sustainability and plastics’ full life cycle, rather than a focus on waste alone. It proposes regulatory interventions and ideas for a future research agenda to move the study and regulation of plastics from linear to circular.

Ruth Jebe is an Associate Professor of Legal Studies at the Boise State University College of Business and Economics.

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