Quantcast

8 Million Metric Tons of Plastic Dumped Into World's Oceans Each Year

We've been hearing for years about all the plastic that is going into our oceans, creating enormous gyres, washing up on beaches, threatening marine life and marine ecosystems in ways we don't even know yet. A study last year called Valuing Plastic by the Plastic Disclosure Project and Trucost, estimated plastic caused about $13 billion in damages to marine ecosystems each year—and noted that that estimate was probably low, given what we don't know yet.

Tracking all of that plastic, which ranges from plastic bags and bottles to tiny microbeads of plastic broken down from larger sources, has been an ongoing challenge for scientists. With each new study, we get a little closer to figuring out just how much there might be out there—and it's worse than we thought.

A new study, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, published in the journal Science last week, estimated that plastic debris washing into the ocean from 192 coastal countries reached somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons in 2010. That's enough to cover every foot of coastline in the world.

Based on the inputs it used—solid waste data, population density and economic status—it calculated that these countries produced a total of 275 metric tons of plastic waste and then figured out how much of that ends up in the ocean. Previous studies had suggested the amount could be around a quarter million tons but this study found that it was likely many times more.

"Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris," said the researchers. "Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025."

They're projecting that by 2025 the amount of plastic could reach 155 metric tons annually unless waste management techniques improve.

Most of the ocean plastic is coming from heavily populated countries with poor waste management practices. Image credit: National Geographic

The biggest contributor to that mass of ocean plastic is China, followed by countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The U.S. only ranks 20th as a source of ocean plastic, in large part due to its advanced garbage collection system. But its dense coastal population and high consumption rates pushed it up in the rankings.

"What we have done is look at the other side of the equation—what's coming out of the faucet, rather than what's already in the bathtub," report co-author Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association, told National Geographic. "The size of the discrepancy is huge—20 to 2,000 times more than the range of estimates of floating debris. That is pretty shocking, especially when you consider that the amount going into the ocean in a single year and what we're counting in the oceans has been going in for 50 years."

But this report only expands the mystery of where all that trash has gone. Previous studies only looked at what they found floating; most of that plastic is missing. A studyThe deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris—published in December in Royal Society Open Science suggested one possibility. It said, "There appears to be a considerable proportion of the manufactured plastic that is unaccounted for in surveys tracking the fate of environmental plastics. Here, we show that deep-sea sediments are a likely sink for microplastics."

"I don't think we can conceive of the worst-case scenario, quite frankly," Law told Science last year. "We really don't know what this plastic is doing."

NPR's Christopher Joyce on All Things Considered interviewed Jenna Jambeck, co-author of the report. Jambeck shared that "In 2010 there were 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean globally."

Joyce also interviewed Nick Mallos, who runs the Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, who said that plastic affects more than 600 species of marine animals.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Health
Pexels

5 Ingredients for Health: Starting with Food

On Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg, Dr. Robert Graham—board-certified physician and founder of FRESHMed NYC—combines mainstream medical practices with therapies inspired by ancient wisdom: an integrative model of medicine. "My dad was a biochemist, so I grew up in this integrative model. One of the things that really stood out is my mom was distrustful about the conventional Western model. She still thinks she's the only doctor in the house, because food is such a powerful medicine, especially from her culture," said Graham.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

When Profit Drives Us, Community Suffers

By David Korten

As I was reading the current series of YES! articles on the mental health crisis, I received an email from Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology at University of Notre Dame. She was sending me articles being prepared for an anthology she is co-editing with the working title Sustainable Vision.The articles present lessons from indigenous culture that underscore why community is the solution to so much of what currently ails humanity.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Revelator

Interactive Map: Air Pollution in 2100

By Dipika Kadaba

Having a little trouble breathing lately? That's no surprise. Air pollution is already bad in many parts of the country, and climate change is only going to make it worse. Even though many industries are reducing their emissions, a warming climate could actually offset these reductions by intensifying the rates of chemical reactions and accumulation of pollutants in the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
ddukang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good for You? A Doctor Weighs In

By Gabriel Neal

When my brother and I were kids back in the '80s, we loved going to Long John Silver's.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals

Dumpster Debacle Distracts From Serious Spike in Whale Deaths

This week, a video of a failed attempt to put a dead, 4,000-pound whale into a tiny dumpster made the rounds on the internet, garnering chuckles and comparisons to Peter Griffin forklifting and impaling a beached sperm whale on Family Guy.

The juvenile minke whale washed up on Jenness Beach in Rye, New Hampshire on Monday morning, NBC 10 Boston reported. It was found with entanglement wounds, so researchers with the Seacoast Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted to move the carcass from the beach to a lab for a necropsy to study its death.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Muir Woods, which costs $10 for entry, will have free entry on Sept. 22. m01229 / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Visit Any National Park for Free This Saturday to Celebrate 25th National Public Lands Day

If you're stuck for plans this weekend, we suggest escaping your city or town for the great outdoors.

This Saturday marks the 25th National Public Lands Day, organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
A glacier flows towards East Antarctica. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / CC BY 2.0

Temperatures Possible This Century Could Melt Parts of East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Raise Sea Levels 10+ Feet

A section of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that contains three to four meters (approximately 10 to 13 feet) of potential sea level rise could melt if temperatures rise to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels, a study published in Nature Wednesday found.

Researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Queensland, and other institutions in New Zealand, Japan and Spain looked at marine sediments to assess the behavior of the Wilkes Subglacial Basin during warmer periods of the Pleistocene and found evidence of melting when temperatures in Antarctica were at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for periods of 2,500 years or more.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Oil well in North Dakota. Tim Evanson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pipeline Leaks 63,840 Gallons of Produced Water in North Dakota

A pipeline released 63,840 gallons (1,520 barrels) of produced water that contaminated rangeland in Dunn County, North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune reported, citing officials with the North Dakota Department of Health.

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and can contain drilling chemicals if fracking was used.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!