Quantcast

World's Most Comprehensive Study Shows More Plastic in Our Oceans Than Scientists Thought

Insights + Opinion

The 5 Gyres Institute co-authored this study which is the most comprehensive estimate of small plastics in the world's oceans. There were two other papers published earlier, one by Cozar (2014) and Eriksen (2014) using separate data sets.

The paper published last week in Environmental Research Letters, A Global Inventory of Small Floating Plastic Debris, uses three ocean models and every dataset published since the 1970s. With 10 authors contributing to it, it's the best so far. This new study suggests there are 15 to 51 trillion microplastic particles in the world's oceans, weighing somewhere between 93 and 236,000 metric tons. This is roughly seven times more than what we thought before.

Photo credit: 5 Gyres

Why is it more? It has more data and more recent data. It combines the efforts of three different ocean models, so the resolution is a lot better. There's also a lot more plastic in the ocean. Consider that in 2013 the plastics industry reported 300 million metric tons of new plastic produced in that year and a lot of it used for single-use throw away products sent to countries that have poor waste management. That combo is a recipe for trashed seas.

What is the end game for all of the plastic out there? Research shows that if we can turn off the tap, most of it will sink or wash ashore. The ocean is very dynamic and turbulent, constantly throwing things out, tearing it apart and sinking it. Humanity will have to live with this geologic layer on the ocean floor and beaches worldwide. Call it the Plasticene. Plastic is the index fossil that marks in geologic time that humans were here.

What can we do about it? We've got to turn off the tap using two big ideas.

1. Waste management around the world must improve and that means getting away from burning and burying our waste. Diverging waste to responsible management schemes, like compost facilities and recovery and recycling, must improve.

2. Product design is a mandatory part of the solution. The single use throwaway product concept is trashing our oceans. No waste management scheme is going to effectively clean up the proliferation of poorly designed products and packaging, like plastic bags, plastic straws, microbeads, water bottles, etc. Go to our microbeads campaign to see how we're holding companies accountable for putting millions of microplastic fragments in your facial cleansers and toothpastes.

These two solutions—waste management and product design—must happen simultaneously. We cannot expect countries to take out huge loans to pay to improve their waste management. It would be grossly unfair to create that economic burden, while the poorly designed products and packaging continue to trash our land and sea. We need the plastics industries that make and manufacture single-use throw away products to step up and design for a better future.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Exxon Warns Climate Inaction Risks Warming Far Beyond 2 Degrees

Adrian Grenier's New Entourage and Lonely Whale Foundation

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mr.TinDC / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS

Many nutrients are essential for good health.

Read More Show Less
albedo20 / Flickr

By Pat Thomas

Throughout the U.S., major food brands are trying to get rid of GMO ingredients — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because nearly half of consumers say they avoid them in their food, primarily for health reasons.

But the CEO of Impossible Foods, purveyor of the Impossible Burger, is bucking that trend.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People in more than 100 countries are expected to take part in well over 1,000 strikes on May 24 to demand climate action from their governments. @ExtinctionR / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Two months after what was reportedly the largest international climate demonstration ever, young people around the world are expected to make history again on Friday with a second global climate strike.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Asian elephants frolic in Kaudulla Wewa at Kaudulla National Park in central Sri Lanka. David Stanley / CC BY 2.0

When it comes to saving some of the planet's largest animals, a group of researchers says that old methods of conservation just won't cut it anymore.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

A low-fat diet that prioritizes eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables each day could lower the risk a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer, according to a multi-decade study published this month.

Read More Show Less
smcgee / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Several New York City Starbucks exposed customers to a potentially deadly pesticide, two lawsuits filed Tuesday allege.

Read More Show Less
Drinks with plastic straws on sale at London's Borough Market. Susie Adams / Getty Images

The UK government has set a date for a ban on the sale of single use plastics, The Guardian reported Wednesday. From April 2020, the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds with plastic stems will be prohibited in England.

Read More Show Less