Oceans are filled with enough plastic waste to line the world’s beaches

February 14, 2015 1:34 pm

The world’s oceans are being filled with enough plastic waste to
thickly line every coastline in the world, according to the first
detailed global assessment of the problem.
Scientists estimate
that about 7.25 million tonnes of plastic debris such as food packaging
and plastic bottles are being washed into the oceans each year – and the
cumulative quantity of waste will result in a tenfold increase in the
total amount of plastic in the sea by 2020.
“Our estimate of 8
million metric tonnes going into the oceans in 2010 is the equivalent to
five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in
the world,” said Jenna Jambeck, assistant professor of environmental
engineering at the University of Georgia.

The latest estimate comes from the total input of plastic waste, from
people living within 50km of the coastline in the 192 countries studied.
Photo / Thinkstock

“In 2025, the annual
input would be about twice the 2010 input, or 10 bags full of plastic
per foot of coastline. So the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly
20 times our 2010 estimate – 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline
in the world.”

Researchers had previously calculated that there were about
245,000 tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans. But this was based on the
amount of plastic found floating on the sea surface and did not take
into account the waste that has sunk.
The latest estimate comes
from the total input of plastic waste, from people living within 50km of
the coastline in the 192 countries studied.
“Until now, we have
been estimating the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean by taking a
ship far offshore, towing a plankton net and counting each individual
piece of plastic collected. This is a very tedious and expensive task,”
Dr Jambeck said.
“Our figure is larger because what is found
floating on the surface of the ocean is only a portion of what is going
in. Some of it sinks, some of it goes to other locations. We don’t have a
good handle on where it all is going.”
The study, published in the journal Science,
estimated that about 275 million tons of plastic waste was being
generated each year in 192 countries around the world, with between 4.8
million and 12.7 million tonnes being washed or dumped into the sea.
Predictions
of how this waste will increase took into account the industrialisation
of developing countries, population growth and attempts to limit the
flow of plastic debris into the oceans based on waste-management
activities on land.

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