A new study calculating the amount of plastic waste going into the ocean finds that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ecosystem every year. Tiny bits of plastic can devastate the environment and enter the food chain.
It has long been suspected that much of the plastic that ends up in the oceans starts out as rubbish on land. Researchers, from the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, have now sought to put a number on this phenomenon.
The study, published in the journal Science, found that between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 from people living within 50 kilometres of the coastline. That year, a total of 275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated within these 192 coastal counties, with a significant proportion ending up in the ocean environment.
Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia and the study’s lead author, said, ”Eight million metric tons is the equivalent to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries examined.”
The study’s co-author Kara Lavender Law, of the Sea Education Association (SEA), explains that the team began looking at all the debris entering the ocean from land, sea and other pathways, after gathering rough estimates they focussed on plastic. This method is rather than the “very tedious and expensive” usual approach of estimating the amount plastic pollution by towing a plankton net in the ocean and counting each individual piece of plastic.
“This work gives us a sense of just how much we’re missing,” Law said.
“How much we need to fund in the ocean and on beaches worldwide. Right now, we’re mainly measuring plastic that floats, and only in relatively few locations.”
Photo: Jason Karn via Flickr