There Are Trillions of Pieces of Plastic Trash Floating in the World’s Oceans
There Are Trillions of Pieces of Plastic Trash Floating in the World’s Oceans
Dec 11, 20142:30pm
It’s looking like the problem with plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is worse than suspected according to a new study from the 5 Gyres Institute that estimates the number of pieces floating around on the surface is in the trillions.
The study, published this week in the journal PLOS One, is the first worldwide estimate of the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans, which put the numbers at a staggering 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons.
To put that into perspective, Marcus Eriksen, PhD, Director of Research for the 5 Gyres Institute, compared it to stacking 2-liter water bottles from here to the moon and back, twice, or laying straws along the equator, end to end, 425 times.
The conclusion comes after scientists from six countries contributed data from 24 expeditions that were collected over a six-year period from 2007-2013 across all five sub-tropical gyres, coastal Australia, the Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea. They used the data on microplastics collected using nets and large plastic debris from visual surveys, which were then used to make an ocean model of the amount of plastic and its distribution.
They found larger pieces of plastic around coastlines, but also made an unexpected discovery finding the smallest microplastics were present even in remote regions.
Their work has shed light not only on how bad the problem is, but on how plastic is moving through the ecosystem. While it’s collecting in gyres, Eriksen says those gyres act like “shredders” that break it down before winds and currents carry it back out and push it around the world.
“Our findings show that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not the final resting places for the world’s floating plastic trash. The endgame for micro-plastic is interactions with entire ocean ecosystems,” said Eriksen.
More troubling is that this that the study’s authors are stressing that their conclusion is a “highly conservative estimate” because they only looked on the surface, and didn’t count what had made its way to the sea floor, hovering somewhere in the middle, beaches or into marine animals.
For marine life, plastic is a big problem. Not only can consuming it be deadly by itself, but plastic sucks up toxins that are absorbed by animals and spread through the food chain.
Can we clean it up? While some efforts are focused on removing this type of trash from our environment – NOAA just cleaned up 57 tons of it in Hawaii through its Marine Debris Program – if we keep producing and tossing plastic products at the rate we’re going, the problem will never be solved.
While the message is stressed to reduce, reuse and recycle it’s clearly time to rethink the necessity of disposable products and become more mindful of not using things that have no value after a one time use. According to Eriksen, to help address this problem, we need better public awareness and litter laws, better waste management practices, and we need to push for corporate responsibility.
In a session addressing this study on Reddit, Eriksen also stresses the need for legislation to curb production and mandate practices that can ensure products are either 100 percent recovered or are 100 percent environmentally harmless.
We can also do our part by avoiding plastic — from plastic bags and bottles to personal care products that use microplastics (look for polyethylene and polypropylene on labels) — as much as possible, and supporting legislation that will keep microplastics out of our environment. This summer Illinois became the first state to officially ban plastic microbeads, while other states, including California, are working on similar legislation.
For more info on how to support efforts to rid our environment of microplastics, visit the 5 Gyres Institute.
OMG yes I saw that somewhere else - JUST HEARTBREAKING!!!!
The Dawn commercial makes me cry, too!
That is why I pick up garbage off the beach each and every time I go. Just a drop in the bucket but every little bit helps. And every time I remove a plastic bag I know I am saving a turtle.
And I am very, very sorry to say not only the Albatross, but all of our other friends in and around the oceans....
Where has the missing human global ocean trash disappeared to?
Published December 18, 2014
When Spanish scientist Andres Cozar Cabanas compiled the first ever global map of ocean trash last July, he inadvertently uncovered a mystery. Much of the plastic he expected to find bobbing in the oceans, given a quadrupling of plastic production in recent years, had "disappeared."
In a new study, published this week by the journal Royal Society Open Science, a British scientist reports the riddle of the "missing" plastic as solved: It sits in deep waters, broken down into tiny fibers and embedded in the sediment of the most remote places on Earth.
"The deep-sea floor appears to provide an answer to the question, where is all the plastic?" says Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at Plymouth University in the U.K.
The discovery of microplastic in such remote marine habitats raises new questions about the potential for plastic debris to contaminate the food chain. Scientists have already documented that fish, birds, turtles, and other marine animals eat plastic. Thompson and his team found an even greater accumulation of plastic than previously suspected. The more plastic there is, he says, the more potential for toxicity to marine life.
In the study, Thompson and his team concluded that every square kilometer of deep ocean contains about four billion plastic fibers—most are two to three centimeters in length and as thin as a human hair. The fibers are four times more abundant in the deep sea than in surface and coastal waters.
Chelsea Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who studies the effects of plastic retrieved from the stomachs of fish and shellfish, was not surprised that Thompson's team found the "missing" plastic in the deep sea.
"Every time they look somewhere for plastic debris, they find it. What is surprising is that what they are finding is that most of this is fibers."
Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, was also surprised that the fibers were so widespread. "The more we look, the more we find," she says. "I was surprised that they found microfibers in every core of all the regions sampled."
Thompson first called attention to ocean debris in 2004, when he concluded that most marine debris was plastic, overturning the general view that ocean trash consisted of wood, cloth, fishing gear, and other discarded items.
"Our results show evidence for a large and hitherto unknown repository of microplastics," Thompson wrote. "The prevalence of microfibers in all sediment cores and on all coral colonies examined suggests this contaminant is ubiquitous in the deep sea."
Lucy Woodall, a zoologist at the Natural History Museum in London and one of the study's authors, noted that the challenge for marine scientists has been to document the eventual resting place for ocean plastic. "It is alarming to find such high levels of contamination, especially when the full effect of plastics on the delicate balance of deep sea ecosystems is unknown," she says.
Thompson's team analyzed samples collected from 16 sites during seven research cruises between September 2001 and August 2012 in the Mediterranean Sea and in the southwest Indian and northeast Atlantic Oceans—a huge expanse that included subtropical to subpolar seas. The samples were collected by a remotely operated vehicle in submarine canyons, continental slopes, and basins. The scientists wore natural-fiber clothing to avoid contaminating their samples.
Samples collected from four locations in the Indian Ocean showed that microfibers had accumulated on the surface of coral. Most of the fibers were blue, black, green, or red, although Thompson noted that his team also collected pink, purple, and turquoise fibers.
Surprisingly, more than half of the fibers collected contained rayon, a man-made synthetic polymer that was more than twice as abundant as polyester, the next most prevalent fiber.
The Story of the First American City to Ban Plastic Water Bottles
Dec 24, 20149:00am25 comments
Written by Lorraine Chow
If you’re thinking about stopping by Concord, Mass., you’ll want to bring your own reusable bottle. The historic town, which is the birthplace of the Revolutionary War and the home of famous thinker Henry David Thoreau, has a ban the ubiquitous water receptacle.
In Jan. 2013, Concord became the first city in the nation to ban this plastic menace, a charge led by octogenarian Jean Hill and her activist partner Jill Appel.
A documentary of the battle, “Divide in Concord,” premiered in July. Proponents of the ban wanted to curb waste and fossil fuel use. According to the Ban the Bottle website, “Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.”
Meanwhile, opponents (led by Adriana Cohen, a political commentator) called the ban an intrusion on corporate interests as well as “an attack on freedom,” EcoWatch notes.
“You have this supremely educated base of people that are focused on ideals. People know their facts. People were only speaking if they knew what they were talking about, which was refreshing. The overall debate would come down to free commerce versus the environment,” documentary director Kris Kaczor says in an interview. “Basically the rights of corporations to make a profit, and for a populous to be able to choose a product that is legal and safe, versus banning a product completely in service of the environment.”
After a campaign that lasted three years, the bottle ban activists won. It now states in section 1 of the city’s water bottle ban bylaws, “It shall be unlawful to sell non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in the Town of Concord on or after January 1, 2013.” Violators of the ban will first receive a warning, a second offense results in a $25 fine, third and following offenses result in a $50 fine per violation.
The debate is still raging and you can read comments surrounding the issue here. For instance, one dissenter of the ban wrote, “I have found, as a resident of Concord, that if I’m out and I or my children want a drink, the only options are sugary drinks!”
Still, more and more parts of the country are waking up to the unsustainable reality of plastic use. San Francisco recently followed in Concord’s path becoming the first major American city to ban plastic bottles, and other activists have been inspired to bring the ban to their own towns. (That’s not to mention all the cities and states banning the plastic bottle’s pesky cousin: plastic bags.)
Change, slowly but surely, can be made. As Kaczor says about his documentary’s leading lady, “At our current state in history, people are becoming pretty apathetic and pessimistic about our ability to change, and this is a true example of how one person can make a difference, potentially and ultimately at a global level.”
Check out the trailer below. See the link below to view.
‘Divide in Concord’ trailer
Using Disposable Bags Will Promote a Greener, Cleaner New York City TreeHugger Dec 23, 2014
Written by Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy’s New York City Program
By initiating legislation to help reduce plastic and paper bag usage, New York has an opportunity to be part of a national trend to be a greener, more sustainable city.
New Yorkers use and discard a staggering 10 billion disposable, single-use bags every year. Many of those bags are never recycled because there is a limited market for plastic bag recycling in the United States. Simply put, it is more costly and difficult to recycle a plastic bag than to produce a new one.
Opting for reusable shopping bags instead of disposable plastic or paper ones could help reduce NYC’s waste and pollution. Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy
As a result, New York City’s Department of Sanitation estimates that they collect more than 1,700 tons of single-use bags in residential trash, spending our tax dollars—more than $12 million per year—to dispose of it in landfills in other states. In response, several city council members and a variety of groups are backing a new bill that aims to reduce paper and plastic bag usage by charging consumers ten cents per bag at most stores.
Enacting this legislation would be a victory for our communities, especially those that have significant issues with litter. New Yorkers see these bags floating through our streets, hanging from our trees, polluting our rivers, beaches and parks, and clogging our storm drains, which worsens flooding when it rains.
Globally, plastic bags have a significant ecological impact. They are derived from petroleum and their production, transportation and disposal contribute to climate change. They also take hundreds of years to degrade, threatening marine species and even public health, as their toxic components move up the food chain. In short, disposable bags are bad news all around. If New York City is going to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 80 percent by the year 2050, as promised by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council, measures like this are critical to help us get there.
Despite critics, City Council’s proposal is not a regressive tax on New Yorkers of limited means. All households, including those of modest means, can avoid the fee by using reusable bags. How many times have we gone to a local bodega, bought a candy bar, and received a plastic bag for it? As consumers we are in full control of this fee, and free to choose to not have our groceries double-bagged, for example, at times when using a reusable bag just isn’t possible.
It’s worth mentioning that there are cases in which consumers will be exempt from paying the fee. New Yorkers paying with food stamps or buying medicines at pharmacies will not have to pay the fee. Emergency food providers—like food pantries —are also exempt from charging the fee, as are restaurants and mobile food vendors. Finally, this proposal would actually require our local government to conduct a widespread distribution of free, reusable bags to the public, targeting low-income neighborhoods.
This is one area in which New York City is not leading the way. More than 100 cities and countries around the world have already implemented different kinds of disposable bag fees, taxes, or bans and, in doing so, have experienced great success in waste reduction. For years Washington, DC has been charging five cents per disposable bag, and the city has reduced its use by over 60%. Similarly, Los Angeles has achieved an impressive 90% reduction in plastic bag use.
With so many places adopting laws to reduce the use of disposable bags, New York has an opportunity to be part of a national trend to be a greener, more sustainable city. This bill would allow us to take the lessons we’ve learned from other cities—the strategies that work—and implement the best ideas here.
A greener, greater New York City? Yes, please! If you agree that NYC should lead the way in New York State to adopt the disposable bag bill you can:
Write a letter to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying you support Intro 209-2014 and mail it to: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Hall, New York, NY, 10007. Email the mayor through the New York League of Conservation Voters website Call the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit at 212-788-7418 or Tweet at him @BilldeBlasio to tell him you support Intro 209-2014 to reduce disposable bag waste. This post originally appeared on TreeHugger
What Has Happened to the Ocean’s Plastic Trash?
Dec 27, 2014
Many of us have seen the photos of plastic refuse in the ocean, the large islands of bags and waste that collect at tidal crossroads. Yet when scientists took a survey of the ocean earlier this year, they found a suspicious amount had disappeared. Was it just our good luck that pollution was decreasing? Hardly. It had simply been sinking, breaking apart and embedding itself in the sediment.
Fibers of microplastic, which are similar in diameter to a human hair, have sunk into deep water reserves across the world. For every bag floating across the ocean’s surface, there’s much more of the stuff laying in the ocean floor underneath. How much plastic is there? Well, according to the research, it’s so widespread that they’ve estimated microplastic is on every kilometer of the sea floor across the globe.
The study doesn’t mince words on what the problem is:
“Plastics are extremely durable synthetic polymers, yet more than 30% are made into disposable items such as packaging, which are typically discarded within a year of manufacture. The associated throw-away culture has led to an escalating plastic waste management problem, and widespread accumulation of plastic debris in the natural environment. Debris is now present on shorelines and at the sea surface from pole to pole.”
Plastic, which we most commonly see on the surface of coastal waters and beaches, can hurt marine life. Seabirds, sea turtles, seals and fish all die from plastic ingestion as well as getting tangled in debris. However, what effect could these plastic strands have on deep sea ocean life? Well, as you can imagine, it is not good.
Although deep sea entanglement isn’t much of an issue due to the small size of the microplastics, ingestion poses a huge problem for marine animals. Because plastics can ‘get stuck’ in the stomachs of some marine creatures, the more plastic that is ingested, the more the stomach ‘shrinks.’ This means that animals can actually starve to death because their stomachs can no longer hold the amount of food necessary to sustain life. Even worse, bags can become a magnet for toxins and cancer-causing chemicals, meaning that if a fish ingests the plastic, and we ingest the fish, we also ingest the harmful substances.
The report notes that because of the harm this microplastic poses, it ought to be a “worldwide concern.”
Although many cities in the United States have created ordinances to cut down on plastic bags, the issue revolves around the difficulty petroleum-based plastics have in disintegrating. Creating and using biodegradable and compostable plastics obviously needs to become more widespread. The most popular resin for the bio-plastic base is corn starch. Yet none of this is actually news as bioplastics have been around for generations and we’ve just failed to integrate them into our lives.
Part of the reason is the complicated language surrounding biodegradable and compostable plastics (which by the way, are not the same thing and should not be confused). They also don’t come without environmental implications, dangerous chemicals and, oh here’s the big one, they cost more.
So instead, we’ve littered the floors of the oceans with long strings of plastics that will never disintegrate. It’s an unfortunate reality that oceanographer Kara Lavender Law put succinctly: “The more we look, the more we find.” This sad reality might become part of the new normal for oceans the world over.
The Ocean is Filling Up with Plastic, 8 Million Metric Tons Per Year
Kara, selected from TreeHugger
Feb 15, 2015
There’s a lot of plastic crap in Earth’s oceans; The latest estimate was that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our seas, weighing over 250,000 tons. That’s about 700 pieces of plastic for every human on earth.
But a new study paints an even more alarming picture of the situation. Jenna Jambeck and her colleagues at the University of Georgia found that an incredibly large amount of plastic waste is mismanaged by the populations living in coastal area, and that even a conservative estimate of how much ends up in the sea puts adds up to between 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic. Per year. (8 million is the mid-point of the estimate).
Part of the problem is that some of the countries with the largest coastal populations – mostly in Asia – are also developing nations with inadequate infrastructure to deal with all the waste that they general.
Here ones of the authors of the study explains the methodology behind the numbers and also gives a warning about the future if we don’t clean up our act on waste management:
Our methods for this estimate were to look at per person waste generation rates in 2010 from 192 countries with a coastline in the world. Because people’s activities nearest the coast are responsible for most of the plastic going into the water, we limited our analysis to a 50km strip of the coastline. From there, we looked at what percent of that waste is plastic, and what percentage of THAT is mismanaged waste (which means litter or when waste is not captured and dumped on the land). From there we had three scenarios of input into the ocean: low, mid and high. Our 8 million metric ton estimate is that mid-range scenario. 8 million metric tons of plastic is equal to 5 bags filled with plastic going into the ocean along every foot of coastline in the world. That… is HUGE.
And it can get worse. If we assume a business as usual projection with growing populations, increasing plastic consumption and increased waste generation, by 2025, this number doubles – we may be adding 17.5 million metric tons of plastic per year. If that happens, then our cumulative input over time from 2010 to 2025 is projected to be 155 million metric tons.
The solutions to this plastic pollution problem are known, we just need to actually do it. We need to cut back on plastic production in the first place, so there’s less of it in the system. Then whatever is left needs to all be captured and managed properly. This requires not only better infrastructure (especially in poorer areas of the world), but also social and cultural changes. People need to be educated on what needs to be done with their trash in general, and plastic specifically.
Toxic Plastic Found in there World’s Favorite Fish
Researchers discover that tuna and swordfish are eating microplastics contaminated with harmful chemicals.
MAY 7, 2015John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.
For the first time, plastic particles have been found in the stomachs of tuna and other fish that are a staple of the human diet.
More than 18 percent of sampled bluefin, albacore, and swordfish caught in the Mediterranean Sea and tested in 2012 and 2013 carried levels of plastic pollution in their bodies, according to a study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
All three species migrate between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, so these plastic particles could make their way onto the plates of American consumers. The plastics found in the fish contained phthalates, nonylphenol, bisphenol A, brominated flame retardants, and other chemicals that previous research has linked to endocrine disruption, low reproductive rates, and other health risks.
A 2010 study by French and Belgian marine biologists estimated that 250 billion pieces of microscopic plastic were floating in the Mediterranean. A 2014 expedition by Gabriel Gorsky of Pierre-et-Marie Curie University found that “there is not one parcel of the Mediterranean Sea that is devoid of plastic or plastic fragments.” Another study published last year estimated that all of the world’s oceans combined carry more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic pollution.
The current study of large pelagic fish (which live in the open sea, away from the shores or the bottom of the ocean) examined 56 swordfish, 36 bluefin, and 31 albacore that had been caught in the Mediterranean. Of those fish, seven swordfish, 11 bluefin, and four albacore contained plastics in their stomachs.
The plastics varied in size from large pieces more than 25 millimeters wide to microplastics smaller than 5 millimeters. The swordfish were more likely to have ingested large fragments of plastic, while the albacore ingested mostly microplastics.
Most of the pieces were white or transparent, while some “yellowish” plastics were found in the stomachs of the swordfish and bluefin.
As large, “top of the food chain” predators, the fish could have picked up plastic that had first been eaten by smaller fish; a study published last year found that Mediterranean bogue, an important prey species for swordfish, ingest large quantities of microplastics. The researchers, from the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Italy, wrote that other plastics could have been ingested while the tuna chased schools of prey fish into shallow waters, where floating plastics are more abundant.
Although this study did not examine the effects of all this plastic, the authors did pose questions about how the toxic chemicals they contained could affect the health of the three fish species or the humans that ate them.
“Data continues to mount about the pressing problem that plastics pose for our ocean environment,” said Alison Chase, oceans program senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Plastic litter simply doesn’t belong in the ocean. It often looks like food to animals, may contain and soak up toxins like PCBs and pesticides in marine sediments, and can potentially be passed on to people when we eat seafood. We need to stop treating our oceans like a trash can and reduce the amount of plastic we produce and that reaches our waters.”
Debris carried on ocean currents washes up on shorelines all over the
world. Not only is this human-generated problem unsightly, it is a major
hazard to the marine environment and harmful to the animals who live
and depend on the sea.
Disturbing Infographic Shows How Plastic is Clogging Our Oceans
Jun 1, 2015
With an estimated 6.4 million tons of plastic getting dumped in the ocean annually, build-up has become a huge problem that merits serious attention.
We have a serious plastic problem here on Earth. In less than a century, plastic has permeated every aspect of our lives, creating tremendous amounts of waste that does not degrade. Much of it ends up in the oceans – an estimated 6.4 millions tons annually – which wreaks havoc with marine wildlife. From entanglement to ingestion, sea animals are suffering as a result of our obsession with plastic and reluctance to switch to reusables.
The following infographic is called “Spiraling Out of Control: Plastic Buildup in Our Oceans” and comes via CustomMade. It provides an excellent overview of the insidious cycle of plastic use that’s causing such damage. You will never want to accept another plastic shopping bag again after reading this.
i am just curious how much of this debris in the ocean is the result of hurricanes , tornadoes, and other natural disasters.
also shipwrecks and the like?
now driving on stx it surely seems to be all man made inconsiderate jerks
Thank you speee1dy. This article, among several others, may help: It is man who trashes our oceans....
"...Marine debris is any man-made, solid material that enters waterways directly through littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris can be simple items such as a discarded soda can, cigarette butt, or plastic bag that ends up in the ocean potentially harming marine life. Nearly 80 percent of marine debris originates from land-based sources.
Lost or abandoned commercial and recreational fishing nets, lines, pots, and traps are another form of marine debris, categorized as derelict fishing gear (DFG). These items, whether discarded intentionally or lost accidentally, may sit on the seafloor, get caught on rocky or coral reefs, or float on the ocean surface. The majority of this lost gear does not decompose in seawater and can remain in the marine environment for many years. Often this gear continues to trap and even kill marine animals, a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing.”.."
Deformed Turtle Reveals Sickening Dangers of Plastic Pollution