The 5 Gyres Institute has released a study that estimates the quantity of plastic in the world's oceans. And it's a very big number.
According to the report, which was released Dec. 10, 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing about 269,000 tons are floating in the world's oceans. The estimate is larger than previous numbers, but according to 5 Gyres that's because previous reports only looked at one size class, and therefore they reported much lower plastic densities.
The report was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. It is the result of six years of research, and 5 Gyres calls it “the most comprehensive study of its kind to date.”
“We've found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world.” said Marcus Eriksen, the group's director of research.
One surprising finding: The garbage patches that we've heard about aren't repositories or final resting places for plastic, but rather are shredders and redistributors of trash, where ultraviolet light, oxidation, embrittlement, breakage by waves and fragmentation by grazing fish all degrade large plastic pieces into tiny fragments.
5 Gyres has been in the news recently for pushing to ban plastic microbeads in cosmetics and toothpaste. With the new study, it will focus more attention on other plastic marine debris problems.
In response, the American Plastics Council said it supports calls to address ocean litter problems.
“America's plastics makers wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment,” ACC said in a statement released Dec. 10. “Even after plastics have fulfilled their initial purpose, these materials should be treated as valuable resources and recycled whenever possible or recovered for their energy value when they cannot.”
ACC pointed to efforts supported by plastics companies around the globe to prevent and address marine litter.
“Some of these include support for the Curbside Value Partnership, a leader in promoting community recycling programs; Keep America Beautiful's national consumer-focused recycling campaign, ‘I Want to Be Recycled'; support for legislation in New Jersey and Illinois to phase out microbeads in personal care products; and placing hundreds of recycling bins on California's beaches through the ‘Plastics. Too Valuable to Waste. Recycle' initiative.”