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There are over 12.3 million pounds of trash running down the coast of our beaches and waterways —enough to fill the United States Capital Rotunda two-and-a-half times, a new study on plastic pollution around the world revealed.

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The major new study of the world’s oceans, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE by Marcus Eriksen of the Five Gyres Institute in Los Angeles, uncovered the shocking fact: plastic is everywhere in the ocean.

The study’s findings were collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, they included 24 ocean expeditions in 1,571 locations, conducted between 2007 and 2013, to reach their conclusions, warning that plastics are now spread across all of the world’s oceans.

Marcus Eriksen reportedly said:

“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.”

The data was then used to run an ocean model to simulate the amount and distribution of plastic debris. According to IFL Science:

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The work totaled 680 surface tows using mesh nets and 891 visual survey transects of large debris. That’s when someone looks at the ocean surface from one side of the boat out to 20 meters, while taking note of all the large plastic debris during a set time frame. Then they used data to populate an oceanographic model of debris pollution, taking into account factors such as currents, circulation, and winds. They arrived at this staggering number: A minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons are afloat in our world’s oceans.

A large percentage of plastic and other synthetic polymers come from food packaging and clothing, as well as other manmade products. The majority of humans usually get rid of them, thinking that’s where their relationship with plastic ends.

The truth is they don’t know what happens next and how plastic gets into the oceans.

The study cautioned that its estimates are “highly conservative” and didn’t account for the massive amounts of plastic “present on shorelines, on the seabed, suspended in water columns and within organisms.” It added that the number is equivalent to each human being on the planet having dropped 700 pieces of plastic into the sea.

 Here's how trash travels. Ocean Conservancy

Here’s how trash travels. Ocean Conservancy

The scientists also revealed that large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish, allow them to enter the food chain.

The Guardian reported:

“This is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment.”

The trash we throw away and think we’ll never see again, in fact, makes its way to sea and into the bodies of its animals; this includes many different creatures such as turtles, fish, whales and many others. The high level of plastic and other rubbish isn’t only worrisome for the sake of our eco-system; it’s worrisome for the sake of public health.

Julia Reisser, one of the researchers, told the Guardian:

“We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines. But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants. Bigger fish eat the little fish and then they end up on our plates. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested but certainly plastics are providing some of it.”

Beach_at_Msasani_Bay,_Dar_es_Salaam,_Tanzania

According to the researchers, as it was reported by IFL Science:

  • The two northern hemisphere ocean regions contain 55.6% of particles and 56.8% of plastic mass.
  • The North Pacific, in particular, contains 37.9% and 35.8% by particle count and mass, respectively.
  • In the southern hemisphere, the Indian Ocean has a bigger particle count and accounts for more of the weight than the South Atlantic and South Pacific Ocean regions combined.

The plastic debris was separated into four 4 classes:

  1. Small microplastics (0.33-1.00 millimeter in diameter).
  2. Large microplastics (1.01-4.75 mm).
  3. Mesoplastics (4.76-200 mm),
  4. Macroplastics, the majority of which were derelict fishing buoys, (greater than 200 mm).

Andreas Merkl, Ocean Conservancy’s president and CEO, said in a press release, following the publishing of the study:

“Ocean trash truly is a global problem that affects human health and safety, endangers marine wildlife, and costs states and nations countless millions in wasted resources and lost revenue. At its core, however, ocean trash is not an ocean problem; it is a people problem — perpetuated by the often unwitting practices that industry and people have adopted over time. But I am convinced we can solve it if we have the audacity to confront the problem head-on.”

The American Chemistry Council, which represents U.S. plastic makers, replied to this study by making a statement that noted to the importance of recycling plastics, similar to a 2011 worldwide industry statement promising to put maximum efforts to reduce marine litter.

The American Chemistry Council statement expressed:

“America’s plastics makers wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment. 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.”

Marcus Eriksen also added:

“It is imperative that the use of plastics include a 100% recovery plan, or choose 100% environmental harmlessness in your choice of material.”

The researchers also mentioned that only 5% of the world’s plastic is presently being recycled.

Sources:

(1) PLOS ONE (the main study)

(2) The Guardian

(3) IFL Science


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