The world's ocean plastic pollution problem is even bigger than anticipated. The first global estimate of plastic pollution of both micro- and macroplastic floating in every ocean on earth has led researchers to conclude that the smallest and most insidious particles are present throughout the world's oceans. The report estimates that some 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing about 269,000 tons are floating in the world's oceans.
The new report, published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal, culminates over six years and 50,000 nautical miles of pelagic plastics research, the most comprehensive study of its kind to date.
"When The 5 Gyres Institute formed in 2008, we set out to answer a basic question: how much plastic is out there? There was no data from the Southern Hemisphere, Western Pacific or Eastern Atlantic. After six long years and a wide-reaching collaboration, we have completed the most comprehensive plastic pollution study to date," said Marcus Eriksen, director of research for the 5 Gyres Institute. "We've found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world."
The researchers contributed data from 24 expeditions studying plastic floating on the sea surface. Microplastics were collected with nets, while floating macroplastics were counted by systematic observations. These data were used to populate a model that assumes plastic enters the oceans from rivers, shipping lanes and densely populated coastlines. The data and model show that large plastics are abundant near coastlines and degrade in the five subtropical gyres into microplastics, the smallest of which are, surprisingly, present in more remote regions such as the subpolar gyres.
The 5 Gyres Institute believes that companies must take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of the products they create. Working in collaboration with multiple government agencies, NGOs and responsible corporations, the 5 Gyres Institute will continue to support campaigns such as its ongoing effort to replace plastic microbeads in cosmetics and toothpastes with biodegradable alternatives.
"Knowing that plastic pollution becomes hazardous waste in the ocean, it is essential that innovative products and packaging designed for recovery replace the single-use, throw away culture of the past," said Marcus Eriksen, director of research for the 5 Gyres Institute. "It's time to focus our mitigation strategies upstream from production to disposal. The status quo is not acceptable. Our goal is to vanquish the idea that oceans can bear our waste and to usher in an age of restoration and responsibility."
As soon as the report was released, the American Chemistry Council released this statement:
"America's plastics makers wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment. Every day, plastics contribute to sustainability by enabling us to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover more of the resources that we rely on-and by helping to lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. 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."
"Plastics makers in the United States and around the globe are engaged in many efforts to prevent and address marine litter. In 2011 leaders from the world's plastics associations signed The Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, a public commitment aimed at contributing to real solutions to address marine litter. The commitment focuses on education, public policy, best practices, plastics recycling and recovery, plastic pellet containment, and research. Today, 60 plastics associations in 34 countries have signed on to the Global Declaration, and 185 projects have been completed or are in progress in various parts of the world.
"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."