How Much Plastic Is Really In Our Oceans? Researchers Have A Surprising New Answer

A new study has both good and bad news.
Plastic and trash float in the water on the beach at Portals Nous on Mallorca.
Plastic and trash float in the water on the beach at Portals Nous on Mallorca.
picture alliance via Getty Images

There might not be as much plastic in our ocean as we thought, according to a new study.

But, don’t relax yet. Obviously, the climate crisis is ongoing and there are worrying signs it’s getting worse, because of the human impact.

Plastic is one of the most obvious indicators of just how much we’re damaging the environment.

But, new research has suggested the amount we’re polluting the sea with this particular synthetic material isn’t quite as terrible as previously assumed. It’s a small win, but still worth noting.

The study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that around 500,000 metric tons of plastic end up in the sea every year.

Half of this comes from land, while the rest stems from the fishing industry’s equipment.

Clearly, this is still a huge amount to be polluting our environment every 365 days – and the amount of plastic found in the ocean is still increasing by around 4% every year.

That means the current amount of plastic in the oceans could double within 20 years.

But, it’s a big change from a study dating back to 2015 which estimated there were eight million metric tons going in the Earth’s oceans just from rivers every year.

Scientists have come up with this new figure by combining data from previous studies which sampled the ocean using net trawlers, observing the amount of waste on the water’s surface or by standing at the shore.

This was then all fed into a computer model, resulting in the final study.

Of course, just because we’re pumping less plastic into the ocean, doesn’t mean the problem is resolved.

The same study also suggested that around 3.2 million metric tonnes of plastic were found on the sea surface in 2020.

This plastic pollution poses a serious problem to marine life, as they can get entangled in it, or get sick from ingesting plastic which could even block digestive systems altogether.

The microplastics found in the sea can also be absorbed into the food chain, and contaminate human food.

As the lead author of this new study, Dr Mikael Kaandorp, pointed out to the New York Times: “We’re accumulating more and more plastics in the environment.”

He added: “It’s going to take a really long time before these plastics actually are removed from our seas.”

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