The world has produced more than 6 billion tons of plastic to date and much of that has become waste that has not been recycled, incinerated, or otherwise properly contained. A great deal of it has ended up in the oceans of the world.
Researchers at Kyushu University in Japan have done an analysis to assess just how much plastic has ended up in the ocean. According to the study, nearly 28 million tons of plastic waste has entered the ocean and nearly two-thirds of that cannot be monitored.
Furthermore, the Kyushu analysis suggests that those 28 million tons are just the tip of the plastic waste iceberg. Their findings are that there may be another 600 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste trapped on land – nearly 10% of all the plastic ever produced.
The study created models that simulate the processes by which plastics find their way into the ocean, get transported, and fragment into pieces. According to their models, large plastics and smaller pieces of microplastics floating on the ocean surface each account for only about 3% of all ocean plastics. Microplastics on beaches account for another 3%, and 23% of ocean plastic waste is larger plastic litter on the world’s shores.
These things account for only about a third of ocean plastic. The rest of it is in locations that are impossible to monitor such as heavy plastics that settle on the seafloor because they are denser than seawater. Half of plastic products made today are made from these heavy plastics.
Plastic pollution is not just a big problem; evidently it is a bigger problem than we thought.
Visible ocean plastics just the tip of the iceberg
Photo, posted February 28, 2010, courtesy of Kevin Krejci via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio