Ocean’s Plastic Pollution at 2.3 Million Tonnes, Could Triple by 2040: Study

Ocean's Plastic Pollution
The evidence from new research implies that the ocean’s plastic pollution has significantly surged during the last 20 years, and there are no signs of it slowing down.
A  new study has revealed that around 171 trillion plastic particles, which is equivalent to about 2.3 million tonnes, were present in the ocean by 2019. The peer-reviewed paper, published in the scientific journal PLOS One on Wednesday, utilized a combination of previously published and new data on floating plastics from 11,777 ocean stations located in six major marine regions. The purpose of the study was to estimate the amount of small plastics that were floating on the surface of the ocean from 1979 to 2019. The samples were collected through a process of dragging a net with an extremely fine mesh for several miles across the ocean’s surface and were analyzed using a computer model.
The findings of this study emphasize the alarming situation of plastic pollution in our oceans and its long-term consequences on marine life and the environment. The study’s results also provide insight into the global distribution of plastic debris in the ocean, highlighting the need for better waste management practices and greater efforts to reduce plastic use and consumption.


Ocean’s Plastic Pollution

The study, led by Marcus Eriksen of California-based 5 Gyres Institute, a non-profit that advocates for reducing plastic pollution, analyzed trends over decades and discovered an “unprecedented” increase in ocean plastic pollution since 2005. The study indicated that the current amount of plastic in the ocean could triple by 2040 if no action is taken. The increase was driven by various factors, including a dramatic rise in global plastic production, an increase in microplastics, and a lack of international regulations governing marine plastic pollution. The researchers warned that cleanup efforts would be futile unless we significantly reduce plastic production.
Change in the abundance of ocean plastic from 1979 to 2019 in trillions of particles or tens of thousands of metric tonnes. Image by Eriksen et al. (2023).
Our reckless plastic use and consumption have resulted in the generation of around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year to meet demand, with more than 8 million tonnes estimated to end up in the ocean. Eriksen stated that a strong legally binding U.N. global treaty on plastic pollution is required to stop the problem at its source, with an emphasis on preventative strategies rather than solely focusing on cleanup and recycling. Eriksen also emphasized the need to find replacements for single-use plastics since recycling alone is not sufficient.
The study’s publication comes just after UN member states reached a landmark international treaty to protect biodiversity in the world’s high seas. However, the agreement will not address the issue of marine plastic pollution. While negotiations for a global plastic treaty are ongoing, no consensus has been reached yet.
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