'Unprecedented' rise in ocean pollution since 2005: Study
The world’s oceans are polluted by a “plastic smog” made up of an estimated 171 trillion plastic particles that if gathered would weigh around 2.3 million tons, according to a new study.
A team of international scientists analyzed global data collected between 1979 and 2019 from nearly 12,000 sampling points in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
They found a “rapid and unprecedented” increase in ocean plastic pollution since 2005, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
“It is much higher than previous estimates,” Lisa Erdle, director of research and innovation at the 5 Gyres Institute and an author on the report, told CNN.
Without urgent policy action, the rate at which plastics enter the oceans could increase by around 2.6 times between now and 2040, the study found.
Plastic production has soared in the last few decades, especially single-use plastics, and waste management systems have not kept pace. Only around 9% of global plastics are recycled each year.
Huge amounts of that plastic waste end up in the oceans. The majority comes from land, swept into rivers – by rain, wind, overflowing storm drains and littering – and transported out to sea. A smaller but still significant amount, such as fishing gear, is lost or simply dumped into the ocean.
Once plastic gets into the ocean, it doesn’t decompose but instead tends to break down into tiny pieces. These particles “are really not easily cleaned up, we’re stuck with them,” Erdle said.
Marine life can get entangled in plastic or mistake it for food. Plastic can also leach toxic chemicals into the water.
And it isn’t just an environmental disaster; plastic is also a huge climate problem. Fossil fuels are the raw ingredient for most plastics, and they produce planet-heating pollution throughout their lifecycle – from production to disposal.