Estimates regarding the amount of waste being thrown into the ocean have been made many times before in the past, but they have been too optimistic. A recent study posted on ScienceMag reveals that roughly eight million metric tones of plastic waste are being thrown into the ocean every year. The report also draws attention to the fact that waste quantities are likely to increase in the following decade unless each nation takes attitude. Irresponsible trash disposal is more dangerous than we actually thought.
This report is one of the most ambitious efforts ever made to calculate just how much plastic waste ends up in the sea every year. Jenna Jambeck, the lead author of the study, and assistant professor of environmental engineering for the University of Georgia believes that the amount of plastic debris that finds its way into the ocean for the year 2010 (the year measured) is between 4.8 million metric tons and 12.7 million metric tons.
To give us a better idea regarding just how much waste 8 million metric tons means, Jenna Jambeck gave us equivalent:
“Five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. A visualization that, sort of blew my mind.” – Jenna Jambeck
If her predictions are correct, the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean by 2025 will amount for 10 plastic bags for every foot of coastline in the world.
But how exactly did researchers from the United States & Australia manage to obtain these estimates? They resulted after complex calculation of the amount of waste being produced per person in 192 countries with coastlines, they said. They also tried to estimate the waste that would likely be plastic for each country and exactly how each of them would have handled the trash. Some countries have stricter rules in regards to waste management, while others are known to be reckless.
“This is a significant study. Of course, we know that these aren’t absolute numbers but it gives us an idea of the magnitude, and where we might need to focus our efforts to affect the issue.” – Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admistration
The most interesting aspect of the paper is the fact that it also creates a top 20 of the most dangerous polluters in the world. Firmly planted on position no.1 we have China, with 3.5 million metric tons of waste being produced every year. Interestingly enough, The United States ranked no. 20 on the list, with 110.000 metric tons of debris. That’s because the United States has a more efficient management system for waste, says Professor Jambeck.
Plastic waste was first observed floating in the Ocean in the 1970s. Nowadays it represenst a normal sighting, even on the most remote coast. But the aesthetic problem is the least important one. Debris exposed to saltwater and sun can become coated in toxic substances that endanger aquatic life.
Researchers also observed that fish and other sea creatures consume bite-size particles of plastic debris and, as a result, they also re-absorb the toxic substances. Following the food-chain, these toxic substances are ultimately eaten by humans. The conclusion was that, instead of cleaning the ocean – which is inefficient -, it would be better to refine the waste management system in problematic countries. The only problem is that waste management is not a priority in developing countries because it is expensive.
“You’ve got critical infrastructure needs first, like clean drinking water. It’s kind of easy to push waste to the side.”
Image Source: Plastic-Waste-Pollution