We dump 8.8 million tons of plastic into oceans Ar left, Jenna Jambeck, an environment engineering professor at the University of Georgia, holds a plastic baggie with trash collected last fall from a clean up at Panama Beach, Florida (AP photo / Thinkstock)
We dump 8.8 million tons of plastic into oceans
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Each year about 8.8 million tons of plastic ends up in the world oceans, a quantity much higher than previous estimates, according to a study that tracked marine debris from its source.

That's the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic debris dotting each foot of coastline around the world, said study lead author Jenna Jambeck, an environment engineering professor at the University of Georgia.

And if the biggest polluters, mostly developing Asian countries, don't clean up how they throw stuff away, Jambeck projects that by 2025 the total accumulated plastic trash in the oceans will reach around 170 million tons. That's based on population trends and continued waste management disposal problems, although there may be some early signs of change, she said.

More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The only industrialized western country on the list of top 20 plastic polluters is the United States at No. 20. The U.S. and Europe are not mismanaging their collected waste, so the plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said.

While China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that makes its way into the ocean, nearly 28 percent of the world total, the United States contributes just 77,000 tons, which is less than 1 percent, according to the study published in the journal Science. This is mostly because developed countries have systems to trap and collect plastic waste, Jambeck said.

"We need to wake up and see our waste," Jambeck said. "I think the problem in some ways has sort of snuck up around us."

The amount of plastics estimated to be going into the water is equal to how much tuna is fished per year, so "we are taking out tuna and putting in plastic," study co-author Kara Lavendar Law said in a press conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

Nancy Wallace, who is head of the marine debris program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said plastic waste in the water is a crucial worldwide issue because it is eaten by sea life and it also collects ocean toxins. There's also a clean-up cost and it affects tourism, she said.

Unlike previous studies that looked at the plastic in the oceans, Jambeck used World Bank statistics on 192 countries' waste streams to track and estimate plastic pollution from the source. She examined how much waste is generated and the percentage that reaches the oceans.

Jambeck's estimates were for 2010 and ranged between 5 and 14 million tons of plastic, with 8.8 million tons the middle scenario estimate.

Previous estimates were less than 1 million tons but those were based on samples. Scientists know that much can be hidden in the bottom of the ocean and in places researchers don't get to.

Last year Andrs Czar of the University of Cadiz in Spain estimated the waste at about 35,000 tons based on samples, but he said the new Jambeck work adds important information to the puzzle of debris. And Cozar said his team acknowledged that "99 percent of the ocean's plastic is missing."

Critical thinking challenge: Why do some countries contribute more trash to the oceans than others?

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COMMENTS (45)
  • SantanaAntonio-DiB
    3/05/2015 - 11:24 a.m.

    pretty much "More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The only industrialized western country on the list of top 20 plastic polluters is the United States at No. 20. The U.S. and Europe are not mismanaging their collected waste, so the plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said."and this affects use on a daily day basis due to the affect the waste and other things like plastic ruin are oceans as we khow of it today

  • nicholas.jones07
    3/05/2015 - 12:43 p.m.

    I think the amount of trash in the ocean is astounding. I think that the fact that the U.S.A. is only contributing to the problem because of litter is very easy to fix. We tell people not to litter. But if the U.S. is only No.20 in polluting, who is No.1?

    • nicholasj-bag
      8/20/2015 - 07:56 p.m.

      Telling people probably wont work. There wont be a solution because no matter what anybody says people will just keep littering.

  • dilan.76
    3/05/2015 - 12:59 p.m.

    I think it is great that we are less than one percent of the waste, but I still think we can keep less trash off of the beach. About 100,000 marine creatures die in a year and about 1 million sea birds. Shoppers worldwide use about 500 billion plastic bags per year, I think all stores should be using reuse able bags so no trash will be littered.

  • Haley Patterson
    3/05/2015 - 01:21 p.m.

    I think that this is ridiculous that we dump plastic in the ocean. It's like someone pouring plastic in random parts of our living quarters. I don't think we should be doing this because it can harm all the animals in the ocean.

  • Ashleypatt
    3/05/2015 - 01:33 p.m.

    This article that I have ready is very interesting. I had no clue that plastic even went into the ocean. I thought it just got recycled. To know that theres that much plastic that gets dumped into the ocean like that I wonder where all the other things go to.

  • pabloc-DiB
    3/05/2015 - 01:37 p.m.

    Half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
    So much waste that is ruining our ocean today life and it looks very bad in the ocean.

  • TreyvaunT
    3/05/2015 - 01:37 p.m.

    That is terrible that there is that much pollution in the ocean. Plastic doesn't go away either so it will always be there. It's good that people are trying to get it out.

  • paiges-DiB
    3/05/2015 - 01:37 p.m.

    some countries contribute more trash to the oceans than others is because of the populations. Some oceans are bigger than other. This make a big difference.

  • CarterWBlue
    3/05/2015 - 05:30 p.m.

    If this becomes more that a little this world is going to be bad. If humans pollute their water their basically destroying it because this is the only water we have on earth. I hope that humanity can pull though this and step up and stop pollution.

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