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. The quantity is much higher than previous estimates, according to a new study. It 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. So says the study's lead author, Jenna Jambeck. She is an environment engineering professor at the University of Georgia.

At the current rate, 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. But 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. They are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The U.S. is ranked No. 20. Europe and the U.S. are not mismanaging their collected waste. The plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said.

China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that makes its way into the ocean. That's nearly 28 percent of the world total. The U.S. contributes 77,000 tons. That 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, said study co-author, Kara Lavendar Law.

Nancy Wallace is head of the marine debris program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She said plastic waste in the water is eaten by sea life. It also collects ocean toxins. And, there's a clean-up cost and it affects tourism.

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. The middle scenario estimate is 8.8 million tons.

Previous estimates were less than 1 million tons, 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. 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 (99)
  • hlemay8@ims.com
    3/05/2015 - 08:47 a.m.

    I think it is ridiculous how much waste is being put into the ocean each year. People have really been getting careless with what they do with their trash. If people were to just recycle, the world could be really healthy, it's not even that hard to recycle. In many years, the world is going to die if people do not make a change.

  • Drew Boldt
    3/05/2015 - 10:07 a.m.

    I think we should all work together to make sure this doesn't happen because even if over 60% of the earth helps we will be able to make sure that our world is clean for the next generation

  • Drew Boldt
    3/05/2015 - 10:08 a.m.

    I think we should all work together to make sure this doesn't happen because even if over 60% of the earth helps we will be able to make sure that our world is clean for the next generation

  • BolinKatlin-DiB
    3/05/2015 - 11:37 a.m.

    Most people don't reali how much littering or polition affect the oceans and the earth it's self or the animals it affects like for example the palstic that is left in the oceans kills the corals and like that small animals on lad they could choke and die it's a big deal it's destroying the earth itself

  • claytonju-And
    3/05/2015 - 03:39 p.m.

    I think that we need them countries to step up and recycle and not let so much of that waste get in the ocean but people didn't realize that there is that much plastic in the ocean.

  • daltonb-And
    3/05/2015 - 04:00 p.m.

    That is crazy 8.8 million ton is a lot of plastic and we need to help clean it up are planet I don't think our the people who who do this don't care about are planet.

  • MasonK-4
    3/05/2015 - 04:01 p.m.

    Oceans are full of something, plastic that is. Contrary to belief, America isn't the leading contributor to the Ocean's waste problem, they're only twentieth in line. The top five are China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Researchers from Spain are saying that 99% of the ocean's waste is missing. Some theorize that it may lay on the ocean floor, or is being eaten by some species. I think this is very important, and the amount of waste going into the ocean should be slowed down as much as possible. I only use one garbage bag a week, in my household.

  • JasonW-1
    3/05/2015 - 07:04 p.m.

    Each year 8.8 million tons of plastic have been dumped in the ocean. It is estimated that by 2025, the total amount will be 170 million. This is more than what was previously estimated. Asian countries seem to be dumping the most plastic in the ocean. Well there's this again. People being terrible and polluting stuff. This is quite unfortunate.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    3/05/2015 - 07:09 p.m.

    I think that this article is very important because it talks about how much plastic is being deposited in the ocean because water is important to us, if the water is dirty, we won't be able to drink or feed our plants water and plastic being dumped in the ocean is destroying the environment of water. If some countries dump more than other countries, they must be the one destroying the environment whether than us dumping in the oceans.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why do some countries contribute more trash to the ocean than others?
    Answer: Some countries whether than us contributes more trash than other countries because they think that it is better if they dump the trash in the oceans so they can reduce their garbage problem, but that is not right.

  • ChaseG-5
    3/05/2015 - 07:22 p.m.

    This article is about littering and how much plastic is in the world's oceans. China currently makes up 28% of the world's plastic in the ocean. The US is less than 1% of the plastic in the ocean. Every year about 8.8 million tons of plastic gets dumped into the ocean per year. There will only be more trash in the ocean every year unless people stop littering. I think that people should stop littering because it is affecting animals and even humans. I also think that we need to invent something that prevents trash from entering the ocean.

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