“Unprecedented” increase in ocean plastic pollution since 2005

It is estimated that there are approximately 170 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans today.

Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has reached “unprecedented levels” in the past 15 years, according to a new study, calling for a legally binding international treaty to stop the harmful waste.

Ocean plastic pollution is a persistent problem around the world – animals can become entangled in larger pieces of plastic such as fishing nets or ingest microplastics that eventually enter the food chain to be consumed by humans.

Research published on Wednesday found that there are an estimated 170 trillion pieces of plastic, mostly microplastics, on the surface of the world’s oceans today, much of it discarded since 2005.

“Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans over the past 15 years has reached unprecedented levels,” says the study, published in the open access journal. PLoS One.

The amounts were higher than previous estimates, and the study found that the rate of plastic entering the oceans could accelerate several times over the coming decades if left unchecked.

The researchers took plastic samples from more than 11,000 stations around the world, focusing on a 40-year period between 1979 and 2019.

They found no trends until 1990, after a variation in trends between 1990 and 2005. After that, the samples skyrocket.

“We see a really rapid increase since 2005 because there is a rapid increase in production and also a limited number of policies that control the release of plastic into the ocean,” author Lisa Erdle told AFP.

The sources of plastic pollution in the ocean are numerous.

Fishing gear like nets and buoys often end up in the middle of the ocean, tossed or accidentally dropped, while things like clothing, car tires and single-use plastics often pollute closer to shore.

They eventually break down into microplastics, which Erdle said can look like “confetti on the surface of the ocean.”
—”Flood of toxic products”—

On current trends, plastics use will almost double from 2019 in G20 countries to 2050, reaching 451 million tonnes each year, according to the report, jointly produced by Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation.

In 1950, only two million tons of plastic were produced worldwide.

Recycling, even in countries with advanced waste management systems, has done little to help the pollution problem, as only a small percentage of plastics are properly recycled and all too often end up in landfills.

If landfills are not managed properly, plastic waste can seep into the environment and eventually reach the oceans.

“We’re really seeing a lack of recycling, a flood of toxic products and packaging,” Erdle said.

Rates of plastic litter appeared to decline at some points between 1990 and 2005, partly because there were some effective policies to control pollution.

This includes the 1988 MARPOL treaty, a legally binding agreement between 154 countries to end the dumping of plastics by marine, fishing and shipping fleets.

But with far more plastic being produced today, the study’s authors said a new, broad-based treaty is needed to not only reduce plastic production and use, but also to better manage its disposal.

“Environmental recovery of plastic is of limited value, so solution strategies must address those systems that reduce plastic pollution emissions in the first place,” the study said.

Last year, 175 nations agreed to end plastic pollution under a legally binding United Nations agreement that could be finalized next year.

Among the key actions under negotiation are a global ban on single-use plastics, a “polluter pays” system and a tax on new plastic production.

The total weight of plastic pollution detected in the ocean today is estimated at 2.3 million tons, the PLOS study reported.

He examined samples in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian and Mediterranean oceans.

More information:
A Growing Plastic Smog, Now Estimated to be Over 170 Trillion Plastic Particles Floating in the World’s Oceans — Urgent Solutions Needed PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0281596

© 2023 AFP

Reference: Rise in ocean plastic pollution ‘unprecedented’ since 2005 (2023, March 12) Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-ocean-plastic-pollution-unprecedented. html

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