269,000 tons. That’s the headline coming from a new study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. The new figure is 10 times more plastic than recent studies have reported and clashes with another study suggesting plastic is mysteriously disappearing. (note: researchers from that study theorize the trash could be sinking into the deep ocean or breaking down into extremely small particles)
Ok, so how did researchers of this new study get to 269,000 tons? According to co-author Markus Eriksen, scientists used visual estimates of trash volume combined with data collected from trawling efforts.
Only pieces of plastic floating on the surface were included in the study.
It’s hard to even imagine what 269,000 tons of plastic looks like. The study authors estimate that “at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating at sea.”
Eriksen said that amount of plastic “would be like stacking two-liter bottles from here to the moon and back, twice.”
The 268,940 ton figure came from estimates from several different expeditions. Researchers had several pieces of published data to combine with their new data. Data from expeditions in the South Pacific, off the coast of Australia, the South Atlantic and more were used.
Plastic pollution in the ocean has long been a concern. Smaller plastic particles easily absorb toxic chemicals including DDT and others. These toxins then enter the marine food chain after plastic is ingested by fish and seabirds.
How far do they get into the food chain? Could eating fish affect us? Researchers still aren’t sure if the toxins would ultimately reach your dinner table. It’s plausible, but a lot more research is needed on that front.
The chart below shows how prevalent these smaller plastic particles are. Note the massive numbers of plastic pieces ranging from 0.33 millimeters to 4.75 millimeters (0.0013 inches to 0.19 inches).
Removing all of this trash would take an incredible effort. But, there is ways to start minimizing any new pollution. More emphasis needs to be placed on creating products that are designed for recycling, or better yet, reuse.