Plastic in Oceans Is Only One-Sixteenth of Previously Publicized Estimate

(p. A7) There’s less plastic pollution flowing into the ocean from land than scientists previously thought, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The researchers estimated that about 500,000 metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, with about half from land. The other half comes from the fishing industry in the form of nets, ropes, buoys and other equipment.

An earlier, widely publicized study in 2015 estimated that about eight million metric tons of plastic were entering the ocean each year from rivers alone.

. . .

The 2015 study was one of the first comprehensive research efforts to tally up how much plastic ends up in the ocean. But there was a large discrepancy between its estimate of eight million metric tons and the amount of plastic observed in the ocean. Newer studies have tried to address this gap.

The paper published on Monday [Aug. 7, 2023] combined data from many earlier studies that sampled smaller plastics in the ocean using net trawls or observed larger plastics from ships and from shore. The researchers fed this data into a computer model of how objects move around the ocean in order to estimate both how much plastic is entering the ocean each year and how much total plastic pollution there is floating on the sea surface.

For the full story, see:

Delger Erdenesanaa. “Previous Study Overestimated Level of Plastic In the Oceans.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 8, 2023): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 7, 2023, and has the title “There Might Be Less Plastic in the Sea Than We Thought. But Read On.”)

The academic article summarized above is:

Kaandorp, Mikael L. A., Delphine Lobelle, Christian Kehl, Henk A. Dijkstra, and Erik van Sebille. “Global Mass of Buoyant Marine Plastics Dominated by Large Long-Lived Debris.” Nature Geoscience 16, no. 8 (Aug. 2023): 689-94.

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