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Research Team Says Ocean Plastic Pollution ‘Much Worse Than Expected’

An international study led by the 5 Gyres Institute, published in March (2023) in the journal Plos One, reported on ocean plastic contamination data that included recent samplings and prior published data from 1979 to 2019. In a news brief published by Stockholm University’s Stockholm Research Centre (SRC), study co-author, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, described the situation as “much worse than expected.” Lead author Markus Eriksen, of the 5 Gyres Institute, cautioned that cleanup attempts will be “futile if we continue to produce plastic at the current rate.” 

Ocean Plastic
  1. The team examined data from over 11,000 samplings of “floating ocean plastics.”

  2. Villarrubia-Gomez said, “In 2014, it was estimated that there were 5 trillion plastic particles in the ocean. Now, less than ten years later, we’re up at 170 trillion.” According to the SRC, the researchers found a “rapid increase” in both “mass and abundance” of floating plastics starting from 2005.

  3. The SRC brief says rates of plastic entering aquatic environments is “expected to increase approximately 2.6-fold from 2016 to 2040.”

  4. The study’s authors estimated the present accumulation of aquatic plastic at 82 trillion–358 trillion plastic particles, weighing approximately 1.1 million–4.9 million tons.

  5. The authors cited earlier samplings that showed increasing trends of microfiber presence since the 1960s, with an increasing trend of “microplastic entanglement” from the late 1950s.

  6. Also cited were reports of an increase of microplastics in the North Pacific between 1976 and 1985, and in the western North Atlantic from 1986 to 2015, with “a rate of increase paralleling global cumulative plastic production.”

  7. The authors called for "more standardization and coordination” to build more reliable reports on plastic waste trends.


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