World’s oceans clogged by millions of tons of plastic trash

Source: Reuters

The world’s oceans are clogged with plastic debris, but how much of it finds its way into the seas annually? Enough to place the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic trash on every foot (30 cm) of every nation’s coastline around the globe.

That’s according to scientists who released research on Thursday estimating that a staggering 8 million metric tones of plastic pollution enter the oceans each year from the world’s 192 coastal countries based on 2010 data.

Based on rising waste levels, they estimated that more than 9 million tons would end up in the oceans in 2015.

Experts have sounded the alarm in recent years over how plastic pollution is killing huge numbers of seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and other creatures while sullying ocean ecosystems.

China was responsible for the most ocean plastic pollution per year with an estimated 2.4 million tons, about 30 percent of the global total, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The United States was the only rich industrialized nation in the top 20, and it ranked No. 20. Coastal EU nations combined would rank 18th.

The trash encompasses just about anything imaginable made of plastic including shopping bags, bottles, toys, food wrappers, fishing gear, cigarette filters, sunglasses, buckets and toilet seats.

“In short, you name it and it is probably somewhere in the marine environment,” said Kara Lavender Law, a research professor of oceanography with the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association.

The estimates were based on information including World Bank data for trash generated per person in all nations with a coastline, coastal population density, the amount of plastic waste countries produce and the quality of their waste-management practices.

“I think this is a wake-up call for how much waste we produce,” said University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck.

The researchers calculated that 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the 192 coastal countries that year, with an estimated 8 million tons entering the ocean and a possible range between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons.

“The most pressing need is to capture plastic waste to prevent it from entering the environment,” Law said. “This means investing in waste management infrastructure, especially in those countries with rapidly developing economies.”

“In high-income countries, we also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste, especially plastic waste, that we produce,” she added.

The research was published in the journal Science.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)


Plastic waste dominates seafloor litter in Mediterranean and Black Sea surveys

Source: Science for Environment Policy

Researchers have trawled coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea for waste and found up to 1211 items of litter per km2. Plastic bags and bottles were some of the most commonly found items. They present the results in a recent study, which they say supports Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) implementation, as well as efforts to discourage plastic carrier bag use.

Marine litter has a range of damaging impacts. For instance, marine creatures can become entangled in floating nets or eat the litter. Floating litter can also transport non-native species into new environments and tiny plastic fragments, ‘microplastics’, have been shown to be long-term sources of pollutants, such as phthalates.

This study, conducted under the EU PERSEUS project1, assessed marine litter on the seafloor of five areas in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea — three gulfs in Greece, one gulf in Cyprus and one bay in Romania.

The researchers say this study highlights the need for action to tackle marine litter and is relevant to ‘descriptor 10’ of the MSFD. This is one of eleven qualitative criteria describing ‘good environmental status’ listed by the Directive and states that ‘Properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment‘. An important first step in satisfying this descriptor is to quantify marine litter. There is only limited information on quantities in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, however.

The study trawled the seabeds of the five areas for litter at a total of 94 sampling stations in early 2013. The researchers point out that rocky areas cannot be trawled, and that they focused on fishing grounds with sandy or muddy floors.

In total, 5398 items of marine litter were collected. The majority (3269) came from the Saronikos Gulf near Athens, where 1211 items were gathered per km2 of area trawled. The Limassol Gulf in Cyprus was the cleanest area, with 46 items collected and a litter density of 24 items/km2.

In all areas except the Constanta Bay in Romania, the majority of items were made of plastic. Nearly all (95%) items from the Saronikos Gulf were plastic, which exceeds the global average of 75%. Between 60-67% of finds in the Limassol Gulf, the Gulf of Patras and the Echinades Gulf were plastic. The figure was 45% in the Constanta Bay.

Half of all plastic items (49.6%) were bags. This result provides further support for the EU decision to reduce the use of plastic bags, the study says. Bottles accounted for 17.5% of plastic waste and sheets 13.5%. Fishing debris, such as lines and nets, contributed 6.7% of all plastic litter. After plastic, metals were the most common material, at 8.7%–22%, depending on the area, of items found. Glass and ceramics accounted for 6–22% of litter.

In all areas, over half (50.8–71.8%) of litter was between 5 x 5 cm and 20 x 20 cm in size. Small items, under 5 x 5 cm, also made up a significant percentage of litter, with ranges between 7% and 23%. Small fragments are a particular concern because they are difficult to remove from the sea, and are more likely to be ingested by animals or to transfer pollutants.

1. PERSEUS (Policy-oriented marine Environmental Research for the Southern European Seas) is supported by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme. See:

Source: Ioakeimidis, C., Zeri, C., Kaberi, H. et al. (2014). A comparative study of marine litter on the seafloor of coastal areas in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Seas. Marine Pollution Bulletin 89(1): 296–304. DOI:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.09.044.


Conference: Be part of removing PLASTIC from the oceans

The Environment Agency of Iceland will host a conference on plastics in the marine environment in Reykjavík, Iceland, on the 24th of September 2014.
The main objective of the conference is to put forward measures on how to minimize  plastic garbage in the marine environment with emphasis on the fishing industry.
Please reserve the date. More detailed agenda will be announced soon.

More information

On the quantity and composition of floating plastic debris entering and leaving the Tamar Estuary, Southwest England

Source: ScienceDirect

Authors: Saeed S. Sadri, Richard C. Thompson


The majority of plastic debris found in the marine environment has land based sources and rivers are considered an important medium for transfer of this debris. Here we report on the quantity and composition of floating plastic debris collected from surface waters of the Tamar Estuary. This represents the first study of riverine transport of floating plastic debris into European waters during different tidal regimes. Plastics were found in a variety of forms and sizes and microplastics (<5 mm) comprised 82% of the debris. The most abundant types of plastic were Polyethylene (40%), Polystyrene (25%) and Polypropylene (19%). There was a significant difference in size frequency distribution between the spring and neap tides with more fragments of larger size observed during spring tides. While it is clear that debris has accumulated on shorelines within the estuary, during our study this river did not identify as a net source or sink.

Plastic waste: Parliament sounds the alarm

The most hazardous plastics and certain plastic bags should be banned by 2020, as part of an EU strategy to reduce plastic waste in the environment, says the European Parliament in a resolution voted on Tuesday. The EU should also introduce binding plastic waste recycling targets, MEPs add.

The resolution, a call for action further to a European Commission green paper, was passed by a show of hands. In it, MEPs stress that plastic waste is damaging the environment due both to weak enforcement of EU legislation on waste and to the lack of specific EU laws on plastic wastes, despite their particularities.

See the European Parliament resolution of 14 January 2014 on a European strategy
on plastic waste in the environment (2013/2113(INI))

Conference on Plastic Waste 2013

30th March 2013, Brussels

The Commission’s Green Paper on plastic waste in the environment, published on 7 March 2013, has attracted great interest with over 270 replies from public authorities, NGOs, industry and other stakeholders.
Plastic waste has started to attract increased public attention, notably due to a growing number of reports about marine litter. An estimated amount of more than 100.000 t, mostly so-called micro-plastics, is floating in the world’s oceans. This is a great concern in particular since plastic and POPs concentrated on the surface of micro-plastics could enter the food chain. The potential environmental effects of this phenomenon are only beginning to be fully understood.

The conference brings together high-level experts from very different angles who will help to get a more complete picture on how to adjust the present resource inefficient management of plastic waste and advance towards a more circular economy. The conference will be a platform for lively debates and the sharing of insights into the best possible way forward to address plastic and plastic waste in the future.

CleanSea project coordinator, Heather Leslie, will provide a speech on “Latest research in plastic in the marine environment”

More information

New IMSA report “Plastic Marine Litter: One Big Market Failure”

MSA has published a new report ‘Plastic Marine Litter: One Big Market
Failure. Systemic look at plastic waste in the light of plastic marine
litter’ (IMSA Amsterdam, April 2013). It contains the outcome of a
one-year study on plastic marine litter and waste management, including
the input from Dutch stakeholders from discussions on the draft report.
It has focused land-based sources and especially on municipal solid
waste and packaging waste. Sponsoring came from Desso and PlasticsEurope.

Main conclusions are that more action on plastic marine litter is needed to reduce littering, accelerate Circular Plastics Value Chains, and achieve absolute decoupling between plastics use and its environmental impact through remaining leaks.

The report and summary can be downloaded here.