Plastics entering the world's oceans have surged by an "unprecedented" amount since 2005 and could nearly triple by 2040 if no further action is taken, according to new research.
An estimated 171 trillion plastic particles were afloat in the oceans by 2019, according to peer-reviewed research led by the 5 Gyres Institute, a U.S. organization that campaigns to reduce plastic pollution.
Marine plastic pollution could rise 2.6 fold by 2040 if legally binding global policies are not introduced, it predicted.
The study looked at surface-level plastic pollution data from 11,777 ocean stations in six major marine regions covering the period from 1979 to 2019.
"We've found an alarming trend of exponential growth in microplastics in the global ocean since the millennium," Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Group said in a statement. "We need a strong legally binding U.N. global treaty on plastic pollution that stops the problem at the source."
Microplastics are particularly hazardous to the oceans, not only contaminating water but also damaging the internal organs of marine animals, which mistake the plastic for food.
Experts said the study showed that the level of marine plastic pollution in the oceans has been underestimated.
"The numbers in this new research are staggeringly phenomenal and almost beyond comprehension," said Paul Harvey, a scientist and plastics expert with Environmental Science Solutions, an Australian consultancy focused on pollution reduction.
The United Nations kicked off negotiations on an agreement to tackle plastic pollution in Uruguay in November, with the aim of drawing up a legally binding treaty by the end of next year.
Environmental group Greenpeace said that without a strong global treaty, plastic production could double within the next 10 to 15 years, and triple by 2050.
A separate international treaty was agreed on Sunday to help protect biodiversity in the world's high seas.© (Thomson Reuters 2023.
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Hey, what's going on this hardly ever gets reported, nicely done! Bigger problem than natural global warming imo!
Most plastic micro-particles in the air and in the oceans come from car tyres, that really ought to stated in articles such as this.
problem is not just quantity, but the big evil packages with very small content designed for the single purpose of conning people
A great deal of what is out there is historical litter, some of it up to 50+ years old, from when nothing was recycled. Responsible countries already have extensive recycling and reuse programmes in play. Irresponsible countries won't abide by any treaties.
A large proportion of plastic waste with estimates from 20-40% comes from fishing gear...
most highly industrialized fishing nations have a lot to answer for in this regard!
Masks are made of micro plastics. Should go the way of the plastic straw.
From what I have read, most of the plastic going into the ocean enters via Asian rivers.
This issue has been known for a long time. There are several areas known as "plastic soup" where plastic waste accumulates in the ocean. The problem is that the amount of plastic waste is enormous, and most of it breaks down into smaller particles over time. Since this pollution is in international waters, it is difficult to assign responsibility for cleaning it up. Studies have shown that plastic particles have been found in human blood, indicating that what is thrown away will ultimately return to us in our food and air.
We alerted people to plastic waste in the oceans in the 1960s. Authorities didn't listen.