Study finds more plastic waste in Atlantic Ocean

Published on August 20th, 2020

Ten times more plastic pollution has been dumped in the Atlantic Ocean than previously believed, according to a study published on August 18.

The paper is the first of its kind to measure “invisible” microplastics floating beneath the surface across the entire Atlantic, the researchers say, and had led them to conclude that plastic waste in the ocean has been grossly underestimated.

The study, published in the Nature Communications journal, states:
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“Concern over plastic pollution of the marine environment is severe. The mass-imbalance between the plastic litter supplied to and observed in the ocean currently suggests a missing sink. However, here we show that the ocean interior conceals high loads of small-sized plastic debris which can balance and even exceed the estimated plastic inputs into the ocean since 1950. The combined mass of just the three most-littered plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene) of 32–651 µm size-class suspended in the top 200 m of the Atlantic Ocean is 11.6–21.1 Million Tonnes. Considering that plastics of other sizes and polymer types will be found in the deeper ocean and in the sediments, our results indicate that both inputs and stocks of ocean plastics are much higher than determined previously. It is thus critical to assess these terms across all size categories and polymer groups to determine the fate and danger of plastic contamination.”
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While the researcher note their figures account only for three widely-used types of plastic of limited sizes (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene), when considering that previous estimates have put entire plastic waste in the Atlantic Ocean at 17 million tons, it would suggest that the estimates are way off. Full report.

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