8M tonnes of plastic in oceans each year: Asia and US top list

A new study published in the journal, Science, estimates that between 4 and 12 million tonnes of plastic garbage is dumped into the world’s oceans every year by coastal countries.

Roland Geyer, an associate professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and one of the authors of the report said, “It is an enormous, staggering amount of material that we believe might be entering the ocean every year.”

Scientists began finding islands of garbage back in the 1970s when they discovered that plastic debris is carried by ocean current. It’s only been now that they’ve researched the source of this debris.

The study showed that coastal countries are the worst offenders, improperly disposing of more than eight million tonnes of plastic garbage every year. Everything from plastic water bottles to food packaging is found in the oceans.

Greyer explained that, “If you spread it out on the ground, eight million (tonnes) would be enough plastic waste to cover 34 times the area of Manhattan ankle-deep in uncompacted plastic waste.”

The project, which was conducted by researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, studied 192 coastal countries and found that 20 countries are responsible for 83 percent of the so-called “mismanaged plastic” garbage, with China topping the list.

Other offending countries in order of “mismanaged plastic” litter included Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanks, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, South Africa, India, Algeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Brazil, Burma, Morocco, North Korea and the Unites States.

Researchers believe a lot of the mismanaged plastic simply blows into rivers and estuaries from overloaded garbage dumps where it’s carried out to sea. They also found that in many instances, the garbage is simply dumped on coastal beaches by ocean vessels, a dumping practice that is illegal.

While developing countries may not have the infrastructure to deal with their garbage overload, countries such as the United States still have “large mass of mismanaged plastic waste because of large coastal populations and…high per-capita waste generation,” the report concludes, even though they have garbage collection and recycling programs.

The study determined that, “To achieve a 75 percent reduction in the mass of mismanaged plastic waste, waste management would have to be improved by 85 percent in the 35 top-ranked countries.”

Geyer says that means better landfill systems, increased recycling, reduced plastic packaging and replacing plastic with other materials. Geyer also notes that scientists have yet to figure out where all the plastic is going, if it’s sinking or disintegrating into microplastic shards and what this impact is having on the natural environment.