How Much Plastic Ends Up In The Ocean – This is our main post on plastics, with a focus on environmental pollution from plastics.

— was produced in 1907, marking the beginning of the global plastics industry. However, the rapid increase in global plastics production did not occur until the 1950s. Over the next 70 years, the annual production of plastics increased nearly 230-fold to 460 million tonnes in 2019.

How Much Plastic Ends Up In The Ocean

To understand the scale of plastics entering the world’s environment and oceans, we need to understand the different parts of the plastic waste production, distribution and management chain. This is crucial not only to understand the scale of the problem, but also to implement the most effective reduction interventions.

Facts About Plastic Pollution In The World And Our Oceans (2023)

The data and visualizations in this post walk you through this step-by-step overview. This overview is summarized in Figure 1

In 1950, the world produced only 2 million tons a year. Since then, annual production has increased almost 230-fold, reaching 460 million tonnes in 2019.

The brief decline in annual production in 2009 and 2010 was mainly the result of the 2008 global financial crisis, with a similar decline seen in several indicators of resource production and consumption, including energy.

The graph shows that by 2019, the world produced 9.5 billion tons of plastic – more than one ton of plastic for every person alive today.

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How has the global method of plastic waste disposal changed over time? In the graph, we see the share of global plastic waste that is thrown away, recycled or incinerated between 1980 and 2015.

Prior to 1980, recycling and incineration of plastics was negligible; Therefore, 100 percent was rejected. Since 1980 for incineration and 1990 for recycling, rates have increased by an average of about 0.7 percent per year.2

In 2015, an estimated 55 percent of the world’s plastic waste was thrown away, 25 percent was incinerated, and 20 percent was recycled.

If we extrapolate historical trends to 2050, as seen in the chart below, by 2050, burn rates would increase to 50 percent; recycling up to 44 percent; and discarded waste would fall to 6%. However, it should be noted that this is based on a simplified extrapolation of historical trends and does not reflect specific projections.

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Where Does All The Plastic Go?

Of the 5,800 million tons of virgin plastic no longer used, only 9 percent has been recycled since 1950.

To which industries and product applications is the primary production of plastics allocated? The chart shows the allocation of plastics production by sector in 2015.

Construction was the second largest sector using 19 percent of the total. The primary production of plastics does not directly reflect the generation of plastic waste (as shown in the next section), as this also affects the type of polymer and the lifetime of the final product.

This graph shows the use of virgin plastics by sector; in the graph, we show the same sectors in terms of plastic waste generation. The generation of plastic waste is strongly influenced by the original use of plastics, but also by the life of the product.

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For example, packaging has a very short lifespan (usually around 6 months or less). This contrasts with construction, where the average lifespan of plastics is 35 years.5

In 2015, the production of virgin plastics was 407 million tonnes; about three-quarters (302 million tonnes) ended up as waste.

In the graph, we see the rate of plastic waste generation per capita, measured in kilograms per person per day.

Here we see differences of magnitude: daily plastic waste per capita in the most valuable countries – Kuwait, Guyana, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United States – is more than ten times higher than in many countries such as India, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh .

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These figures represent the total amount of plastic waste generated and do not take into account differences in waste management, recycling or incineration. They therefore do not reflect the amount of plastic that may end up in the ocean or other waterways.

Plastic will only get into rivers and oceans if it is poorly managed. In rich countries, almost all plastic waste is incinerated, recycled or sent to well-managed landfills. It is not left open to the surrounding environment. Low- and middle-income countries tend to have poorer waste management infrastructure. Waste can be deposited outside landfills, and landfills that exist are often open, allowing waste to leak into the surrounding environment.

Improperly managed waste is material that has a high risk of being carried to the ocean by wind or tides or carried to coasts by inland waterways. Improperly managed waste is the sum of materials that are either littered or improperly disposed of. Improperly disposed of and littered waste varies and is defined in the following sections.

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Poorly managed waste per capita in the Philippines is 100 times higher than in the UK. When we multiply by population (to give a total for each country), India, China, the Philippines, Brazil and Nigeria top the list. Each country’s share of the global mismanaged amount of waste is shown on the map.

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Not all poorly managed plastic waste is equally likely to end up in river networks and then into the ocean.

Climate, topography, land use and distances within river basins all affect the likelihood that improperly managed plastic waste will end up in the ocean.

The location of the plastic cartridges is reflected on the world map. There we see each country’s share of global plastics emissions.

The Philippines accounts for more than a third (36%) of plastic refills – not surprising considering it is home to seven of the ten largest rivers. This is because the Philippines is made up of many small islands where most of the population lives near the coast.

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The plastic in our oceans can come from both terrestrial and marine sources. Marine plastic pollution refers to pollution caused by fishing fleets that leave behind fishing nets, ropes, ropes and sometimes abandoned ships.

There is often intense debate about the relative importance of marine and terrestrial sources to ocean pollution. What is the relative contribution of each?

At the global level, best estimates suggest that around 80 percent of the plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources, and the remaining 20 percent comes from marine sources6.

Of the 20 percent marine sources, about half (10 percentage points) is estimated to come from fishing fleets (such as nets, lines and abandoned vessels). This is supported by data from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which suggests that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear accounts for about 10 percent of the total amount of plastic in the oceans.7

How Much Plastic Ends Up In The Ocean?

While not certain, marine sources are likely to account for 20% to 30% of oceanic plastics, but the terrestrial contribution of 70% to 80% remains the dominant source.

While this is the relative contribution of global plastic to the oceans, the relative contributions of different sources will vary by geography and context. For example, our latest estimates of the contribution of marine sources to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (GPGP) indicate that abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear accounts for 75% of the 86% of floating plastic mass (greater than 5 cm).9 Study this suggests that most of this fishing activity comes from five countries – Japan, South Korea, China, the United States and Taiwan.

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To fight plastic pollution, we need to know what rivers these plastics come from. It also helps if we understand

Most of the world’s largest water-emitting rivers are in Asia, with some also in East Africa and the Caribbean.

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The chart shows the top ten contributors.10 This is shown as each river’s share of the global total.

Seven of the ten largest rivers are in the Philippines. Two are in India and one is in Malaysia. The Pasig River in the Philippines alone accounts for 6.4% of the world’s riverine plastic. This paints a completely different picture than previous research, which was dominated by the largest rivers in Asia – the Yangtze, Xi and Huangpu in China and the Ganges in India.

First, plastic pollution predominates where local waste management practices are poor. This means that there is a large amount of mismanaged plastic waste that can end up in rivers and oceans. This clearly shows that improving waste management is essential if we are to fight plastic pollution. Secondly, the biggest sources of emissions tend to be near cities: this means there are many paved surfaces where both water and plastics can run off into estuaries. Cities like Jakarta in Indonesia and Manila in the Philippines are drained by relatively small rivers but account for a large proportion of plastic emissions. Third, there was high precipitation in the river basins (meaning that plastics were dumped into the rivers, and river flow to the ocean was high). Fourth, distance matters: the largest emitting rivers had towns nearby as well as being very close to the coast.

The authors of the study illustrate the importance of additional climate, river basin and proximity factors with a real-life example. The Ciliwung river basin in Java is 275 times smaller than the Rhine basin in Europe and generates 75% less plastic waste. However, every year it emits 100 times more plastic into the oceans (200 to 300 tons versus just 3 to 5 tons). The Ciliwung River emits much more plastic into the ocean even though it is much less because the waste from the basin is generated very close to the river (meaning plastic gets

Clean Up Your Mess!

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