How Much Trash Ends Up In The Ocean – This is our main data entry on plastics, with a particular focus on pollution of the environment.
— was produced in 1907, marking the beginning of the global plastics industry. However, the rapid growth in global plastic production was not noticed until the 1950s. Over the next 70 years, annual plastics production increased nearly 230-fold, to 460 million tonnes in 2019.
How Much Trash Ends Up In The Ocean
To understand the magnitude of plastics entering the natural environment and the world’s oceans, we must understand various elements of the plastic production, distribution and waste management chain. This is crucial, not only to understand the scale of the problem, but also to implement the most effective mitigation interventions.
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The data and visualizations that follow in this entry provide this step-by-step overview. This overview is summarized in figure.1
In 1950, the world produced only 2 million tons per year. Since then, annual production has increased nearly 230 times, reaching 460 million tons in 2019.
The short-lived slowdown in annual production in 2009 and 2010 was predominantly the result of the 2008 global financial crisis – a similar reduction is seen in various metrics of production and consumption of resources, including energy.
The chart shows that, by 2019, the world produced 9.5 billion tonnes of plastic – more than a ton of plastic for every person alive today.
Marine Pollution Concept Showing Sunrise Over Ocean Full Of Plastic Trash. At Least 8 Million Tons Of Plastic End Up In Oceans Every Year And Make Maj Stock Photo
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 discarded, recycled or incinerated from 1980 to 2015.
Prior to 1980, plastic recycling and incineration was negligible; 100 percent was therefore dropped. From 1980 for incineration and 1990 for recycling, rates increased by an average of about 0.7% per year.2
In 2015, around 55% of global plastic waste was discarded, 25% was incinerated and 20% was recycled.
If we extrapolate historical trends up to 2050 – as can be seen in the graph here – by 2050, incineration rates would increase to 50%; recycling for 44%; and discarded waste would drop to 6%. However, note that this is based on simplistic extrapolation of historical trends and does not represent concrete projections.
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Of the 5.8 billion tonnes of primary plastic that are no longer used, only 9% have been recycled since 1950.
What industries and product uses is primary plastic production allocated to? In the graph we see the allocation of plastic production by sector for 2015.
Building and construction was the second largest sector, using 19% of the total. The production of primary plastic does not directly reflect on the generation of plastic waste (as shown in the next section), as this is also influenced by the type of polymer and shelf life of the final product.
This chart shows primary plastics usage by industry; in the graph we show these same sectors in terms of plastic waste generation. The generation of plastic waste is strongly influenced by the primary use of plastic, but also by the shelf life of the product.
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Packaging, for example, has a very short ‘in-use’ shelf life (typically around 6 months or less). This contrasts with construction, where plastic use has an average lifespan of 35 years.5
In 2015, the production of primary plastics was 407 million tons; about three-quarters (302 million tons) ended up as waste.
The graph shows the per capita rate of plastic waste generation, measured in kilograms per person per day.
Here we see differences of about an order of magnitude: daily per capita plastic waste in the highest countries – Kuwait, Guyana, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United States – is more than ten times greater than in many countries like India, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh.
How Much Of Our Plastic Garbage Ends Up At Sea?
These numbers represent total plastic waste generation and do not take into account differences in waste management, recycling or incineration. Therefore, they do not represent amounts of plastic at risk of loss to the ocean or other waterways.
Plastic will only enter rivers and the ocean if it is mismanaged. In rich countries, nearly all of their plastic waste is incinerated, recycled, or sent to well-managed landfills. It is not left open to the surrounding environment. Low to middle income countries tend to have poorer waste management infrastructure. Waste can be dumped outside landfills, and existing landfills are often open, leaking waste into the environment.
Mismanaged waste is material that is at high risk of entering the ocean through wind or tides, or transported to shore from inland waterways. Mismanaged waste is the sum of materials that are thrown away or disposed of improperly. Improperly disposed of and thrown away waste are different, and are defined in the sections below.
Mismanaged waste per capita in the Philippines is 100 times higher than in the UK. When multiplied by population (giving each country’s total usage), India, China, Philippines, Brazil and Nigeria are at the top of the list. Each country’s share of mismanaged global waste is shown on the map.
Revealing Plastic Waste Statistics (2021)
Not all mismanaged plastic waste is equally likely to reach river networks and then the ocean.
Climate, terrain, land use and distances within watersheds all affect the likelihood that mismanaged plastic waste ends up in the ocean.
The distribution of plastic inputs is reflected on the world map. There we see the share of each country in global plastic emissions.
The Philippines accounts for over a third (36%) of plastic inputs – not surprising given that it is home to seven of the top ten rivers. This is because the Philippines consists of many small islands where the majority of the population lives close to the coast.
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The plastic in our oceans can come from land-based or marine sources. Plastic pollution from marine sources refers to pollution caused by fishing fleets that leave behind fishing nets, lines, ropes, and sometimes abandoned vessels.
There is often intense debate about the relative importance of marine and land-based sources of ocean pollution. What is the relative contribution of each?
At the global level, the best estimates suggest that approximately 80% of ocean plastics come from land-based sources and the remaining 20% from marine sources.6
Of the 20 percent coming from marine sources, it is estimated that about half (10 percentage points) comes from fishing fleets (such as nets, lines and abandoned vessels). This is borne out by figures from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which suggest that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear contributes approximately 10% to total ocean plastics.7
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While uncertain, marine sources are likely to contribute between 20% to 30% of ocean plastics, but the dominant source remains land input at 70% to 80%.
While this is the relative contribution as an aggregate of global ocean plastics, the relative contribution from different sources varies depending on geographic location and context. For example, our most recent estimates of the contribution of marine sources to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ (GPGP) is that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear accounts for 75% of 86% of the floating plastic mass (greater than 5 centimeters ).9 This research suggests that most of this fishing activity originates from five countries – Japan, South Korea, China, the United States and Taiwan.
To fight plastic pollution, we need to know which rivers these plastics come from. It also helps if we understand
Most of the world’s largest emitting rivers are in Asia, with some also in East Africa and the Caribbean.
Preventing Ocean Pollution
On the graph, we see the top ten contributors.10 This is shown as each river’s share of the global total.
Seven of the top ten rivers are in the Philippines. Two are in India and one in Malaysia. The Pasig River in the Philippines alone accounts for 6.4% of global river plastics. This paints a very different picture from previous studies, where it was the major rivers in Asia – the Yangtze, Xi and Huangpu rivers in China and the Ganges in India – that were dominant.
First, plastic pollution is prevalent where local waste management practices are poor. This means that there is a large amount of mismanaged plastic waste that can enter rivers and the ocean in the first place. This makes it clear that improving waste management is essential if we are to tackle plastic pollution. Second, the biggest emitters tend to be close to towns: that means there are lots of paved surfaces where water and plastic can run off into river outlets. Cities like Jakarta in Indonesia and Manila in the Philippines are drained by relatively small rivers but account for a large share of plastic emissions. Third, the watersheds had high precipitation rates (meaning that plastics were washed into rivers and the flow rate from rivers to the ocean was high). Fourthly, distance matters: the largest rivers that emit had nearby cities and were also very close to the coast.
The study authors illustrate the importance of additional climate, basin terrain, and proximity factors with a real-life example. The Ciliwung river basin in Java is 275 times smaller than the Rhine river basin in Europe and generates 75% less plastic waste. However, it emits 100 times more plastic into the ocean each year (200 to 300 tons versus just 3 to 5 tons). The Ciliwung River emits much more plastic into the ocean, although it is much less because waste from the basin is generated very close to the river (meaning the plastic gets
Pacific Garbage Patch, Largest Collection Of Ocean Trash, Grows
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