For years we’ve been hearing about how plastic is reaching every corner of our ocean. Surfers have even traveled to some of the most remote locations on the planet only to find that plastic got their first. It’s no secret amongst environmentalists that plastic waste is a major problem plaguing our planet. Between the everyday products wrapped in plastic to single-use plastic bottles and grocery bags and even discarded fishing nets, the question of how much plastic is actually in our oceans has been eluding scientists.
That is, until now.
After more than six years and over 50,000 nautical miles to conduct pelagic plastic research, Marcus Eriksen, PhD, Director of Research for The 5 Gyres Institute released a study with the alarming data on the amount of plastic waste that has taken up residency in our oceans.
The new study lead by The 5 Gyres Institute in conjunction with researchers from six different countries and data gathered from 24 expeditions estimates more than a quarter million tons of toxic plastic pollution floating in the world’s oceans. That’s 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing about 269,000 tons floating in the world’s oceans.
The first global estimate of all plastic pollution in all oceans also shows that microplastics are not confined to the garbage patches.
“Our findings show that that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not final resting places for floating plastic trash,” Eriksen said. “Unfortunately, the endgame for microplastic is dangerous interaction with entire ocean ecosystems. We should begin to see the garbage patches as shredders, not stagnant repositories.”
This new understanding of how the gyres shred and disperse plastics throughout our oceans presents us with another issue. The smallest particles of plastic are leaving the ocean surface, likely happening because of ingestion by marine life and deep sea currents taking microplastics from the gyres and distributing them globally.
“The garbage patches could be a frightfully efficient mechanism for corrupting our food chain with toxic microplastics,” Eriksen continued.
There are, however, solutions to turning the tide on plastic waste in our oceans.
“Knowing that plastic pollution becomes hazardous waste in the ocean,” Eriksen said, “it is essential that innovative products and packaging designed for recovery replace the single-use, throw away culture of the past. The good news is, we don’t have to go out and clean the oceans, and if we stop adding to the problem, the oceans will clean themselves. It’s time to focus our mitigation strategies upstream from production to disposal. The status quo is not acceptable. Our goal is to vanquish the idea that oceans can bear our waste and to usher in an age of restoration and responsibility.”
The 5 Gyres Institute, which uses research to motivate change, contends that companies must take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of their products. Working in collaboration with multiple government agencies, NGOs and responsible corporations, the 5 Gyres Institute will continue to support campaigns such as its ongoing effort to replace plastic microbeads in cosmetics and toothpastes with biodegradable alternatives.
To learn more about The 5 Gyres Institute and how you can help, visit 5gyres.org