Report shows we’re pouring 8m tonnes of plastic into our oceans every year

13 Feb 2015

Debris from urban activities and runoff accumulates at the edge of Lake Michigan. Image via Jenna Jambeck/UGA

Our oceans are rapidly filling with our waste plastics at a rate of 8m metric tonnes per year, seriously harming ecosystems and life in the process, a new report reveals.

According to the research undertaken by the team of scientists from the University of Georgia in the US, in 2010 somewhere between 4.8m – 12.7m metric tonnes of plastic waste entered into oceans from people who live up to 50km from a coastline, according to Science Daily.

The study was undertaken across the statistics from as many as 192 different countries who generated as much as 275m metric tonnes of plastic waste in 2010 alone in what is the first study to estimate the actual amount of plastic that is being dumped into our oceans.

Having published their findings in the Science journal, the project’s lead, Jenna Jambeck, said that the average figure of 8m is significant and is “the equivalent to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries we examined.”

When the team set out on their investigation, they had planned on measuring every type of man-made debris entering the Earth’s oceans, but quickly realised that plastic was by-far the most significant contributor to damaging the planet’s oceans.


Infographic charting plastic waste production. Click image to enlarge. Image via Lindsay Robinson/UGA

Most plastic hiding beneath the surface

Perhaps most worrying for Jambeck and her team is the realisation that most of this plastic is beneath the ocean’s surface with between just 6,350 and 245,000 metric tonnes of the 8m being found.

To make matters worse, the amount of plastic being created is only increasing, and exponentially at that, with just under 300m tonnes of plastic resin being produced in 2013 marking a 647pc increase from the figure measured in 1975.

The problem with dealing with such quantities of waste, Jambeck says, is the unequal distribution of waste management facilities worldwide, “It is incredible how far we have come in environmental engineering, advancing recycling and waste management systems to protect human health and the environment, in a relatively short amount of time,” she said.

“However, these protections are unfortunately not available equally throughout the world.”

Current estimates put the world’s ‘peak waste’ at the year 2100, but by 2025, our oceans will hold 155m metric tonnes of plastic.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic