Up to 13 million tonnes of plastic enters oceans...
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Feb 13, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Up to 13 million tonnes of plastic enters oceans each year, study finds

Amount could increase many times over in the next decade if countries don’t improve waste-management practices, says a new study.

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Between five and 13 million tonnes of plastic debris winds up in oceans every year, a number that could increase many times over in the next decade if countries don’t improve waste-management practices, says a new study.

The researchers combined data on solid waste from 192 coastal countries in 2010, examining population density and the quality of waste-management systems. That year, a total of 275 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated in those countries, although only a fraction makes it into the oceans.

Published in the Feb. 13 edition of the journal Science, the study lists China as the top contributor of plastic into oceans, with Indonesia and the Philippines at numbers two and three respectively. The U.S. is ranked 20th.

Canada is not in the top 20 but the study calculated there was 7,959 tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste in 2010.

While studies have quantified the total amount of plastic waste in the oceans — approximately 245 million tonnes — this is “the first time, we are estimating the amount of plastic that enters the oceans in a given year,” said Kara Lavender Law of the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association and one of the study’s authors.

“Nobody has had a good sense of the size of that problem until now.”

Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia and the study’s lead author, said some of the plastic, like polypropylene and polyethylene, floats and some sinks.

The plastic debris reached the oceans through estuaries, seashores and uncontrolled landfills. “It (plastic) gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and those fragments are really quite widespread in the ocean.”

Eight million tonnes of debris, for example, “is equivalent to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries we examined,” Jambeck said.

Plastic debris in the oceans was first reported in scientific literature in the early 1970s. It doesn’t biodegrade and some is ingested by small fish, plankton and even birds.

The garbage patches in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans have been a source of anxiety for scientists. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for instance, is a sprawling mass of garbage-littered water where most of the plastic looks like snowy confetti against the deep blue waters.

The researchers had some grim words for the future: they said there could be as much as 155 million tonnes of plastic waste by 2025.

But it is a problem that can be solved, said Jambeck.

“Part of this is looking at solutions, including waste-management infrastructure,” she said, adding it will take local and global efforts.

Some of the 192 coastal countries included in this research have no formal waste-management systems, Jambeck said. Solid-waste management is usually one of the last urban environmental engineering infrastructure components to be addressed during a country’s development, she pointed out. “Clean water and sewage treatment come first.”

But the paper was not about pointing fingers, said Jambeck.

“The goal of the paper was to make global estimates and, in order to do that, we had to use country level data to build the global model ... The purpose wasn’t to say, ‘Hey, you are doing wrong.’ The purpose was to illustrate that this is a global problem and we need to solve this together.”

Toronto Star

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