Less plastic in the oceans than previously expected

Published 13 August 2023
- By Editorial Staff
Plastic bottle in the Gili Islands, Indonesia.

Plastic waste in the oceans is much smaller than previously expected, according to new research at Utrecht University.

Previous estimates suggest that there are up to 300 million tons of plastic in the oceans, but it could actually be as little as 3.2 million tons. However, the plastic waste in the world’s rivers could be greater.

It has been estimated that there are between 50 and 300 million tons of plastic in the world’s oceans. However, researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands estimate the actual amount to be around 3.2 million tons.

Previous measurements have been made by taking the official figures for the amount of plastic produced each year, which is around 400 million tons per year. Of this, only about 6% is recycled and the rest is burned, discarded or lost. Environmental organizations have thus estimated that around 10 million tons of plastic probably end up in the oceans every year.

However, researchers could not find that amount of plastic. Oceanologist Mikeal Kaandorphar and his team have taken over 20 000 measurements worldwide and believe that only a small fraction of the plastic ends up in the oceans.

What’s in the ocean stays floating in large pieces for much longer. There are far fewer microplastics in the water than previously thought, Kaandorphar told Dutch newspaper Trouw.

One explanation given is that rivers carry much less plastic into the oceans than previously thought. It is therefore possible that there is much more plastic waste in the rivers.

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