There are more than five trillion pieces of plastic garbage weighing nearly 269,000 tons in the oceans of the world, according to a study published in the science journal PLOS ONE
, with much of it in huge floating patches.
Some of the world's largest garbage patches have been found by researchers in the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Bengal and off the coast of Australia, noted Smithsonian magazine
. As part of their study, scientists hunted down the garbage patches and other signs of plastic debris in the ocean from 2007 to 2013.
"Plastic pollution is globally distributed across all oceans due to its properties of buoyancy and durability and the sorption of toxicants to plastic," according to the study's introduction. "… (Plastics) traveling through the environment have led some researchers to claim that synthetic polymers in the ocean should be regarded as hazardous waste."
The Smithsonian wrote that researchers created a computer model to estimate the total quantity and weight of the world's marine plastic after conducting its field research. The model factored in such things as wind, ocean currents and the amount of plastic that eventually sink to the ocean's floor.
"Plastics Europe, a trade organization representing plastic producers and manufacturers, reported that 288 million tons of plastic were produced worldwide in 2012," the study stated. "Our estimate of the global weight of plastic pollution on the sea surface, from all size classes combined, is only 0.1 percent of the world annual production.
"However, we stress that our estimates are highly conservative, and may be considered minimum estimates. Our estimates of macroplastic are based on a limited inventory of ocean observations, and would be vastly improved with standardization of methods and more observations," the study stated.
The American Chemistry Council issued a statement
Wednesday in response to the study, agreeing that plastic left in oceans is a problem and said it supports a strategy that would help retrieve and recycle the products.
"America's plastics makers wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment," according to the ACC statement. "Every day, plastics contribute to sustainability by enabling us to reduce, reuse, recycle and recover more of the resources that we rely on – and by helping to lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions."
"Even after plastics have fulfilled their initial purpose, these materials should be treated as valuable resources and recycled whenever possible or recovered for their energy value when they cannot," the statement said.
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