How much garbage is there on the planet

8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year

Although the US, like Germany, has a sophisticated system of garbage collection, it made it into the top 20 for two reasons: it has a large, dense coastal population and, as a rich nation, has a large consumption of consumer goods.

“We looked at the other side of the equation - what's coming out of the pipe instead of what's already floating in the bath,” says Kara Lavender Law. The oceanographer for the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts co-wrote the report.

“The discrepancy is huge: 20 to 2,000 times larger than the range of estimates for floating garbage. That's pretty shocking, especially when you consider the amount that ends up in the sea in a single year, and that the amount currently counted has been moving in there for 50 years. "

Eight million tons can seem very abstract, so Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia made a tangible comparison. The environmental engineer and head of studies says that you can convert the amount to five shopping bags of garbage per 30 centimeters along all the world's coastlines.

“And by 2025, those five shopping bags full of plastic will have become ten,” she warns.

That would be 155 million tons per year, provided that nothing changes in the current handling of waste.


Jambeck and her team added up the population and economic data of 192 coastal countries on the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the Black and Mediterranean. In total, these countries generated 275 million tons of garbage annually, of which 4.8 to 12.7 million tons ended up in the sea. That's only 2 to 5 percent of the total amount of waste generated in these countries.

The use of plastic as a consumer good has steadily increased, and since the material was introduced as a mass product half a century ago, production has also grown steadily. In 2012, for example, 288 million tons of plastic were produced worldwide.

The plastic that ends up in the sea has been discovered almost everywhere: traces of it have been found in the deep sea and in the arctic ice. Around 700 species of marine life eat parts of the garbage intentionally or unintentionally, but in each case with dire consequences.

However, the current study has also raised a new big question: Since the gap between the amount on the surface and the amount that actually ends up in the sea is so large, the scientists now have to find out where and in what amounts the rest collects .

“Now we need to fill that gap,” says Richard Thompson, a marine biologist from the University of Plymouth in the UK.


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