Study: 269,000 Tons of Plastic Litter Oceans

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Irving Berlin wrote "How Deep is the Ocean?" in 1932. But he had little idea of how deep the miles and tons of garbage that also fill our planet's hydrosphere. In a jaw-dropping study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, we learned that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, are in the world's oceans.

The study was conducted by ships traveling across the planet collecting pieces of plastic with nets. And then using computer models, the nonprofit group 5 Gyres Institute, estimated that the oceans were indeed covered with trash at a much greater size and scope than first believed. The largest source of plastic by weight comes from discarded buoys and fishing nets. Plastic on the ocean floor was not included in the measurement.

Kara Law of the Sea Education Association says that consumers may want to note that they eat tuna that has ingested another fish that has eaten plastic that has in turn eaten another fish with plastic. And, yes, much of that plastic includes toxic chemicals.

“Plastics are like a cocktail of contaminants floating around in the aquatic habitat,” Chelsea Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Davis told The New York Times. “These contaminants may be magnifying up the food chain.”

Meanwhile, the American Chemistry Council issued a statement saying that its members “wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment,” and it cited industry efforts to combat the problem, including the 2011 Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter.