That is the startling conclusion of a recent study conducted by researchers from the 5 Gyres Institute, the University of California, Riverside, the Stockholm Resilience Center, and a number of other academic and environmental research institutions around the world.
Another piece of evidence in favor of a strong UN pact to limit plastic pollution is presented by research that was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday.
According to the lead author of the study Marcus Eriksen, co-founder, and researcher from The 5 Gyres Institute, we have discovered an alarming pattern of an exponential development of microplastics in the worldwide ocean since the turn of the millennium, reaching over 170 trillion plastic particles.
This is a clear signal that global action is required right away. We require a robust, binding UN Global Covenant on plastic pollution that tackles the issue at its root.
An environmental issue of oceanic proportions is oceanic plastic. When animals ingest it, choke on it, or mistake it for food, it hurts marine life. Plasticosis, which is defined as scarring induced by plastic in seabirds’ stomachs, was just recently described by experts.
Microplastics created as ocean plastic degrades have the potential to move up the marine food chain and eventually reach people. Even our blood has been proven to contain them. There is biological evidence that these tiny bits of plastic are bad, even though the effects on health are still unknown.
Determining the precise amount of plastic that presently floats in the water has proven to be difficult when trying to comprehend the scope of the ocean plastic catastrophe. The majority of earlier research either tallied plastic in the oceans of the northern hemisphere close to highly industrialized nations or examined plastic accumulation over a shorter period of time.
With regard to the new study’s innovation, 11,777 observation sites in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea provided data on plastic in the ocean surface layer (OSL) between 1979 and 2019.
The period between 1979 and 1990 had no obvious trend. The volume of plastic changed between 1990 and 2005. The peak of the pollution wave occurred after 2005.
The amount and distribution of plastics in the OSL throughout the world have increased significantly since the turn of the century, according to the study’s authors.
In particular, they estimated that by 2019, there would be between 82 and 358 trillion plastic particles floating in the ocean, the majority of which would be microplastics, with a mean of 171 trillion particles. This plastic flotilla’s total weight ranged from 1.1 to 4.9 million tonnes, with a mean of 2.3 million tonnes.
The researchers hypothesized that the sharp increase in ocean plastics may have been brought on by changes in plastic waste management, a sharp increase in the production of plastic, and the breakdown of larger plastic pieces that were still making their way into the ocean from rivers and shorelines.
Although there are still some unknowns when it comes to quantifying the total amount of plastic in the world’s oceans, the increased trend discovered by scientists is consistent with patterns seen since 2005 on beaches all around the world.
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The authors of the study came to the conclusion that these simultaneous trends strongly indicate that plastic pollution in the world’s oceans during the past 15 years has reached unparalleled levels.
The UN is now working on a convention to limit plastic pollution when the new report is out. A definitive treaty must be signed by 2024 after the first round of negotiations ended in December 2022.
It also comes a little over a week after a report from the Back to Blue foundation found that without a very ambitious treaty that includes a ban on unnecessary single-use plastics, a mechanism to hold plastic producers accountable for the entire lifecycle of their product, and a tax on making plastics from new petroleum products, plastic consumption in G20 countries could nearly double by 2050.
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In a second statement emailed to EcoWatch, Eriksen stated that the exponential rise in microplastics in the world’s oceans is a stark warning that we must act immediately on a global scale, stop focusing on cleanup and recycling, and usher in an era of corporate responsibility for the entire life of the things they make.
We have heard about recycling for too long, but the plastic industry refuses any promises to acquire recycled material or design with recycling in mind, so cleanup is pointless if we keep producing plastic at the current rate. It’s time to tackle the plastic issue at its root.