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Scientists have figured out just how much and where it's coming from.

New study suggests 8 million metric tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, February 13, 2015, 5:50 PM - Plastic is an integral part of modern society, but this "miracle material" has a downside. A new study has calculated that an average of 8 million metric tonnes of plastic are entering the world's waterways each year and that can have a devastating impact on local ecosystems.

The study, which was published in the Feb. 13 edition of the journal Science, found that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste entered the ocean in 2010 from people living in 192 coastal countries.

Those countries alone generated 275 million metric tonnes of plastic waste that year.

University of Georgia's Jenna Jambeck says she and her associates at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis used 8 million metric tonnes as their midpoint.

"Eight million metric tons is the equivalent to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries we examined," she said in a statement.

The team examined all debris entering the ocean and then created a formula that focused on the plastic.

But there's more to the equation.

RELATED: Five trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean

Despite the 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tonnes going into the ocean, researchers are only finding 6,350 and 245,000 metric tonnes floating on the surface.

"This paper gives us a sense of just how much we're missing," co-author Kara Lavender Law, research professor at the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association said in a statement.

"Right now, we're mainly collecting numbers on plastic that floats. There is a lot of plastic sitting on the bottom of the ocean and on beaches worldwide."

The study suggests the amount of plastic entering the ocean could increase each year.

It's estimated that 1 billion tons of plastic have been discarded since the 1950s and research suggests it will take up to 500 years for some forms to biodegrade.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 in the U.S. actually made it to recycling plants.

The other 92% was shuffled off to landfills or found its way into the water. 

"We're being overwhelmed by our waste," she said. "But our framework allows us to also examine mitigation strategies like improving global solid waste management and reducing plastic in the waste stream. Potential solutions will need to coordinate local and global efforts." 

Sources: Science Daily | Science Journal

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