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There are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean, according to new study

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, December 12, 2014, 5:38 PM - A new study in the journal PLOS One suggests there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes swirling in the world's oceans.

 Plastic is an integral part of modern society, but this "miracle material" has a downside.

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.

Now, a study attempts to quantify just how much plastic is clogging up our oceans.

RELATED: Scientists create self-healing plastic

A team of researchers traveled the world on 24 expeditions between 2007 and 2013, collecting ocean plastic along the way.

They found the largest source of plastic was from discarded fishing nets -- but they also found a heavy presence of plastic bags, toys and bottles.

Smaller pieces appear to be getting eaten by fish and travelling up the food chain.

The study only measured plastic found floating at the top of the ocean, and not the trash littering the seabed.


In May, a team of researchers discovered there could be trillions of pieces of microplastics lurking in Arctic ice -- and as it melts due to rising global temperatures, it stands flood the ecosystem with an unprecedented amount debris.

"Arctic sea ice from remote locations contains concentrations of microplastics at least two orders of magnitude greater than those that have been previously reported in highly contaminated surface waters," the study's author's write.

"Our findings indicate that  microplastics have accumulated far from population centers and that polar sea ice represents a major historic global sink of man-made particulates."

The research team believes that Arctic ice is trapping floating microplastics as it freezes. By citing current melting trends, the team estimates that 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released in the next ten years.

The complete study can be found at Wiley Online Library.

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