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STUDY: More plastic than fish by 2050 in our oceans

There could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, January 19, 2016, 4:45 PM - A new report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation paints a dismal future for the world's oceans, if no preventative action is taken.

While plastic is an integral part of modern society, this "miracle material" has a downside. It's estimated that 1 billion tonnes 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.

The paper by the MacArthur foundation analyzes the current rate of plastic making its way into the world's oceans, and offers a projection for the future.

"The new report acknowledges that while plastics and plastic packaging are an integral part of the global economy and deliver many benefits ... most plastic packaging is used only once," reads a statement on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's website.

"Given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight)."

According to the report, at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every minute, a number that's expected to double by 2050 if no action is taken.

The paper acknowledges that reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean will require "major" global collaboration, but the authors believe change is possible.

The foundation is calling on governments to impose stricter policies around plastic packaging while calling for improvements in packaging technologies.

PLASTIC IN THE OCEAN

A study published in December 2014 by U.S. and U.K. researchers suggested there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes currently swirling in the world's oceans.

The largest source of plastic was from discarded fishing nets, but a heavy presence of plastic bags, toys and bottles was discovered as well.

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.

PLASTIC IN THE ICE

Plastic isn't just swirling in the water: A study published in May 2014 a team of researchers discovered there could be trillions of pieces of microplastics lurking in Arctic ice.

As the ice it melts due to rising global temperatures, it could 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.

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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