Study Finds 21,000 Pieces of Ocean Plastic for Every Human on Earth

Mar 17, 2023

Global Plastic Materials Production by Region

Two million tons of plastic currently cover the world’s oceans. If nothing is done to clean up this “plastic smog,” this amount of pollution will triple by 2040, according to a new study.

The study’s authors said the plastic industry is at fault. They urged lawmakers to put policies in place to cut plastic production.

The study's lead author said “cleanup is futile if we continue to produce plastic at the current rate." He added that "the plastic industry…rejects any commitments to buy recycled material or design for recyclability.” That means the plastic industry is not recycling much plastic.

The author also co-founded The 5 Gyres Institute. It is a nonprofit. The group advocates for policies to curb plastic pollution.

The study came out last week. It looked at the growth of ocean plastic between 1979 and 2019. The study saw a large spike starting in 2005. Researchers cited a few possible reasons for why that's taken place. The first is a sharp uptick in the amount of plastic made. The second is that plastic breaks apart in the water. Finally, there have been changes in how plastic is thrown away.

The study found the world’s oceans are filled with 171 trillion plastic particles. That means for every person on the planet there are 21,000 plastic pieces floating in the ocean.

"The numbers in this new research are staggering…," one scientist told Reuters. 

The United Nations wants to adopt a global plastics treaty by 2024. But leaders have not decided if they want to lessen the amount of plastic made. Plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050.

Based on the information in the infographic, the reader can conclude that _______. (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. China produces more plastic than the rest of the world combined
b. North America is the third-largest producer of plastics worldwide
c. together, China and North America produce half the world’s plastics
d. Europe produces more plastic than North America
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