New in Science: First Estimate to Quantify Plastics Flowing into the Ocean

Scientific literature first reported plastic pollution in the ocean as early as the 1970s. Over 40 years later no rigorous estimates of the amount and origin of plastic debris entering the marine environment exist - until now. Published in Science, a new study by a NCEAS Working Group provides the first estimate quantifying the input of plastic debris from land into the ocean. Additionally, the study offers a framework for developing ocean-scale solutions to the problem of plastic pollution in marine environments.

The Working Group, Marine debris: Scale and impact of trash in ocean ecosystems, for the first time estimated the amount of mismanaged plastic waste that can potentially enter the ocean annually by populations living within 50 km of a coast worldwide. Jambeck et al found that in 2010 alone more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste entered the oceans from land, and that figure may be as high as 12.7 million metric tons. That’s one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of plastic floating in the oceans. If no waste management infrastructure improvements are made, plastic waste entering the marine environment is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.

With increased population and increased per capita consumption, waste will continue to grow. Improving waste management infrastructure in developing countries is essential. Subsequently, while these improvements are being developed, it is imperative industrialized countries take immediate action by reducing waste and restricting single-use plastics.

Plastic waste inputs from land into ocean
Jenna R. Jambeck, Roland Geyer, Chris Wilcox, Theodore R. Siegler, Miriam Perryman, Anthony Andrady, Ramani Narayan, Kara Lavender Law
Science, February, 2015, DOI: 10.1126/science.1260352

Sample of the Press Coverage:

Press Releases:

University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Georgia
Science Education Association
American Chemical Council Plastics Division


More information about this project's research, participants, and publications

This work was supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, Ocean Conservancy, University of California, Santa Barbara, and the State of California.


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Posted on February 12, 2015