In 2010, the oceans around the planet absorbed 4.7 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic trash. China topped the list of contributors to the ocean's plastic trash, according to a new study published on Friday in the journal Science.
The recent study was the first time researchers have quantified the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land. In the study, scientists traced the sources of billions of tons of plastic trash in the oceans and determined that much of the plastic trash was made in China. If the present trends continue, the amount of plastic in the world's oceans could be 10 times greater by the year 2025.
It's estimated that China's heavily coastal population contributes anywhere from 1.3 million to 3.5 million metric tons of plastic to the oceans on an annual basis, which the study attributes largely to the mismanagement of waste.
The study's senior author and oceanographer Kara Lavender said that we're "taking out tuna and putting in plastic."
Our low-end estimate is equivalent to the amount of tuna fished from the ocean in a single year... We are taking out tuna and putting in plastic.
The study found that eight of the top 10 plastic waste contributors were in Asia. These included Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China (PRC).
India didn't make the top 10, coming in at number 12 on the list with 0.60 million tons of plastic waste mismanaged on an annual basis. China, meanwhile, came in at number one with 8.82 million tons per year.
The Los Angeles Times notes in a report that while flotillas of plastic trash have been reported in the oceans since as the 1970s, there has been little attempt to quantify the trash's origin due to the incomplete nature and difficulty in obtaining the data.
In a related study published back in 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers estimated that the world's oceans hold close to 270,000 tons of floating plastic or the equivalent to 38,000 African elephants in terms of overall weight. The study indicated that the ocean contains five trillion pieces of plastic trash.
To gather the data required for the analysis of floating plastic in the oceans, researchers dragged a mesh net across the surface of the sea gathering small pieces of floating plastic while individuals on boats counted the larger items floating in the waters below. Computer modeling was then used to calculate estimates for areas of the ocean's surface which were not surveyed. The study disregarded plastic on the ocean floor, as it focused on the debris floating on the water's surface.
Early last month, Inquisitr reported that an endangered sei whale had been killed by a plastic DVD case, as it had digested a plastic shard which caused it to starve to death. The report notes that the ingestion of plastic by marine animals is a widespread problem, particularly amongst turtles and seabirds, which are apt to easily confuse the plastic debris for food. The plastic, once swallowed, can obstruct the stomach or intestine, leading to starvation and death.