The surprising economics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A new study shows that it's not about how much waste you produce, but how you process it

Great Pacific Garbage Patch
(Image credit: (AP Photo/NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, File))

If you haven't already, meet the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of oceanic junk that has ballooned over the last four decades.

No one is sure how big it is, but it's probably enormous. A new study in Science Magazine tried to pin down some firm numbers by digging into various data: waste generation per person, the portion of that waste that's plastics, the size of populations near the coast, and the quality of countries' waste management systems. The researchers surveyed 192 countries, and found that, between them, humanity dumped 10.5 billion to 28 billion pounds of plastic waste into the oceans in 2010 alone — about 1.3 times the weight of Egypt's Great Pyramid at Giza.

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