Study: The amount of plastic entering the ocean every year is rising

Trash in the ocean.
(Image credit: iStock)

Every year, about eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in the world's oceans, and that number is expected to increase over the next 10 years unless waste management improves in several countries.

In a report published in the journal Science on Thursday, lead author Jenna Jambeck, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, said that her team measured the year 2010, and determined that anywhere from 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic went into the ocean, leaving them with the middle figure of eight million. That number is the equivalent of "five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world," she told The New York Times. "[That] sort of blew my mind."

The study projects that by 2025, that will increase to 10 bags per foot. Researchers determined these massive numbers by figuring out how much waste is produced every year by each person in the 192 countries that have coastlines, and then determining how much was probably plastic and how much could go into the ocean because of the country’s waste management practices. "This is a significant study,” Nancy Wallace, director of the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Times. "Of course we know these aren't absolute numbers, but it gives us an idea of the magnitude, and where we might need to focus our efforts to affect the issue."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.