There Are Trillions More Pieces of Plastic in the World’s Oceans Than We Thought

We know the problem with plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is bad and that it’s having a devastating impact on marine life — from disposable plastic objects being removed from sea turtles’ faces to estimates that 90 percent of seabirds have ingested it and that it’s making its way to remote regions of the world. Now, according to a new comprehensive study there’s a lot more of the harmful plastic than we previously thought.

Still, to understand just how bad the problem is, we need to know how much plastic is out there, what happens to it over time and where it is. For the study, just published in Environmental Research Letters, researchers analyzed data collected by surface-trawling plankton nets going back to the 1970s.

According to the study’s the authors, the number of microplastic particles, or pieces that are smaller than 5 mm in size, ranges from 15 to 51 trillion particles, which weigh between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons. The new estimate is about seven times more than previously thought and still didn’t take into account the amount that sinks, or is eaten by wildlife.

Marcus Eriksen, co-author of the study from the 5 Gyres Institute, explains the new research is more reliable because it uses more data — and more recent data — along with comprehensive ocean models. He adds that better waste management can help address the problem, but that will only go so far if we keep making and tossing plastic at the rate we’re going, which means we need better product design.

“The single use throwaway product concept is trashing our oceans. No waste management scheme is going to effectively clean up the proliferation of poorly designed products and packaging, like plastic bags, plastic straws, microbeads, water bottles, etc.,” he said.

There’s good news in at least one area addressing the production of plastic waste with a federal bill to ban plastic microbeads found in products we use every day over concerns about their impact on our environment. Even though they’re incredibly tiny, microbeads are causing big problems when they go down the drain, passing right through wastewater treatment plants, and ending up in waterways, oceans and the Great Lakes.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act was just passed in the House earlier this month and now moves to the Senate for a vote. This legislation is stronger than state bans already passed to phase out their use and will ban their production and distribution over the next few years.

“Most people who buy personal care products that contain microbeads are unaware that these tiny bits of plastic seep into waterways, threatening the environment and ultimately our health.  Our bill is a bipartisan and commonsense solution,” said Congressman Frank Pallone, who introduced the bill.


Please sign and share the petition urging the U.S. Senate to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act.

For more info on work being done to address plastic pollution in the ocean, check out the 5 Gyres Institute.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Monica Collier
Monica Collier3 years ago

I can't understand why people go to the beach and litter it with everything from bottles to diapers and many other items. There aren't enough waste recepticals on the beaches so they simply leave it on the sand out of laziness. When are we going to take care of our natural resources?

Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”
― Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Patricia Harris
John Taylor3 years ago

Here's a solution to removing plastic from our world's oceans!! Solar-Powered Water Wheels!!

Anna S.
Anna S3 years ago

If you see any debris floating in the oceans, that's your cue to remove them!!

Arlene C.
Arlene C3 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W3 years ago

Only banning or severe punishment seems to have any effect on thick skulls.

Fred L.
Fred L3 years ago

Today, as I was paddling into shore, I noticed two plastic sandwich bags near the water. In those bags were young oama (goatfish), dead and left to rot on the shore. Fisherman net oama and use them as live bait. Whoever left those bags should rot in hell. Extremely disrespectful of the fish, compounded by leaving plastic bags to wash into the ocean. I took the dead fish out, and threw them into the water, where other marine life could feed on them. I took the bags home to throw them away. SMMFH.

Fred L.
Fred L3 years ago

@D.E.A.C.~~"Barry W. your comment insults swine everywhere."~~Seconded. Comparing humans to pigs is an insult to pigs. I surf nearly every day, and I pick up as much opala (trash) as will fit into my wax and key pockets. It's a lot of crap, and ever increasing over the years. Most humans don't give a shit about how they're trashing our beautiful world.