The extent of the plastic soup in the oceans may be much smaller than assumed for the past two decades. Estimates ranged from 50 million tons to 300 million tons of plastic waste floating in the oceans. But according to researchers at Utrecht University, the actual amount is closer to 3.2 million tons, Trouw reports.
Utrecht University oceanologist Mikeal Kaandorp and his team based their calculations on over 20,000 reliable measurements worldwide. According to them, rivers, in particular, bring much less plastic to the ocean than previously thought. Instead, much more plastic remains in the rivers than previous estimations, they expect.
The previous plastic soup estimates were based on the official figures of the amount of plastic produced per year. That is around 400 million tons per year and a total of about 10 billion tons since the 1950s. Only 6 percent of that was reused. The rest was incinerated, dumped, or missing. Based on these figures, environmental organizations estimated that over 10 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean yearly.
However, researchers could never actually find that plastic. Kraandorp concluded that only a small part of the plastic waste makes it to the ocean. “And what is in the ocean remains floating in large pieces for much longer. There are far fewer microplastics in the water than previously thought,” he told Trouw.
Biologist and campaigner against plastic soup Merijn Tinga is cautiously optimistic about the Utrecht conclusions. “It is, of course, hopeful if the plastic soup is less than expected,” she told Trouw. “But even if the amount of waste is a hundred times smaller than previously thought, it is still too much. It is especially a fortunate misfortune if the waste lingers longer in the rivers where it is – relatively – easier to clean up.”