The demand for and the production of plastics has grown exponentially since the 1950s. In 2019 alone, over 360 metric tons of virgin plastic were produced. While the common assumption is that much of the plastics that we use are recycled, the reality is much grimmer.
Plastics are very hard to recycle. Only two of the seven types of plastics are recyclable, and even then, only once. According to some estimates, over 90 percent of all the plastic ever produced, hasn’t been recycled at all.
Some of that unrecycled plastic ends up in landfills and a vast majority in the world’s oceans.
While it’s extremely difficult to estimate, scientists, think at least eight million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 alone. Assuming a similar rate of pollution for every year since the 1950s, the vast quantity of plastics in the ocean is alarming. Conservative estimates suggest that at least 250,000 metric tons of plastic debris are floating in the world’s oceans.
In the ocean, plastics can be extremely harmful in the long run and deadly in the short term for marine life. For years, conservationists have been trying to decrease pollution and clean up the existing debris in the ocean.
However, due to the vast size of the oceans and the innumerable sources of pollution, the objective has been nearly impossible to achieve.
Now, a new model developed by researchers at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Greece seems to provide a perfect solution for the problem.
Using the model, the researchers were able to observe the plastic debris across the Mediterranean, from surface waters to seafloors and its sources on land such as beaches. An estimated 3,750 metric tons of plastic debris are currently floating in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the researchers.
To develop the model, the researchers ran simulations over seven years between 2010 and 2017, tracking the sources of plastics on land from coastal cities, and rivers. The simulation considered various factors such as the sinking of debris, mixing, wind, and water currents. The simulation identified the potential patterns of micro and macro plastics accumulation in the ocean surface, seafloor, beaches, and water column.
“Our model showed a reasonable skill in reproducing the observed distributions of plastics in the marine environment and thus can be used to assess the current status of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean and evaluate the impact of future cleaning actions and management plans, said Dr. Kostas Tsiaras, lead author of the paper.”
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