Much less plastic is in the ocean than people assume, researchers say

Much less plastic is in the ocean than people assume, researchers say

The amount of plastic in the oceans is likely much smaller than people assume. “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,” reports the NL Times:

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.”

Most plastic in the ocean comes from China, India, and Indonesia, while only a tiny percentage comes from the U.S. Thus, reducing Americans’ use of plastics would do little to protect oceans).

And according to a 2015 study published in Environmental Science and Technology by co‐​authors Professor Jun Yang and Yu Yang of Beihang University, and Stanford University engineer Wei‐​Min Wu, plastic is biodegradable. “Plastic….might have met its match: the small, brownish, squirmy mealworm. Researchers have learned that the mealworm can live on a diet of Styrofoam and other types of plastic. Inside the mealworm’s gut are microorganisms that are able to biodegrade polyethylene, a common form of plastic.”

But to reduce plastic waste, progressive government officials are requiring plastic recycling, even though recycling of plastics “could be releasing huge quantities of microplastics” that harm human health.

Meanwhile, states like New York and California have banned ban grocery stores from giving customers plastic bags. They hope shoppers will use their own cloth bags instead. This ban on plastic bags will harm shoppers in multiple ways.

As Daniel Frank sarcastically notes, “Reusable tote bags” can “cause food poisoning but at least they’re worse for the environment than plastic bags.” He cites Jon Passantino of BuzzFeed News, who observes, “Those cotton tote bags that are so trendy right now have to be used *131 times* before it has a smaller climate impact than a plastic bag used only once.” Yet, there are progressives who want to ban plastic grocery bags in favor of reusable cloth bags.

Plastic bags are less than 1% of all litter. Moreover, alternatives like cloth and paper bags are in many cases worse for the environment than plastic bags, and far worse for public health. That was illustrated by a 2011 legal settlement between plastic bag makers and an importer of reusable bags, ChicoBag. The plastic bag makers sued ChicoBag for its use of false claims about the recycling rate and environmental impacts of plastic grocery bags in its promotional materials. (Those false claims are also the basis for municipal bans and taxes on plastic bags.) Under that settlement, ChicoBag was required to discontinue its use of its counterfeit EPA website and make corrections to its deceptive marketing claims, which had included sharing falsified government documents with schoolchildren. It was also required to disclose to consumers on its website that reusable bags in fact need to be washed.

Reusable bags “are a breeding ground for bacteria and pose public health risks — food poisoning, skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections,” noted a 2009 report.  Harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and fecal coliform thrive in reusable bags unless they are washed after each use, according to an August 2011 peer-reviewed study, “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

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