On Oct. 29, the University of California, Los Angeles released a report on marine litter. According to the report, 18 million Mg (20 million tons) of plastic is blown, washed, or dumped into the ocean each year. This trash concentrates in five gyres, propelled by ocean currents. Litter may seem relatively benign, but it is more than an aesthetic problem. Billions are spent on cleanup costs. Plastics do not biodegrade, lingering in marine environments and causing damage to sea vessels, reducing tourism, affecting fisheries, degrading coral reefs, and killing marine wildlife that gets tangled in or ingests plastics.
Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda provides recommendations for both global actions and policies as well as regional and local solutions. The report identifies 10 plastic pollution-prevention actions, including an international treaty; bans on the most harmful types of litter and zero-trash Total Maximum Daily Loads; producer-responsibility programs; and an ocean-friendly certification program for plastic products. Read more.
Plastics are also an issue in inland waters. In late October, The 5 Gyres Institute and SUNY Fredonia published an article in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. The study focused on microplastics in the Great Lakes. Researchers found an average of 43,000 particles per square kilometer (111,370 particles/mi2) at the 21 sampling stations. However, the highest concentration was found in Lake Erie, downstream from two major urban centers.
Most of the particles were suspected to be microbeads, which are commonly found in consumer products like face wash. Researchers also determined that 20% of particles were aluminum silicate in coal ash from nearby power plants.
According to The 5 Gyres Institute, several states and municipalities are considering a ban on microplastics due to their tendency to escape wastewater treatment. In partnership with two Netherlands organizations, The Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting De Noordzee, The 5 Gyres Institute has launched a website and mobile application that can help consumers choose products without microbeads. Read more.