Study: Take-out food, drink litter make up vast majority of plastics polluting world's oceans

·1 min read

Take-out food and drink litter make up the vast majority of the plastics polluting the world's oceans, according to a study published in the journal Nature Sustainability on Thursday.

Why it matters: Plastics' widespread use and slow degradation regularly contribute to major environmental damage. Plastic litter also enters the food chain, disrupts the ecosystem and kills massive numbers of marine animals every year.

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What they found: Researchers collected data on litter across seven major aquatic environments. The findings, which the Guardian called the "most comprehensive study to date," show that just 10 plastic products — including plastic lids and fishing items — comprise 75% of all items polluting the seas.

  • Single-use bags, plastic bottles, food containers and food wrappers, in particular, dominate global ocean litter.

  • Litter was most highly concentrated in shorelines and sea floors near coasts, where litter regularly accumulated due to winds and waves.

  • "The world differences in the composition of the nearshore litter sink reflected socioeconomic drivers, with a reduced relative weight of single-use items in high-income countries," noted the study, which was funded by the BBVA Foundation and Spanish science ministry.

What they're saying: Identifying the sources of ocean plastic is the first step toward reducing litter, the study's authors told the Guardian. They recommended bans on avoidable single-use plastic bags and require producers to take more responsibility for collection and safe disposal of more essential plastic products.

The big picture: Plastic production is expected to double in the next two decades, according to the World Economic Forum.

  • Of note: The Department of Energy announced last month it will invest up to $14.5 million in research and development to help reduce single-use plastic waste.

Go deeper... Deep Dive: Our plastic planet

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