World - A full picture of the origin and nature of ocean litter
A new study published in Nature Sustainability provides the first complete diagnosis of the origin and nature of the litter dumped into the ocean.
A new study published in Nature Sustainability provides the first complete diagnosis of the origin and nature of the litter dumped into the ocean. The collaboration between research institutions such as Wageningen University and Research and NGOs from 10 countries has allowed the identification of the most polluting products for the main aquatic ecosystems on a global scale. This is a much-needed information for prevention policies. The study presents a new paradigm for understanding how the ocean deals with litter accumulation through a selective delivery to coastal ecosystems and the open ocean.
The new study puts numbers to the composition of the human-made litter in the global ocean. On average, 80% of the litter items are made of plastic. This is by far the dominant material found in the environment, followed by metal, glass, fabrics, paper, and processed wood. The largest share of plastic is found in surface waters (95%), followed by shorelines (83%), while riverbeds show the lowest proportion of plastic (49%).
Litter related to household and industrial activities is prominent on river bottoms and riverbanks, while tobacco-related litter (cigarette packages, plastic pouches, and lighters) is especially abundant on beaches. Although the study only used data prior to the COVID pandemic, items with a medical and/or hygienic origin are particularly common in nearshore seafloors, and mainly attributed to toilet flushing. But what is most striking is that, of the 112 litter categories used in the analysis, only 10 plastic products accounted for threequarters of all litter items found worldwide. Waste from take-out consumption of convenience food and beverage largely dominates global litter. Single-use bags, bottles, food containers and wrappers are the four most widespread litter items, accounting for almost half of the human-made objects.