Where Does the Plastic Go? Marine Plastic Waste’s Whereabouts Are Unknown

A Spanish research team has for the first time unveiled a map of how widespread garbage is in the open ocean. The map is given below.

This is a study of how much drifting plastic has accumulated inside the five major subtropical gyres in the seas of ​​the world.

Among these five, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre contains the largest amount of garbage and, in 1988, it became known to the world as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Not only did the researchers reveal where most of the ocean’s garbage goes, they also uncovered a strange result. The amount of plastic debris was far less than they had expected. 

The production volume of plastic has been gaining momentum since the 1950s. Because plastic is basically non-biodegradable, the plastic that we have created and thrown away in the past stays forever in the natural environment unless incinerated.

The researchers originally predicted that plastic waste that can float on the water would have drifted and been captured by any one of five subtropical gyres and stayed in there. 

They were able to simulate how much plastic flows into the ocean every year so that they could estimate how much plastic should be floating around in the ocean.

However, after studying the amount of plastic in five subtropical gyres, they found an amount that was much smaller than had been estimated. 

Scientists were puzzled with this result. “Where did the rest of the plastic go?”

The plastic certainly goes elsewhere. It may be settling deeper into the ocean or, perhaps, it may be a sampling issue – it may have become so small and miniaturized that it was not caught in the plankton net. Or was it consumed by the wild animals and stayed in their bodies?

Shortly thereafter, a British research team announced that a negligible amount of microplastics had been found in deep sea sediments (Woodall et al. 2014). The team concluded that since plastic fragments and fibers were found in quite a wide range on the deep sea floor, the plastic obviously went to the deep ocean. This is indeed an alternative.

The deep sea is the final frontier, but a negative legacy of humanity has already accumulated there. However, numerous questions still remain. Researchers have not yet reached conclusions about how much plastic garbage is accumulating in the deep seabed, or how it reached the deep ocean, and so on. The issue of “missing plastic” is full of things that cannot yet be understood.

Eight million tons of plastic are being discarded into the ocean every year (Jambeck et al. 2015). This is like a dump truck loaded with plastic to its capacity dumping it into the sea every minute.

As yet, no definite answer is forthcoming to the question as to where the plastic is going. No matter how close plastic is to our lives, it is forgotten once we have discarded it. It’s exactly as we say, out of sight, out of mind.

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