School Email Exchange

How much has plastic pollution increased over the past decade?

Posted on November 09 2012

Question submitted by Lewiston High School

The information given during classes on plastics we’ve had on board shows the amount of plastic being produced and disposed of has increased substantially over the last decade.  The research done by scientists at SEA studying the plastic accumulation zone in the North Atlantic does not show a rise in the concentration of floating plastics.  This could be due to the continual breaking down of the plastics by the sun and wave action to sizes not captured in the plankton nets,  or perhaps more of the plastic is sinking, maybe due to the organisms that grow on them.  We do not have enough information at this time to explain why we have not observed increasing numbers of floating plastic over the last decade in the North Atlantic.

In the North Pacific, Miriam Goldstein at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues found a 100-fold increase in the amount of floating plastic between the 1970s-1980s and the 2000s.  While the observed trends in the North Atlantic and North Pacific are very different, most scientists believe that the amount of plastic entering the ocean has likely increased in the last decade.  We just haven't figured out exactly where it has gone.