School Email Exchange

Is it difficult to differentiate plastics dumped from ships from those dumped from land?

Posted on November 05 2012

Question submitted by Trinity-Pawling School

Once plastics are broken up, degraded by the sun and wind/wave action, it’s much more difficult if not impossible to know where they came from.  We can tell that buoys, floats, boat bumpers and fishing nets, for example, may have come from fishing vessels.  When we are in a high density patch of plastic and see playground balls, a toothbrush, and beverage bottles there is a higher possibility that the debris is from land.  Of course, some of the household debris could have been illegally dumped from a ship.

A bumper we collected, presumably from fishing or boating activity.

The importance of knowing where pollution originates would potentially help to curb pollution from entering the ocean.  Data that support findings of plastic in the ocean and their sources can be used to develop legislation designed to stop this from happening, from a local level up to international organizations like the United Nations.

Looking at this collection of bottles, packing foam, plastic strips and barnacle covered insulation, I would assume they originated from land, especially because they were found floating in the same patch of plastic.