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Our Plastic Trash Is Piling Up In The Oceans — This Map Shows Where

Leslie Baehr

Everyday our plastic waste makes its way from land to sea through stormwater runoff, rivers, wind, or just chance. And since at least the 1970s researchers have been attempting to quantify just how much and where it's going.

The most recent attempt, which was published on June 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that the number in surface waters is anywhere from 7,000 to 35,000 tons, surprisingly, "far less than expected," according to the study authors.

In the map below you can see the destinations and concentration of our plastic in surface waters. The large red dots denote the highest concentrations while the grey areas show the predicted extent. The researchers discovered that the plastic was most abundant where subtropical gyres, large circular ocean currents, link up forming "conveyor belts" bringing trash from the continents into the oceans.

"Plastic debris in the open ocean." Cózar et. al

While the map shows only sampled surface concentrations of 442 sites, the above numbers give an rough idea of how much plastic might be in our oceans. Total ocean plastic could number anywhere from 700,000 to 3,500,000 tons given that the team's surface numbers "could represent only 1% of the plastic pollution into the oceans," lead researcher Andres Cózar Cabañas of the Universidad de Cadiz at Puerto Real (Spain)said in an email to Business Insider.

In 2010, 265 million tons of plastic were produced, according to the study. If the above numbers are correct, .26 to 1.3% of all plastic produced ends up in the ocean. 50% of that is buoyant according to the paper and 60 to 64% of that is estimated to be carried from the coasts into open waters.

The question remaining is, what happens to it all when it gets there?

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