170,000,000,000,000 pieces of plastic are floating in the oceans

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A new study has found that the oceans are polluted by nearly 170 trillion pieces of plastic that weigh approximately 2 million tonnes. The estimates are made by analyzing the trends of ocean plastic from 1979 to 2019.

Plastics entering the world’s oceans have surged by an “unprecedented” amount since 2005 and could nearly triple by 2040 if no further action is taken. The research led by 5 Gyres Institute, a US organisation that campaigns to reduce plastic pollution, revealed that plastic pollution could rise 2.6-fold by 2040 if legally binding global policies are not introduced.

"After 2005, the amount of plastic in the oceans skyrocketed. This period also marks an increase in plastic pollution from rivers and coastlines, and plastic already adrift or lying near dynamic coastlines," the organisation said on its website.

The study indicated that the rapid rise in plastic pollution in the oceans after 2005 also reveals the sudden jump in plastic production, fragmentation of existing plastic pollution, or changes in terrestrial waste generation and management.

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The study looked at surface-level plastic pollution data from 11,777 ocean stations in six major marine regions covering the period from 1979 to 2019. Microplastics are particularly hazardous to the oceans, not only contaminating water but also damaging the internal organs of marine animals, which mistake plastic for food.

Experts said the study showed that the level of marine plastic pollution in the oceans has been underestimated. The United Nations kicked off negotiations on an agreement to tackle plastic pollution in Uruguay in November, with the aim of drawing up a legally binding treaty by the end of next year. Environmental group Greenpeace said that without a strong global treaty, plastic production could double within the next 10 to 15 years, and triple by 2050.

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