Every year, 5-14 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean. This means 500 pounds of plastic enter the ocean every second. However, if that much plastic entered the ocean every year, then visible, floating plastic debris would only account for about 1% of the total trash in the ocean. Where is the other 99%?
The other 99% of the plastic is not visible, called microplastics. These are pieces of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters in length and sink towards the bottom of the ocean. Some microplastics form when large pieces of trash degrade into smaller pieces due to erosion from the sun, wind, and waves. Others started out as small pieces of plastic, such as microbeads, tiny pieces of polysynthetic plastic that are added to exfoliants to health and beauty products. Fortunately, microbeads were banned in the U.S. in 2015.
Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization estimate that there are about 14 million tons of microplastic on the ocean floor. They collected samples from 1600 to 3000 meters deep in the ocean. However, their research area, off the coast of Australia, was not near areas with a high population density, so their estimate would be a conservative estimate. Even so, 14 million tons of microplastic is still an incredibly huge amount of plastic on the bottom of the ocean.
What can you do to help?