The OceanCleanUp team just published its latest findings on the composition, origins and age of plastic debris accumulating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) in the journal Scientific Reports. The new study reveals 75% to 86% of plastic debris in the Great Pacific GPGP originates from fishing activities at sea. These findings add to our understanding of the plastic pollution problem, helping us refine our cleaning strategy and gain insight into the origins of this plastic.
Previous research has shown that almost half of the plastic mass in the GPGP is comprised of fishing nets and ropes (fibrous plastics used, for example, to make our The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses), with the remainder largely composed of hard plastic objects and small fragments. While the provenance of fishing nets is obvious, the origins of the other plastics in the GPGP have — until now — remained unclear.
- 75% to 86% of plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) originates from fishing activities at sea.
- Plastic emissions from rivers remain the main source of plastic pollution from a global ocean perspective.
- Plastic lost at sea has a higher chance of accumulating offshore than plastic emitted from rivers, leading to high concentrations of fishing-related debris in the GPGP.
- New findings confirm the oceanic garbage patches cannot be cleaned solely through river interception and highlight the potentially vital role of fishing and aquaculture in ridding the world’s oceans of plastic.
- Roughly a third of the items were unidentifiable fragments. The other two-thirds was dominated by objects typically used in fishing, such as floats, buoys, crates, buckets, baskets, containers, drums, jerry cans, fish boxes, and eel traps.
- Nearly half (49%) of plastic objects which could be dated were produced in the 20th century, with the oldest identified item being a buoy dating from 1966.
- The primary countries/regions of origin identified on the items were Japan (34%), China (32%), the Korean peninsula (10%), and the USA (7%).
- Negatively buoyant plastics are generally found closer to land-based sources, while positively buoyant plastics dominate remote areas. Plastic debris afloat at sea, however, remains less well-characterized,
OceanCleanUp concludes that this research confirms that cleaning up the GPGP and keeping it clean will require more. The identification of this other source of plastic to the GPGP reveals a simple truth for our cleaning strategy: while it remains essential to continue intercepting riverine plastic and cleaning up the legacy plastic in order to clean the global ocean, the GPGP itself requires an additional step. To sustainably clean the GPGP, the other source – fishing activities – must also be addressed.