Ocean plastic waste probably comes from ships, report says

A plastic bottle on Henderson Island in the Pacific, June 13 2019
A plastic bottle on Henderson Island in the Pacific, June 13 2019

Most of the plastic bottles washing up on the rocky shores of Inaccessible Island, aptly named for its sheer cliffs rising from the middle of the South Atlantic, probably come from Chinese merchant ships, a study published Monday said.

The study offers fresh evidence that the vast garbage patches floating in the middle of oceans, which have sparked much consumer hand-wringing in recent years, are less the product of people dumping single-use plastics in waterways or on land, than they are the result of merchant marine vessels tossing their waste overboard by the ton.

The authors of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, collected thousands of pieces of waste during visits to the tiny island in 1984, 2009 and again in 2018.

The island is located roughly midway between Argentina and South Africa in the South Atlantic gyre, a vast whirlpool of currents that has created what has come to be known as an oceanic garbage patch.

While initial inspections of the trash washing up on the island showed labels indicating it had come from South America, some 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) to the west, by 2018 three-quarters of the garbage appeared to originate from Asia, mostly China.

Many of the had been crushed with their tops screwed on tight, as is customary on board ships to save space, said report author Peter Ryan, director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Around 90 percent of the bottles found had been produced in the previous two years, ruling out the possibility that they had been carried by over the vast distance from Asia, which would normally take three to five years.

Since the number of Asian fishing vessels has remained stable since the 1990s, while the number of Asian—and in particular, Chinese—cargo vessels has vastly increased in the Atlantic, the researchers concluded that the bottles must come from merchant vessels, which toss them overboard rather than dumping them as trash at ports.

"It's inescapable that it's from ships, and it's not coming from land," Ryan told AFP.

"A certain sector of the merchant fleet seems to be doing that, and it seems to be largely an Asian one," he said.

A man cleans up the beach on  Henderson Island in the Pacific in June 2019
A man cleans up the beach on Henderson Island in the Pacific in June 2019

Fishing nets

There are two distinct types of marine pollution.

On the one hand, there are the beaches around urban centers: the plastics that are found there come from coastal areas, and include bottles, bags and packaging. But these things sink easily and are less likely to be carried far by currents.

Farther out in the oceans, the garbage patches contain fragments of objects of unclear origin, as well as items used by cargo ships and fishing fleets: not just the bottles emptied by the ships' crews, but also nets, ropes, buoys, crates, barrels and floats.

"It's an underappreciated cause of pollution," said Ryan.

Half of the great Pacific garbage patch is made up of , by weight, according to a report published last year in Scientific Reports.

Oceanographer Laurent Lebreton, one of the authors of the latter report, said that the oft-quoted figure of 80 percent of plastic pollution coming from the land does not apply to the high seas.

He recalled having found huge clusters of nets created by fishing vessels in the North Pacific, known as "fish aggregating devices" to attract fish.

"Often they don't retrieve them and they are lost. We have found several tons of them," said Lebreton, of the organization The Ocean Cleanup.

"Everyone talks about saving the oceans by stopping using plastic bags, straws and single use packaging. That's important, but when we head out on the ocean, that's not necessarily what we find," he told AFP.


Explore further

40 tons of fishing nets retrieved in Pacific Ocean cleanup

More information: Peter G. Ryan el al., "Rapid increase in Asian bottles in the South Atlantic Ocean indicates major debris inputs from ships," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1909816116

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Ocean plastic waste probably comes from ships, report says (2019, September 30) retrieved 15 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-ocean-plastic-ships.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
4227 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 30, 2019
I suppose when you consider the damage their chuggety, deisel engine, shit-spewing, shark-killing, drug smuggling, sanction avoiding, crap delivering, vessels do, a few plastic bottles over the side hardly matters much.

Sep 30, 2019
NO SHIT. NO one to watch.... WTF do you imagine will happen....?

Sep 30, 2019
So, so, so. Looks like banning soda straws and plastic bottles on land isn't going to take care of this. Looks like garbage spewing ships are the problem. Isn't that interesting.

Sep 30, 2019
Well, China has banned importation of the US waste plastic, and Malaysia is cracking down on it, so don't be surprised when huge bales of it starts washing ashore.
https://www.cnn.c...dex.html

Sep 30, 2019
There are more ships sailing in the waters than the airplanes flying at any given time. Ships have been in use since more than 10000 years while airplanes are recent. Thus, the ocean pollution from ships is manifold larger than any other source.

Unless and until we reduce ocean transportation dramatically, the pollutants won't reduce from the oceans. Check shiptracker/flightradar24 websites and look yourself how many ships/planes are currently sailing/flying on the planet.

Sep 30, 2019
This type of garbage floats, what about the one that sank and will never be brought to surface?

Sep 30, 2019
Since this plastic pollution is occurring from ships, whether plastic nets or plastic bottles or whatever type of plastics, it might be necessary to find out just WHO are the offending parties who are doing this type of activity and spy on these shipping lanes from above. There are many satellites, some of them being used to monitor temperatures and other data all around the Earth. At least SOME of these satellites could see which of these ships are the culprits who are helping to destroy the "purity" of the oceans from which humans depend on for food fish and mollusks, crabs and other species. The owners of these ships could be fined a hefty amount of cash - a high enough sum that would make them think twice before allowing the same pollution to continue.

Sep 30, 2019
Yeah, sure. From ships. How about from Asian rivers that run to the sea and are so choked with plastic waste, you can barely see water. Tired of misdirection by left-wing apologists. Just google Thailand river plastic pollution.

Sep 30, 2019
Cue up Chinese PLA unit 61398 and 61486 to come and tell us how it's all anti-Chinese racism.

Oct 01, 2019
According to FICCI, USA holds the number 1 spot for plastic product consumption per capita 109 kg, followed by Europe 65 kg, then China at 45 kg...

The environment is in danger mainly due to the developed countries. Report: http://ficci.in/s...r-ps.pdf

Oct 01, 2019
When I was in the Navy, our aircraft carrier sailed a ping pong course between San Fran and San Diego about 100 miles from land. Back and forth and forth and back. We did this for weeks at a time to test our various systems, give aviators a chance to practice flying on and off the ship, etc.

And all this time we dumped tons (literally tons) of crap of the fantail every evening. Since I was not exactly an obedient young man, I have upfront and personal knowledge of this.

This has been happening for decades without end. So when I read about this huge sea of garbage centered offshore about 100 miles extending between San Fran and San Diego... yes, my suspicious mind went to the obvious place.

Oct 01, 2019
USA left 140 tons of garbage on the Moon from the landings. It is still there as a proof to sue USA.

Oct 01, 2019
According to FICCI, USA holds the number 1 spot for plastic product consumption per capita 109 kg, followed by Europe 65 kg, then China at 45 kg...

The environment is in danger mainly due to the developed countries. Report: http://ficci.in/s...r-ps.pdf


Except developed countries have organized garbage collection and recycling. Where I live, all non bio or hazardous waste goes to high temperature burning plants where waste is turned into energy. Burning is the most ecological and economical way to dispose plastic waste.

Oct 01, 2019
Yeah, sure. From ships. How about from Asian rivers that run to the sea and are so choked with plastic waste, you can barely see water. Tired of misdirection by left-wing apologists. Just google Thailand river plastic pollution.
ocean also have tides and waves, river waste won't just flow out like a drain, it goes back and forth for long time. River will be choked with thrash first before the ocean.

Oct 01, 2019
Yeah, sure. From ships. How about from Asian rivers that run to the sea and are so choked with plastic waste, you can barely see water. Tired of misdirection by left-wing apologists. Just google Thailand river plastic pollution.
says ThoriumBoy

The pollution in the rivers is another issue that also must be resolved asap.
But the oceans are where the polluters drop their trash over the side, and as the article says, they don't wait until they get to a port to get rid of it.
The rivers are far easier to clean up if enough folks volunteer to do the job. Even in their spare time. They could have pristine rivers and lakes if they truly wanted that. Cleaning the oceans and rivers of the world is not a leftist or rightist thing. It is non political and it is the right thing to do because humans are the stewards of the Earth.

Oct 01, 2019
So who are all these people trying to distract attention from the published fact that we didn't have this problem until all these Chinese ships started plowing back and forth?

Just askin'.

Oct 01, 2019
Except developed countries have organized garbage collection and recycling. Where I live, all non bio or hazardous waste goes to high temperature burning plants where waste is turned into energy. Burning is the most ecological and economical way to dispose plastic waste.
There's just no way that burning is more ecological and economical than recycling. Maybe it's more economical but the other no.

So who are all these people trying to distract attention from the published fact that we didn't have this problem until all these Chinese ships started plowing back and forth?

I'd like to see some data of this.

Oct 01, 2019
It's up there in the article, @cortezz. You might want to read it before commenting.

Oct 01, 2019
It's up there in the article, @cortezz. You might want to read it before commenting.

There has been plastics in the ocean for over 50 years. We can't blame the Chinese boats for all that. Yes, they may have made the situation a lot worse. You should start paying the Chinese for their bottles so they wouldn't throw them in the sea.

Oct 01, 2019
That's up to the Chinese government and they're the problem. I'm fine with Chinese people; I dislike their government about as much as I dislike mine.

Oct 01, 2019
Really sad that nothing is being done about it, no matter how much talk there is, nothing ever happens.

Oct 01, 2019
That's up to the Chinese government and they're the problem. I'm fine with Chinese people; I dislike their government about as much as I dislike mine.

Yeah, it's da Chinese gouvamunt, who are still forcing methane emitting man-meat down your stupid gob, right? But, then you won't complain, because you like that.

Oct 01, 2019
@tehgeighalgore spurts again.

So which "unit" of the Chinese military do you report to, exactly?

Oct 02, 2019
Didn't they teach you how to spell words correctly in reform school?

Oct 03, 2019
Hee hee hee, you can't come up with anything better than grammar Nazi stuff?

@Stupid_Xenubuttbuddy_Sperm_Unit now tries standard trolling tactics.

Maybe you'd prefer to avoid talking about the plastic. What's that make you?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more