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Study: Millions of Tons of Plastic Waste Enter the Ocean From Rivers Every Year

A new study reported in Nature shows that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean from rivers every year, mostly between the months of May and October. Of the top 20 polluting rivers, most are in China, accounting for 67 percent of the global total; 86 percent comes from Asian rivers overall.

Staggering amounts of plastic waste, from water bottles and plastic bags to tiny microbeads and microfibers, are entering waterways worldwide. In 2015, researchers calculated that 275 million metric tons of plastic waste were generated in 192 coastal countries, with anywhere from 5 million to nearly 13 million metric tons of it entering the ocean. What’s worse, it’s estimated that unless waste management practices are improved, the amount of plastic entering oceans by 2025 may double.

Plastic trash is of particular concern, as bits and pieces of plastic are mistaken for food by birds and sea animals. Debris in the ocean also blocks sunlight from which plankton and algae sustain themselves, and this has negative implications on up the food chain, as it eventually becomes micronized and winds up in some of the seafood you eat. Also, once in the waterways, plastic particles also act like sponges for waterborne contaminants such as PCBs, pesticides like DDT, herbicides, PAHs and other persistent organic pollutants.

It’s obvious that world governments need to collaborate with Asian industries to eliminate plastic waste from entering waterways and ultimately the ocean. At home, there are things you can do to help. Choose reusable products over single-use plastic plates, bags, eating utensils and cups or glasses. Avoid processed foods, which require packaging that often includes plastic components. And, opt for non-disposable razors, washable feminine hygiene products for women, cloth diapers, handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, rags in lieu of paper towels, and infant toys made of wood rather than plastic
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