In 2010, more than 100 pounds of plastic will be manufactured for every man, woman and child on the planet – more than 330 million tons. In the United States, only 7 percent will be recycled. Everything not reclaimed or reused ends up scattered throughout the environment, most frequently in landfills, lakes, rivers, and the ocean.

In the North Atlantic Ocean, scientists from the Sea Education Association recently concluded a twenty-year study examining plastic debris. By dragging nets through the water and across the surface more than 6,000 times, they collected plastic and marine debris. More than half of the expeditions collected plastic, much of it in small pieces from low-density products such as plastic bags.

At the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, photographer Chris Jordan started documenting the effects of plastic debris on the albatross. This photo illustrates the amount of plastic consumed by the birds, evident in carcasses on the atoll:

In a short video, Jordan says, “Beaches of the future will be made of plastic.” He demonstrates how every wave that comes to shore brings with it thousands of pieces of plastic debris, much of it as small as a grain of sand.

Public media station KQED recently produced a news story about ocean plastic and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In the video, Charles Moore reports that his lab analysis concluded “that the small bits of plastic outweighed the naturally occurring zooplankton six to one, plastic to plankton. More trash than life.”

The story contains footage of the ocean, blue as far as the eye can see, and small confetti-like pieces of plastic glimmering under the surface. The ten-minute segment is worth watching:

For current research by the 5 Gyres Institute, read Ocean Plastic: Part One – 5 Gyres Institute.

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