Everyday our plastic waste makes its way from land to sea through stormwater runoff, rivers, wind, or just chance. And since at least the 1970s researchers have been attempting to quantify just how much and where it’s going.
The most recent attempt, which was published on June 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that the number in surface waters is anywhere from 7,000 to 35,000 tons, surprisingly, “far less than expected,” according to the study authors.
In the map below you can see the destinations and concentration of our plastic in surface waters. The large red dots denote the highest concentrations while the grey areas show the predicted extent. The researchers discovered that the plastic was most abundant where subtropical gyres, large circular ocean currents, link up forming “conveyor belts” bringing trash from the continents into the oceans.