Floating plastic debris is currently the most abundant form of marine litter!
Plastics make up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. It has been detected on shorelines of all the continents, from the poles to the equator, with more plastic material found near popular tourist destinations and densely populated areas.
As defined in IUCN 2017 report, “two types of microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) are contaminating the world ocean: primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are plastics directly released into the environment in the form of small particulates. They can be a voluntary addition to products such as scrubbing agents in toiletries and cosmetics (e.g. shower gels). They can also originate from the abrasion of large plastic objects during manufacturing, use or maintenance such as the erosion of tyres when driving or of the abrasion of synthetic textiles during washing. Secondary microplastics are microplastics originating from the degradation of larger plastic items into smaller plastic fragments once exposed to marine environment. This happens through photodegradation and other weathering processes of mismanaged waste such as discarded plastic bags or from unintentional losses such as fishing nets”.
Plastics use different pathways to reach our oceans but the main one is rivers. An IUCN global study on the sources of microplastics revealed that primary microplastics are a significant source of plastics in the oceans (15-30%). The biggest contributor (almost two-thirds) is the abrasion of synthetic textiles and tyres.
These visible and invisible plastics are released at different life cycle stages. If reducing mismanaged plastic waste remains a global priority, for many regions and sectors, solutions need to be found to also reduce primary microplastic releases. So depending on the regional context, the priority actions to combat the problem are very different.