Between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic washed offshore in 2010, according to a study published in Science Magazine last week. Hoping to pinpoint the origins of the plastic waste floating in swathes across the world’s oceans, University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck and a team of researchers calculated the amount of plastic each of the world’s 192 coastal countries ended up dumping in the water (out of the 275 million metric tons of plastic they generated in total). The number one culprit was China, responsible for 5 billion pounds of plastic debris that entered the ocean in 2010.
The bulk of the top-ranked offenders are middle-income countries with rapidly increasing coastal populations that generate more trash than waste management infrastructure can keep up with, Mother Jones explains. Based on population growth estimates, the study predicts that this problem will continue to worsen within the next 10 years. The following graph depicts the origin of waste that ends up somewhere other than the oceans, with China holding a strong lead as the largest contributor of so-called mismanaged plastic waste.
As China’s consumerist population swells in size, the country faces a mounting garbage problem, only compounded by shipments of trash that are imported from other developing companies. The Chinese government has been pushing out several waste-to-energy projects, although they’ve been met with protest from residential communities.
Frighteningly enough for all humankind, scientists have yet to figure out where more than 99 percent of ocean plastic debris ends up.
To read about how the results of the study were calculated, read more here.