171 trillion pieces of plastic trash now clog the world’s oceans

Plastic particles that washed ashore from a sunken container ship in Uswetakeiyawa, Sri Lanka. Jonathan Wijayaratne/ Bloomberg

There are more than 170 trillion — or 2 million tons’ worth — of tiny plastic particles floating on the surface of the ocean, and many of them got there after 2004, according to a paper published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

The peer-reviewed paper is by Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, a California-based nonprofit focused on plastic pollution, and researchers at other organizations and universities. There was a previous attempt to estimate the amount of plastic afloat on ocean currents back in 2014. The updated paper relies on data from a greatly expanded set of samples, nearly 12,000, from oceans around the globe.

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