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UCSB Study: The world's oceans are filling up with plastic

Flickr member Kevin Krejci

A study published Thursday in the journal Science takes at look a just how much plastic waste is collecting in the world's oceans.

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are added each year according to the numbers crunched by UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). That's more than scientists had thought, and enough to cover the entire City of Los Angles in ankle deep trash more than twice over—each year.

Previous studies have documented plastics in the oceans but had never connected the dots in a quantifiable way, according to the study's lead author Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering with the University of Georgia.

"This is the first time it has ever been done and we used the best available data," said Jambeck. "New data could come that could help refine it, but in terms of this number and what people have seen on the ground, it sort of passed all of those gut reality checks."

Jambeck says the report isn't all bad, specifically possible methods for international cooperation among the nations generating the most plastic, the U.S. included.

The scientists working on the study say removing the trash that's already in the ocean is not economically feasible, but reducing the annual load added each year is possible.

“The numbers are staggering, but as the group points out, the problem is not insurmountable,” said NCEAS Director Frank Davis in a UCSB press release. “The researchers suggest achievable solutions that could reverse the alarming trend in plastics being dumped into our oceans.”

The researchers say industrialized countries can take the lead on this issue by reducing waste and slowing the growth of single-use plastics.