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What is Marine Debris?


Marine debris has been defined by NOAA as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. In layman’s term marine debris is trash or litter that ends up in our rivers or oceans. It is found throughout the ocean; from coastal waters to the open ocean and from the ocean’s surface through the water column to the seafloor. 60-80% of all marine debris and 90% of all floating debris is made from plastic. The single most common marine debris item is cigarette filters or butts. Other common types of debris are food packaging, paper products, metal, glass and fireworks.
Where is all this garbage coming from?

It is estimated that 6.4 million tons of litter enter the world’s ocean each year. 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources while only about 20% comes from ocean-based sources. The most common sources of marine debris are: People that litter, Municipal landfills, Transportation of garbage and debris, Open trash collection containers, Industrial facilities, and Beach visitors.

Today, Americans lead lives of excessive consumption characterized by convenience. In 1960 the average American created approximately 2.68 pounds of trash per day; by 2006 garbage generation had nearly doubled with individuals creating 4.6 pounds of trash each day. In 2006 only about 30% of our waste stream was recovered in any way (compost or recycling).

Plastics are the fastest growing portion of our municipal solid waste stream, comprising approximately 12% of municipal waste in 2006 (Only 6% of plastics were recycled in 2006!). The increase in trash generation by Americans is directly related to the increase in disposable plastic products. US plastic resin sales grew at an average of 5% a year from 1960 to 2000, from 6 billion pounds to 108 billion pounds a year. Plastics are the most prolific and dangerous type of marine debris.


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