Plastic gets to the oceans through over 1,000 rivers

Scientists used to think 20 rivers at most carried most plastic into the oceans, but now they know it’s far more, complicating potential solutions.

PUBLISHED
Floating plastic and styrofoam trash pollutes a corner of Siak River, in Indonesia.

The problem with plastic waste just got more complicated—and so did the effort to stanch its flow into the world’s oceans.

Rivers are the primary conduits for plastic waste to the seas. In 2017, two separate groups of scientists concluded that 90 percent of river-borne plastic waste that flushes into the oceans is conveyed by just a handful of large, continental rivers, including the Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze, the world’s three longest rivers. Cleaning up those rivers—10 rivers were named in one study and 20 in the other—could go a long way toward solving the problem, experts agreed.

New research published today in Science Advances has turned that thinking on its head. Scientists found that 80 percent of plastic waste is distributed by more than 1,000 rivers, not simply 10 or 20. They also found that most of that waste is carried by small rivers that flow through densely populated urban areas, not the largest rivers.

Thus, the Yangtze, which traverses 3,915 miles across China and empties...

Read the rest of this article on NatGeo.com
close

You are going to nationalgeographic.com/tv and different terms of use and privacy policy will apply.

CONTINUE

Follow Us

twitter

Subscribe for full access to read stories from National Geographic.