10 rivers may deliver bulk of ocean plastic

Earth’s oceans have a big plastic problem. They receive roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic waste every year, much of which can drift around for decades or centuries without truly decomposing. Instead, it just crumbles into smaller pieces known as microplastics, which often fatally trick marine wildlife into eating them.

Some ocean plastic is discarded directly into the ocean — from sources like cargo ships, fishing boats and oil rigs — but a large amount washes there from shore, including inland litter carried to coasts by rivers. In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for example, about 80 percent of debris began its journey as terrestrial trash.

Like the plastic itself, any solution to this problem will need to come from people all over the planet. That said, some places have more room for improvement than others. According to a new study, rivers carry up to 4 million metric tons of plastic out to sea per year — but just 10 rivers may deliver as much as 95 percent of it.

Eight of those 10 rivers are in Asia, the study found. This also fits with earlier research on plastic pollution by country, which has linked the problem with factors like population density and waste-management infrastructure. According to a 2015 study, 11 of the top 20 countries for plastic pollution are in Asia, with China at No. 1. Other countries in the top 20 include Brazil, Egypt and Nigeria.

Here are the top 10 river systems contributing to ocean plastic…


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