10 rivers, including Ganga, are source to 95 per cent of plastic in seas

Upto 95 per cent of plastic debris found in the sea is carried by 10 major rivers, including the Ganga, scientists have found.

Published: October 20, 2017 8:20:50 pm
Plastic debris, Ganga, plastic in rivers, plastic in seas, environmental problems, ecological consequences, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, plastic input, plastic particles, plastic load, plastic concentration, Ganga plastic, datasets, river discharge Upto 95 per cent of plastic debris found in the sea is carried by 10 major rivers, including the Ganga, scientists have found. (Image Source: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research)

Upto 95 per cent of plastic debris found in the sea is carried by 10 major rivers, including the Ganga, scientists have found. Eight of these are in Asia and two in Africa – areas in which hundreds of millions of people live. Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic debris ends up in the sea – a global environmental problem with unforeseeable ecological consequences.

The path taken by plastic to reach the sea must be elucidated before it will be possible to reduce the volume of
plastic input. Researchers showed that plastic debris is primarily carried into the sea by large rivers. In the meantime, minute plastic particles can be found in the water in virtually every sea and river. This constitutes a serious and growing global environmental problem.

There are enormous quantities of input each year and plastic weathers only very slowly. Marine life can be harmed
by the tiny plastic particles floating in the water. One example of how this happens is when fish, seabirds or marine mammals mistake the particles for food and consume them. “It is still impossible to foresee the ecological consequences of this. One thing is certain, however: this situation cannot continue,” said Christian Schmidt, from Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Germany.

“But as it is impossible to clean up the plastic debris that is already in the oceans, we must take precautions and
reduce the input of plastic quickly and efficiently,” said Schmidt. Researchers analysed various scientific studies that examined the plastic load – that is the quantity of plastic carried by the water – in rivers. They converted the results of the studies into mutually comparable datasets and determined the ratio of these figures to the quantity of waste that is not disposed of properly in the respective catchment area.

“We were able to demonstrate that there is a definite correlation in this respect,” said Schmidt. “The more waste there is in a catchment area that is not disposed of properly, the more plastic ultimately ends up in the river and takes this route to the sea,” he said. In this context, large rivers play a particularly large role – not only because they also carry a comparatively large volume of waste on account of their larger discharge.

“The concentrations of plastic i.e., the quantity of plastic per cubic metre of water are significantly higher in large rivers than small ones,” said Schmidt. “The plastic loads consequently increase at a disproportionately higher rate than the size of the river,” he added.

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