A new analysis of more than 12 million pieces of ocean litter collected around the world found that the majority took the form of takeout items: bags, wrappers, containers, straws and cutlery, aluminum cans, and plastic and glass bottles. Eighty percent of all items surveyed were made of plastic.
“We were not surprised about plastic being 80 percent of the litter, but the high proportion of takeaway items did surprise us, which will not just be McDonald’s litter, but water bottles, beverage bottles like Coca-Cola, and cans,” Carmen Morales-Caselles, a research scientist at the University of Cádiz and lead author of the study, told the Guardian. The findings were published in the journal Nature Sustainability.
The study found that wrappers and packaging tended to concentrate along the coasts, gathering on the shore and the sea floor. Takeout items were more scarce in the open ocean, where fishing ropes and nets accounted for around half of litter.
Study authors said that efforts to curb plastic waste should prioritize takeout food and beverage containers. They recommend banning avoidable takeout items, like single-use plastic bags, and replacing other plastic items with similar products made of biodegradable materials. They also recommend making plastic producers responsible for the collection and disposal of plastic products.
In line with those recommendations, on July 1 the European Union will ban the 10 most common plastic and Styrofoam items found on the continent’s beaches. The EU is also establishing a robust European market for recycled plastics based on the principles of extended producer responsibility, as recently reported by Yale Environment 360.