In this article, they mention that:

More than 4.8 million metric tons [of] plastic waste gets dumped into the world’s oceans from land each year. And this number is just a conservative estimate. Researchers believe the real amount could be as high as 12.7 million metric tons.

How much total garbage is going into the Pacific Ocean every year? and what fraction of the garbage is "biodegradable".

In this other article, they point out that the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is much larger than previously thought. They go on to say that they are developing a technology that will clean up some of the garbage:

The organization hopes to deploy its Pacific array in 2020 and says it could remove almost half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ― more than 150 million pounds of trash ― in a decade.

This is great news if it actually works out. However, how much garbage will still be retained at the sea floor (or suspended below the level at which the garbage can be removed)?

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    $\begingroup$ That seems to be difficult to calculate. From the Wikipedia GPGP page: There is no strong scientific data concerning the origins of pelagic plastics $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Nov 2, 2016 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ The amount is difficult to quantify. The input of large parts of litter, such as derelict fishing gear, might be estimated from the desity of (fishing-)vessels in each ocean area. It is said (I know no acutal scientific publication on this) that large amounts of litter are blown from land-fills into the oceans. In some modelling studies, the litter input along the shore line was related to the population density. However, the land-based input varies regionally (depending on laws and prevention mechanisms). Most litter that is found in the so-called garbage patches takes quite long to degrade. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2016 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ What is difficult to estimate is the residence time of marine litter items at the sea surface (until they sink). When litter items are colonized by biofilms and mussels they become denser and sink. This processes varies regionally (temperature, species, ...). Therefore, it is difficult to estimate the litter input from the current litter abundance (e.g. by some steady-state calculations). $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2016 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


I've been looking for information on non-plastic garbage, and haven't had much luck. Plastic waste is an extensively researched topic. I don't have access to Jambeck et al., Science 2015, but I did find a graphic and summary. The numbers are all year-long totals for 2010.

enter image description here

The study's estimated range of plastic entering the ocean is 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons (MMT).

For the United States we can find some other figures to try to complete the picture. According to the EPA, in 2012, the US generated 251 MMT of municipal solid waste (MSW). Of that, 11.7% was burned, 34.5% was recovered by some sort of recycling, and 53.8% was discarded (Fig. 4). Plastics compose 12.7% of pre-recycling waste but 17.6% of post-recycling waste. Biodegradables (here I'm using food, paper, yard trimmings, and wood, but not textiles) consist of 61.7% of trash before recycling and 52.8% after.

So if we assume those ratios can be applied to the plastics sent to the ocean (8 MMT) you get the following:

  • Assuming global ocean waste has a similar composition as US non-recycled waste, there are 63 MMT garbage entering the sea, of which 39 MMT are biodegradable.

  • Assuming global ocean waste has a similar composition as US recycled waste, there are 45 MMT garbage entering the sea of which 24 MMT are biodegradable.

  • $\begingroup$ There you go: citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/… $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Nov 8, 2017 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael According to that paper, 11% of the waste entering the ocean is plastic, so the 4.8-12.7 MMT range of plastic goes to 38.8-102.7 MMT. So my estimate of 63 MMT wasn't half bad! It doesn't say anything about biodegradables. Thanks for the link. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Nov 9, 2017 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ As @Michael link doesn't seem to be working anymore. Here is a new one dropbox.com/s/8635bhugcy2vv9g/… $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2018 at 19:30

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