A national picture of marine debris in the US

We applied our research methodologies to better understand the marine debris issue in the United States with data support from the Ocean Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

We estimated there are somewhere between 20 million and 1.8 billion pieces of plastic on the coastline of continental United States, with the number likely at the upper end of this range.  Through our research we have determined that:

  • Areas near cities, rivers, and in some cases international borders appear to have particularly high loads of debris.
  • There is also some variation across political units, with states such as Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Washington having high debris loads.
  • Some of this effect appears to be due to cross border oceanographic currents, which show clear effects on the US west coast and potentially in Texas.
  • Some of these geographic patterns are also likely due to policy differences.
  • We found a very strong and clear effect of container deposit legislation on the composition of waste at the state level, suggesting that other policies could also make major differences across communities and states.

This model represents predicted debris levels using a statistical model. Grey states are those for which we had fewer than five survey locations.

Our recommendations:

  1. Develop a national base-line
  2. Continuation of volunteer based data collection
  3. Investigate the effect of drivers and responses to marine debris
  4. Understand the linkages between land based activities and inputs to the marine system
  5. Establish design parameters and a sampling system for a national program

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