Global plastic losses – Phase I

We quantified flows of plastic and other debris from land-based sources to the ocean

The primary goal of this project was to use field sampling and mathematical modelling to document the distribution of plastic in the ocean, on the coast and in the nearshore environment generated by 6-8 major urban centers and surrounding areas that had been identified as having significant waste mismanagement or losses into the marine environment. However, since the projects inception we have expanded the number of countries surveyed and moved into Phase II of the project. This research allowed for empirical validation of waste losses as projected by a global estimate of plastic losses into the world’s oceans (Jambeck et al. 2015).

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CSIRO collaborated with partner organisations in Australia, China, South Africa, South Korea, Peru, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, USA, Kenya and Seychelles on this project.

Project methods and datasheets.

CSIRO collaborated with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Sustainable Coastlines PNG to run marine litter transects around Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Pictured: Elevala Village, Hanuabada, Port Moresby.

Image by Sustainable Coastlines PNG


  • We produced a robust well-designed sampling plan for each of the study sites, which can readily be modified and applied by other groups in the future.
  • We produced a comprehensive dataset on plastics at the coastal interface, both on land and in the ocean, for major coastal cities in 6-8 countries with significant waste losses into the surrounding marine environment. This dataset was be based on statistically robust, published methods developed by CSIRO.
  • We used this data together with statistical models to produce maps of the plume of plastic emerging from the urban centers and in less populated areas, considering wind and ocean forcing.
  • We estimated the amount of plastic contained in the plume, and the loss from the plume, both into the open ocean and via transport onto the coastline for each of the six or more selected cities from different countries (and from areas away from cities), using oceanographic models of plastic transport.


  • We engaged and trained local partner institutions, including universities and civil society groups in measuring, analysing and mapping plastic pollution in their environment, building capacity for these groups to continue to monitor coastal and ocean health in their region beyond the life of the project.
  • Using models and empirical data, we worked towards developing an empirical baseline estimate of mismanaged waste entering the marine environment which will be publicly available through visual products to increase awareness, inspire change and transform the global conversation around plastic usage and the environment.


Related publications:

Hardesty, BD and C Wilcox. 2017. A risk framework for tackling marine debris. Analytical Methods.

Hardesty, BD, J Harari, A Isobe, L Lebreton, N Maximenko, J Potemra, E van Sebille, AD Vethaak and C Wilcox. 2017. Using numerical model simulations to improve the understanding of micro-plastic distribution and pathways in the marine environment. Frontiers in Marine Science.

Jambeck, JR, R Geyer, C Wilcox, TR Siegler, M Perryman, A Andrady, R Narayan, and K Lavender Law. 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 647:768-771.


Supported by the following funders:


Supported by the following collaborators:

Mahatma Gandhi University

Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) and University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Indigo Waters Institute

The Society of Wilderness

Udayana University, Indonesia