Microplastics pollution

The oceans are fast becoming dumpsters

The pollution generated by microplastics—those imperceptible, but greatly damaging, particles—is growing at a dizzying rate both on the seafloors and high in the mountains.

Daniel Gatti

01 | 03 | 2023

Foto: Gerardo Iglesias

In recent years, more than 300 million tons of plastics have been produced annually. If the current use-and-discard orgy continues, by 2050 there will be around 12 billion metric tons of plastic litter in landfills and in the environment worldwide, according to estimates by the United Nations.

University research cited by the digital publication Ecoportal reveals that “the amount of microplastics deposited on the seafloor alone has tripled over the last two decades.”

The phenomenon is growing, despite the issuing of warnings from time to time aimed at stopping people from consuming single-use plastics and the publishing of horrific photos of marine animals with their stomachs filled with disposable plastic spoons or cups.

“The seabed is the final resting place for microplastics, which first float on the surface of the sea and then filter down to the bottom, where they accumulate in sediments,” Ecoportal notes, echoing a joint research study by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Environmental Department of Denmark’s Aalborg University.

According to that study, based on the analysis of sediments obtained in the Mediterranean Sea, the increase in pollution mirrors the growth in global production of plastics, which tripled or more in the period spanning from 1995 to 2016.

And the impact of microplastics is hardly innocuous: the chemicals they release can contaminate the water we drink and the food we eat.

“Since the 1980s, but especially in the past two decades, the accumulation of polyethylene and polypropylene particles from packaging, bottles, and food films has increased, as well as polyester from synthetic fibers in clothing fabrics”, Michael Grelaud, one of the co-authors of the research study, says.

A study from Stanford University, in the United States, revealed that the highest concentrations of microplastics are found at depths of 50 to 250 meters, where species such as whales tend to feed on krill, which in turn are great (unwilling) consumers of these particles.

Whales, the largest animals that inhabit the Earth, as Ecoportal notes, swallow up to 10 million small bits of plastic per day.


The sea is not the only place where we find these particles of less than 5 millimeters in size derived from industrial or household use items. They are also present in the air.

A study by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that “74 metric tonnes of microplastics are dropping each year out of the atmosphere” onto the city of Auckland, polluting its air.

That is the “equivalent of more than 3 million bottles of plastic falling from the sky.” A nightmare.

According to the United Nations, only 9 percent of the 9 billion tons of plastic ever produced have been recycled and 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped annually—that is equivalent to one trash collection truck per minute.

Despite this dramatic situation, little is being done on Earth to prevent microplastics from sinking into the bottom of the sea, climbing up mountains, and spreading through the air.

Other studies reveal that if this upward trend in plastic production continues oceans are expected to contain 1 ton of that material for every 3 tons of fish. Proportionally speaking, there will be more plastic in the water than fish.

Seas and oceans will have turned into the global dumpster of capitalism. To a great extent they already have.