A new analysis published in the journal Nature Sustainability has revealed the most common items polluting the world’s oceans and it calls for urgent action to curb the flow of garbage into marine ecosystems. The research was funded by the BBVA Foundation and the Spanish science ministry and it focused on identifiable items bigger than 3cm, excluding fragments and microplastics. Single-use plastic bags accounted for the highest share of garbage items documented across seven aquatic ecosystems at 14.1%, followed by plastic bottles and food containers/cutlery at 11.9% and 9.4%, respectively.

Other common waste items found in oceans include wrappers (9.1%), synthetic rope (7.9%), fishing gear (7.6%) and plastic caps or lids (6.1%). While Europe has already moved to ban plastic straws and cotton buds, experts have urged governments to clamp down on more common forms of plastic waste such as bags, bottles and food containers. Shorelines and sea floors near coasts had the highest concentration of garbage. Significantly, discarded fishing equipment such as ropes and nets, were predominantly found out in the open ocean where they accounted for around half of all documented waste.

Carmen Morales-Caselles at the University of Cádiz in Spain led the research and she was quoted by the Guardian, stating that “we were not surprised about plastic being 80% of the litter, but the high proportion of takeaway items did surprise us, which will not just be McDonald’s MCD -0.4% litter, but water bottles, beverage bottles like Coca-Cola KO -0.6%, and cans”. She added that “this information will make it easier for policymakers to actually take action to try to turn off the tap of marine litter flowing into the ocean, rather than just clean it up.”

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