Marine Litter: Solutions for Monitoring, Mitigation and Prevention,
September 27, 2022, Brest, France

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Quantifying the Use Chains of Plastics and the Sources of Plastic in the Ocean

Hans-Peter Plag(1)(2)(3), Dan Martin(1)

(1) Department of Ocean and Earth Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA (2) Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA (3) Tiwah UG, Rossbach, Germany

Information about the amount of plastic produced, the flow of this plastic through a range of use chains, the fate after exiting the use chains, and the leakage into the non-human environment during production and use and after use is incomplete, uncertain, and to some extent inaccurate and contradictory. Here we use a comprehensive stock and flow model (SFM) of the plastic use chains to assess several assumptions that need to be made to overcome data and knowledge gaps. A particular focus is on the distribution of plastic into the different use chains, the amount of plastic waste actually deposited, incinerated, and recycled, and the leakage of plastic into the terrestrial and oceanic environment. The residence time distribution functions (RTDFs) of plastic in the different use chains are not very well known, and we test different RTDFs with respect to their quantitative impact on plastic waste ending up in landfills and the environment. For the amount of plastic actually in the ocean, the RTDF of plastic in the ocean is the essential variable, and this variable is not well known. We compare the model predictions for plastic in the ocean to observations to establish constraints for the ocean RTDF. We also assess the impact of different policies limiting the production and use of plastic on plastic amounts in the ocean up to 2100. In conclusion, the results emphasize the urgent need to thoroughly document the production and use of plastic and to limit the production and ubiquitous use to areas where plastic cannot be replaced with other materials.

Type of contribution: Presentation.

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