Why 99% of ocean plastic pollution is "missing"

The plastic we dump into the ocean might be hiding in plain sight.

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For the past several years scientists have been trying to account for the 8 million metric tonnes of plastic that we dump into the ocean each year. The assumption was that a large portion of it was floating out in one of the large garbage patches, where swirling debris accumulates thanks to ocean gyres. But recent measurements of the amount of trash in the patches fell far short of what’s thought to be out there.

Scientists are getting closer to an answer, which could help clean-up efforts and prevent further damage to marine life and ocean ecosystems.

In a previous version of this video, we mistakenly compared the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the area of Australia. It is in fact roughly 1.6 million square kilometers, a little more than twice the size of the state of Texas. A huge area, but not nearly as big as Australia. Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w

For anyone interested in participating in the Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach clean-up events, here is the link with information:

International Coastal Cleanup

For more reading, check out this New Yorker article on the missing plastic problem, which inspired this video:

Laurent Lebreton’s research that estimates the amount of debris in the garbage patches is here:

For more about Ocean Conservancy’s work, and their annual international beach cleanup events:

For more reading about Erik Van Sebille’s work:

For more reading about Melanie Bergmann’s work:

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  1. Gorgi G on May 5, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    It’s no global warming problem, it’s global pollution.There million of tons of chemicals put in soil, water, and air

  2. that Guy on May 5, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    Just stop using plastic. Go back to paper/ glass

  3. Ryan P on May 5, 2021 at 11:53 pm

    How did the laundry basket not sink?

  4. Jon Adams on May 5, 2021 at 11:54 pm

    The culmination of humanity, plastic. Even if we are destroyed and wiped from the surface plastic with live on in the Earth’s Rock.

  5. L0 on May 5, 2021 at 11:54 pm

    does dropping too much trash in to the ocean causes global sea level rise?

  6. Enfield on May 5, 2021 at 11:57 pm

    The question is why is this happening in the first place

  7. Me on May 5, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    And this has all happened in just the last 60 years.

  8. Malik Ghoubije on May 6, 2021 at 12:00 am

    We are just monsters
    We are not going to stop this if we do not end reproduction. Everyone has needs that destroy the planet and the evolutions of humans.
    We are monster. Please consider being antinatalist

  9. Kristina on May 6, 2021 at 12:03 am

    If they can ban the United States of America from social media, they can ban the sell of junk and plastic on social media as well.

  10. george davidson on May 6, 2021 at 12:03 am

    Plastic on sun don’t mix

  11. timc333 on May 6, 2021 at 12:03 am

    Please tell this right tons of garbage from China , not all of our garbage , but China’s , can’t they own any of their failures . maybe when the world decides to defend them selves against China this will stop , but not till then that’s for sure .

  12. Alex on May 6, 2021 at 12:03 am

    Over 90% of the ocean pollution comes from rivers that flow through 3rd world countries in Asia and Africa.
    So when you, as a european or an american refrain from using a plastic straw, you dont make much of a difference, but you sure feel good about it.

  13. AllAhabNoMoby on May 6, 2021 at 12:05 am

    And just for clarity, 90% of all plastic is dumped in the ocean by African and Asian developing countries.

  14. Angielski Kretownik on May 6, 2021 at 12:07 am

    All those surgical masks are made of plastic, already lying all over the countryside, they will all end up in the sea.

  15. Michael Enders on May 6, 2021 at 12:08 am

    I think I understand the rest of it, but why exactly is microplasitc in ocean sediment a problem?

  16. Thomas Hoppes on May 6, 2021 at 12:11 am

    we need to repurpose it to make fuel or building materials, like bricks out of this plastic waste

  17. Stitch Azintime on May 6, 2021 at 12:11 am

    Micro plastics on seafloor? Oil is what plastic is made of. And most oil feilds are old sea floors not swamps. So i consider that the earth recycling itself.

  18. This Old Ditty on May 6, 2021 at 12:12 am

    recycling doesn’t even take place despite our efforts, it’s simply not profitable for plastic producers, who are the plastic producers you ask? well plastic is made from crude oil, I wonder who that could be? did gas just hit $5/ gallon again? Hmmmm? Unless you as the end user, completely execute every single step in their recycling protocols, then they’re "not" doing it. Not happening. Not even a little bit. sorry.

  19. Iestrr Guthrie on May 6, 2021 at 12:14 am

    Delighted to see something like this is being done. Cleaning up our oceans is a major importent. Study’s like this are important . now to do make it known to the people of the world.they will in force changes

  20. hopping mad Mooney on May 6, 2021 at 12:15 am

    The fish wont be short of masks.

  21. M:Tronaut on May 6, 2021 at 12:16 am


  22. MC3DOGS on May 6, 2021 at 12:17 am

    i just watched seaspiracy on netflix and if anyone finds this interesting you should probably go check that documentray out

  23. doire aintu on May 6, 2021 at 12:18 am

    This is the most depressing video I’ve seen all week. And it’s only Monday.

  24. Glenn Lee on May 6, 2021 at 12:18 am

    Good video (as always from Vox), but not a single mention of the approximately 45% of plastic that comes from industrial fishing nets.

  25. myles zimmerman on May 6, 2021 at 12:22 am

    All of this plastic comes from California– Somebody do Something about that state

  26. HexaRecter on May 6, 2021 at 12:23 am

    don’t plastic slowly decompose ?

  27. Beautiful Roses on May 6, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Plastics need to be banned.

  28. Thomas Paine Revolution on May 6, 2021 at 12:25 am

    One week ago and the TONS OF FACEMASKS that are filling our SEAS hasn’t even been touched on. PLEASE! Facemasks are made out of plastic!

  29. rick davis on May 6, 2021 at 12:25 am

    not much to go on. If fools build islands, why not create a colossal infrastructure to collect small, medium & large plastic, compress it & start to build an island at a spectacular depth part of the ocean. w/ a possibly gigantic tube of reinforced cement, suggest approximately 10kilometers across, build & fill it for 100+ years while experimenting w/ ways of breaking it down to oil. If & when it’s filled, put a small city on top & start another, w/ size depending on latest technology to break it down. chemistry is good. g5, 5May2021

  30. Steve D on May 6, 2021 at 12:28 am

    When I was a child, I saw sea shells on the beach. Now children see plastics. Very sad. WTG everyone, especially volunteers, who picks up beach trash.

  31. OliviaMayyybe on May 6, 2021 at 12:28 am


  32. Denis Massawe on May 6, 2021 at 12:29 am

    ‘Its our legacy’ hits me hard

  33. Rev. Tet Gallardo on May 6, 2021 at 12:29 am

    Where’s the fishing nets in this picture?

  34. JuLee McCraney on May 6, 2021 at 12:30 am

    Feels like a Catch 22 in that we need to clean up the beaches, but then what do we do with those plastics we collect?? Over 90% of recycled plastic is actually recycled. What do we do with it?? 🙁

  35. Mac Kinnon on May 6, 2021 at 12:32 am

    The reporting notwithstanding, this was almost a great piece. The childish conclusions drawn kind of undermine the entire production but, in contrast, the guest interviewed was top notch in front line serving up knowledge.

  36. Mochie bellina on May 6, 2021 at 12:32 am

    Not a bit of this will do any good as long as more plastic is being made. Duh.

  37. Thomas Paine Revolution on May 6, 2021 at 12:32 am

    Ohhh! I see, there are TONS of facemasks in our oceans. Unless this is old, it’s a crime not to expose this.

  38. 3DPeter on May 6, 2021 at 12:34 am

    Today i bought some jogging pants and for the first time they asked me if i would take it as it is or that i might want a plastic bag. So that’s a good start alright.

  39. Banu Nahi on May 6, 2021 at 12:34 am


  40. John Długosz on May 6, 2021 at 12:34 am

    I wonder how this echos the accumulation of lignin at the beginning of the Carboniferous, before fungi evolved to digest it.
    So, we’re actually helping our successors: whatever species evolves intelligence after we’re long gone will have coal beds, even though we depleted the ones that formed from the Carboniferous. Perhaps steel from cities will produce iron deposits. In a couple hundred million years, these tech resources will be renewed!

  41. WooferJr on May 6, 2021 at 12:35 am

    I hate it when they’re blaming the people when they should be really blaming the big corporations doing this.

  42. National Socialism on May 6, 2021 at 12:36 am

    They film more garbage than they pick up.

  43. Michael Deangelis on May 6, 2021 at 12:37 am


  44. Mario W on May 6, 2021 at 12:38 am

    Funny how they stated the obvious as if it was a new discovery. Still respect to those cleaning and those working on solutions. First one should be that plastic shouldn’t even be used in the first place. Second is that it should be reused/burned/recycled in 90 or more percent. Otherwise we will never get rid of this problem. Next thing should be a state level decree that tells Us to clean up trash for small amounts of money. This way kids/homeless etc could do something good and get money for that.

  45. Martha Newsome on May 6, 2021 at 12:39 am

    The problem is countries like many in Asia, who’s people just dump it in the waterways. Their governments don’t care that these terrible practices have earth wide consequences.

  46. Delta on May 6, 2021 at 12:39 am

    But….who threw the toilet seats in the sea?

  47. Hoobey Doobey on May 6, 2021 at 12:39 am

    Them: Plastic bags to save the trees. Ban paper bags!
    Also them: Using plastic bags to clean up plastic while show casing plastic pollution.

  48. Bob Vasquez on May 6, 2021 at 12:41 am

    Maybe the UFO,s that have been spotted over the Pacific Ocean lately know this not good for earth. Or they are saying that this is a good spot to Dump our plastic garbage.

  49. Nick at night on May 6, 2021 at 12:47 am

    What about the fishing nets? Watch Seaspiracy on Netflix.

  50. pdqkevin on May 6, 2021 at 12:49 am

    What? No straws?

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