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. Angielski Kretownik on May 6, 2021 at 3:27 am

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

  2. Ricson Escalicas on May 6, 2021 at 3:27 am

    Humans want to colonize Mars when we have a problem on our own. So what? Colonize Mars then gradually destroy it like what we’re doing here on earth?

  3. myles zimmerman on May 6, 2021 at 3:27 am

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

  4. Alex on May 6, 2021 at 3:29 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.

  5. Classy Chassey Car Hop Trays on May 6, 2021 at 3:30 am

    This is a contamination of the earth, there should be a solution because every day it only gets worse. From amazon car hop trays.

  6. 3DPeter on May 6, 2021 at 3:31 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.

  7. MC3DOGS on May 6, 2021 at 3:33 am

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

  8. Me on May 6, 2021 at 3:34 am

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

  9. Michael Deangelis on May 6, 2021 at 3:36 am


  10. Enfield on May 6, 2021 at 3:37 am

    The question is why is this happening in the first place

  11. Thomas Paine Revolution on May 6, 2021 at 3:38 am

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

  12. OliviaMayyybe on May 6, 2021 at 3:40 am


  13. Mac Kinnon on May 6, 2021 at 3:40 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.

  14. AllAhabNoMoby on May 6, 2021 at 3:43 am

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

  15. Roberto Rangel on May 6, 2021 at 3:43 am

    This a real concern. Go watch seaspiracy.

  16. This Old Ditty on May 6, 2021 at 3:45 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.

  17. Bob Vasquez on May 6, 2021 at 3:47 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.

  18. george davidson on May 6, 2021 at 3:48 am

    Plastic on sun don’t mix

  19. Ricardo Alonso on May 6, 2021 at 3:48 am

    I got super exited when I read the title… Then I noticed its from Vox

  20. Malik Ghoubije on May 6, 2021 at 3:51 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

  21. Martha Newsome on May 6, 2021 at 3:51 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.

  22. Toto Thedog on May 6, 2021 at 3:53 am

    Good cause I suppose. I just dont see the existential threat of plastic in the ocean. Out side an eye sore to you tree hugger types, what’s the problem? As in beside certain types of plastic products posing danger to animal life. Like beer can rings and stuff. I have a logical mind. A logical mind would wonder if it’s a true crisis, why not focus on the dangerous effects of plastic pollution, over just virtue signaling. Saying. "Theres plastic on the ocean floor, floating in 5 spots, and mixed in with sediment. Oh and in this plankton guts". Really. That constitutes an emergency??? Because a base organism ingested some microscopic plastic fiber? Yeah, really scary and horrible stuff.

  23. Iestrr Guthrie on May 6, 2021 at 3:53 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

  24. Gorgi G on May 6, 2021 at 3:53 am

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

  25. Michael Enders on May 6, 2021 at 3:54 am

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

  26. Stitch Azintime on May 6, 2021 at 3:55 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.

  27. Denis Massawe on May 6, 2021 at 3:55 am

    ‘Its our legacy’ hits me hard

  28. jandypimpson on May 6, 2021 at 3:56 am

    Just think in 50 years when they are fishing plastic COVID face shields, and blue face masks, hand sanitizer bottles and large clear plastic dividers out of the ocean saying ‘these items originating in the COVID-19 pandemic way back in 2019-2022.

  29. HexaRecter on May 6, 2021 at 3:59 am

    don’t plastic slowly decompose ?

  30. pdqkevin on May 6, 2021 at 4:00 am

    What? No straws?

  31. JuLee McCraney on May 6, 2021 at 4:00 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?? 🙁

  32. Kristina on May 6, 2021 at 4:05 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.

  33. National Socialism on May 6, 2021 at 4:06 am

    They film more garbage than they pick up.

  34. Thomas Hoppes on May 6, 2021 at 4:08 am

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

  35. hopping mad Mooney on May 6, 2021 at 4:10 am

    The fish wont be short of masks.

  36. Jon Adams on May 6, 2021 at 4:12 am

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

  37. M:Tronaut on May 6, 2021 at 4:12 am


  38. Thomas Paine Revolution on May 6, 2021 at 4:14 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!

  39. Glenn Lee on May 6, 2021 at 4:14 am

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

  40. Nick at night on May 6, 2021 at 4:15 am

    What about the fishing nets? Watch Seaspiracy on Netflix.

  41. Ryan P on May 6, 2021 at 4:16 am

    How did the laundry basket not sink?

  42. SkenonS on May 6, 2021 at 4:17 am

    So practically, this video shows that "ocean cleaning" is pointless, most of that plastic goes back to shores, and most of what remains sinks and eventually gets buried in the seafloor, taking its carbon back underground where it came from in the form of oil. All of these "feel good" companies out there, cleaning oceans(going on long cruises) and planting trees(going on exotic holidays) do absolutely nothing for climate change and the environment except give the public false hope and further cloud their already very clouded understanding of the problem…

  43. Tim Wynn on May 6, 2021 at 4:19 am

    masks are the newest addition to the existential garbage crisis.

  44. L0 on May 6, 2021 at 4:19 am

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

  45. Mochie bellina on May 6, 2021 at 4:21 am

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

  46. doire aintu on May 6, 2021 at 4:21 am

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

  47. Banu Nahi on May 6, 2021 at 4:21 am


  48. Beautiful Roses on May 6, 2021 at 4:22 am

    Plastics need to be banned.

  49. WooferJr on May 6, 2021 at 4:23 am

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

  50. Steve D on May 6, 2021 at 4:25 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.