Study: 165 million plastic particles float in New York harbor at any given time

Global Business

A recent study of the waterways around New York City found that the most common type of plastic in the water was foam from coffee cups and takeout plates. Also among the debris are microbeads, or tiny pieces of plastic used in some toothpastes and body scrubs.

CCTV America’s Karina Huber reports from Keyport, New Jersey.

The study was conducted by the nonprofit group NY/NJ Baykeeper which estimated that there is at least 165 million plastic particles in New York Harbor at any given time. Worldwide, it’s estimated there are more than five trillion pieces of garbage floating in the world’s oceans right now.

Overall, 85 percent of what was collected consisted of so-called “micro-plastics,’ that are smaller than a grain of rice.

“Plastics become micro-plastics when they enter the water. They never biodegrade. All they do is kind of break apart into smaller pieces using the sun’s light. It’s called photo degradation,” NY/NJ Baykeeper Communications Associate Sandra Meola said.

Beth Ravit, a scientist at the department of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, said their small size makes them particularly dangerous because organisms mistake them for plankton and other food.

“If these aquatic species are ingesting plastic with no nutritional value it can be very harmful,” Ravit said. “There’s evidence from scientific papers, scientific research that these particles can remain in the tissues of organisms that are ingesting them so as other organisms consume these small organisms that material can move up the food chain.”

Another problem is that plastic acts as a magnet for contaminants and bacteria that wouldn’t otherwise flourish in water, Ravit added.

“Having these pieces of plastic in the water are changing the natural environment in ways we don’t fully understand yet from a scientific point of view,” Ravit said.

It’s been nearly 45 years since the United States passed the Clean Water Act, a law to regulate industrial pollution and sewage treatment and help clean up America’s waterways. But the law overlooked what’s become a growing global problem, plastic pollution.

Last December, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law that bans the use of microbeads in cosmetics and toothpastes starting next year.

Environmentalists say it’s a good first step, but more needs to be done to keep plastic out of the water. They are now pushing for a ban on single-use plastic such as foam cups and plastic bags.

Story compiled with information from the Associated Press