Most of the plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources in parts of the world without decent waste management.

John Nelson of ESRI has produced a unique, vintage-themed map that visualises the amount of plastic polluting major rivers around the world. Plastic waste mass is illustrated as units of Asian elephants, the males of which average four tonnes.

The raw data for his map came from a paper in Nature Communications, River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans, Lebreton et al (2017):

“Plastics in the marine environment have become a major concern because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. Implementing mitigation strategies requires an understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources, taking spatial and temporal variability into account. Here we present a global model of plastic inputs from rivers into oceans based on waste management, population density and hydrological information.

Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October.

The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.”

Find out how John created the maps and download a high resolution version.

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