Amount of straws, plastic pollution is huge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cities and nations are looking at banning plastic straws and stirrers in hopes of addressing the world’s plastic pollution problem. The problem is so large, though, that scientists say that’s not nearly enough.

Australian scientists Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox estimate, using trash collected on U.S. coastlines during cleanups over five years, that there are nearly 7.5 million plastic straws lying around America’s shorelines. They figure that means 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws are on the entire world’s coastlines.

But that huge number suddenly seems small when you look at the plastic trash bobbing around oceans. University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck calculates that nearly 9 million tons end up in the world’s oceans and coastlines each year, as of 2010, according to her 2015 study in the journal Science .

That’s just in and near oceans. Each year more than 35 million tons of plastic pollution are produced around Earth and about a quarter of that ends up around the water.

“For every pound of tuna we’re taking out of the ocean, we’re putting two pounds of plastic in the ocean,” says ocean scientist Sherry Lippiatt, California regional coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program.

Seabirds can ingest as much as 8 percent of their body weight in plastic, which for humans “is equivalent to the average woman having the weight of two babies in her stomach,” says Hardesty of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Organizers of Earth Day, which is Sunday, have proclaimed ending plastics pollution this year’s theme.