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Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.

Takeaway food and beverage packaging is the main source of plastic litter accumulating along many coasts.

Around 8 million metric tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean in 2010. Using data from scientific surveys and community waste inventories, Carmen Morales-Caselles and Andrés Cózar, at the University of Cadiz in Puerto Real, Spain, and their colleagues classified more than 12 million items of litter found worldwide according to product type, material composition and probable origin.

Takeaway items discarded shortly after use, including plastic bags, wrappers, food containers, bottles, cans and cutlery, accounted for the largest share — up to 88% — of waste accumulating along shorelines and in near-shore waters. Waste resulting from fishing activities, including synthetic ropes, strings and nets, is the dominant source of litter in the open ocean, the researchers found.

Understanding the products that account for the biggest share of marine litter is crucial to reducing pollution, the authors say. Such knowledge is also needed to ensure responsible production and consumption patterns, they add.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
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