Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The status and fate of oceanic garbage patches

Floating plastic is accumulating in the five subtropical oceanic gyres, but little is known about their composition, sources, and fate. Monitoring has provided insight into persistence and accumulation processes in the North Pacific Ocean, but their relevance in other gyres is unknown. Identifying the sources of plastics, in all subtropical gyres, is necessary for cleanup efforts to be effective.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Observing the oceanic garbage patches.


  1. van Sebille, E. et al. A global inventory of small floating plastic debris. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 124006 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Wong, C. S., Green, D. R. & Cretney, W. J. Quantitative Tar and Plastic Waste Distributions in the Pacific Ocean. Nature 247, 30–32 (1974).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Lebreton, L. et al. Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Sci. Rep. 8, 4666 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Jambeck, J. R. et al. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 6223 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cozar, A. et al. Plastic debris in the open ocean. in Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 10239–10244 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Egger, M., Sulu-Gambari, F. & Lebreton, L. First evidence of plastic fallout from the North Pacific Garbage Patch. Sci. Rep. 10, (2020).

  7. Lebreton, L. et al. Industrialised fishing nations largely contribute to floating plastic pollution in the North Pacific subtropical gyre. Sci. Rep. 12, 12666 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Haram, L. E. et al. Emergence of a neopelagic community through the establishment of coastal species on the high seas. Nat. Commun. 12, 6885 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Egger, M. et al. A spatially variable scarcity of floating microplastics in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. Environ. Res. Lett. 15, 114056 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Morales-Caselles, C. et al. An inshore–offshore sorting system revealed from global classification of ocean litter. Nat. Sustain. 4, 484–493 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laurent Lebreton.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The author is consulting for The Ocean Cleanup, a not-for-profit organization developing technology to remove floating plastics from the ocean’s surface.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lebreton, L. The status and fate of oceanic garbage patches. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 730–732 (2022).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing