Rapid increase in Asian bottles in the South Atlantic Ocean indicates major debris inputs from ships

Research Highlight

Rubbish news from a remote island

© Hannele Lahti/Getty

© Hannele Lahti/Getty

Rubbish washing up on an uninhabited island in the Atlantic is mainly plastic bottles dumped at sea by cargo ships from Asia.

Many remote islands receive a constant stream of debris, delivered by ocean currents, that includes increasing amounts of plastic waste generally assumed to come from distant shores.

A team that included researchers from the University of Cape Town surveyed the mountains of litter on Inaccessible Island in the South Atlantic Ocean in the 1980s and again in 2009 and 2018, noting the country of origin for thousands of items. Their analysis revealed that the main source of waste has shifted from South America to Asia — by 2018, three quarters of all plastic bottles that washed up were made in Asia (mainly China).

The recent manufacturing dates on many bottles suggest they did not drift from the mainland, and were most likely dumped from Asian cargo ships.

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  1. PNAS 116, 20892–20897 (2019). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1909816116
Institutions Share
University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa 0.25
DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research (CBTBR), South Africa 0.25
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Canada 0.25
Nelson Mandela University (NMU), South Africa 0.25