River export of macro- and microplastics to seas by sources worldwide

Strokal, Maryna; Vriend, Paul; Bak, Mirjam P.; Kroeze, Carolien; van Wijnen, Jikke; van Emmerik, Tim


Seas are polluted with macro- (>5 mm) and microplastics (<5 mm). However, few studies account for both types when modeling water quality, thus limiting our understanding of the origin (e.g., basins) and sources of plastics. In this work, we model riverine macro- and microplastic exports to seas to identify their main sources in over ten thousand basins. We estimate that rivers export approximately 0.5 million tons of plastics per year worldwide. Microplastics are dominant in almost 40% of the basins in Europe, North America and Oceania, because of sewage effluents. Approximately 80% of the global population live in river basins where macroplastics are dominant because of mismanaged solid waste. These basins include many African and Asian rivers. In 10% of the basins, macro- and microplastics in seas (as mass) are equally important because of high sewage effluents and mismanaged solid waste production. Our results could be useful to prioritize reduction policies for plastics.