For the first time ever, scientists have managed to collect data confirming just how much plastic trash is floating around in the world’s oceans. According to their research, right now there are ove 5 trillion pieces of plastic – that’s nearly 269,000 tons – out there strangling animals and poisoning wildlife. Most of the plastic is made up of micro pieces measuring less than 5 mm and much of it comes from food and drink packaging and clothing waste.

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Scientists from the US, France, New Zealand, Australia and Chile compiled the data over 6 years and from 24 expeditions. It’s the first study of its kind to look at the total amount of plastic in the seas. To obtain their data, the researchers observed larger plastic pieces from boats and pulled in the smaller pieces using nets.

Related: Melting Arctic Ice Could Release a Trillion Pieces of Plastic into the Sea

Plastic is devastating for sea life. Not only can it strangle animals, but smaller pieces can be ingested by fish and the chemicals from that plastic can then be passed up the food chain. Beyond that, plastic also acts as a magnet for oily pollutants.

Much of this plastic accumulates in ocean gyres, the circular currents in the oceans. Those gyres can act as plastic shredders, decimating plastic pieces and then spitting them out into the rest of the ocean. According to one researcher, putting a net into these plastic currents was like trying to sail through “plastic soup.”

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Shutterstock, image via Bo Eide