Ocean plastic pollution is a problem of increasing magnitude; yet, the amount of plastic at the sea surface is much lower than expected. Solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation can induce photodegradation, but its importance in determining the longevity of foating plastic remains unconstrained. Here, we measured photodegradation rates of different plastic types slightly larger than microplastics (virgin polymers and foating plastic debris) under simulated marine conditions. UV irradiation caused all plastic types to leach dissolved organic carbon, and to a lesser degree carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and other hydrocarbon gases. The release of photodegradation products translates to degradation rates of 1.7–2.3 % yr−1 of the tested plastic particles normalized to conditions as found in the subtropical surface ocean. Modelling the accumulation of foating plastic debris, our results show that solar UV radiation could already have degraded 7 to 22 % of all foating plastic that has ever been released to the sea.