Article in peer reviewed journal
June 2017, Nature Communications

Laurent C. M. Lebreton, Joost van der Zwet, Jan-Willem Damsteeg, Boyan Slat, Anthony Andrady and Julia Reisser

  • Publication type: Article in peer-reviewed journal
  • Journal: Nature Communications
  • Collaborators: The Modelling House (New Zealand), HKV Consultants (The Netherlands), North Carolina State University (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS15611
  • Submitted: 27.10.2017
  • Accepted: 11.04.2017
  • Published: 07.06.2017


Plastics in the marine environment have become a major concern because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. Implementing mitigation strategies requires an understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources, taking spatial and temporal variability into account. In this study, we present a global model of plastic inputs from rivers into oceans based on waste management, population density and hydrological information. Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October. The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritising future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.