Plastic Input in Rivers

Global estimate of river plastic discharge into the world’s oceans for 2010

  • Source: The Ocean Cleanup


This dataset shows a global estimate of plastic inputs from rivers into the oceans for 2010, expressed in kilograms per year. The authors used data on waste management, population density, and hydrological information to create this model. The dataset includes information on 40,760 watersheds and 182 different countries. The data is presented in a vector format.

Plastic pollution in our oceans and on our coastlines have become a major threat to ocean health worldwide. A better understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources can help in implementing mitigation strategies to alleviate the issue. The dataset can help in identifying places that require higher attention in terms of plastic waste monitoring and mitigation plans. This data can also be used as a baseline measurement for ocean plastic mass balance exercises.

This data was developed by researchers funded by The Ocean Cleanup Foundation.


The amount of plastic inputs from rivers into the oceans was estimated by using data on mismanaged plastic waste production (MPW) per country, population density, topographic elevation, and location of artificial barriers (weirs and dams).

For each catchment area mismanaged plastic waste production (MPW) rates per day were calculated by combining data on waste generation by inhabitant per day and population density for the area. This data was combined with water flow per river catchment area to provide a final value for the mass of plastic released at the river’s mouth. This data was extrapolated using seasonal variations in water flow to create a year dataset. Data on population density was derived from the dataset Global 15 x 15 Minute Grids of the Downscaled Population by the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) for 182 countries. Data used to calculate MPW rates were collected from seven peer reviewed studies. Topographic information was taken from Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) hydrological model for surface/subsurface runoff and location of artificial barriers was taken from AquaStat and Global Reservoir and Dam Database (GRanD).

In total the dataset includes information for 40,760 watersheds worldwide. For the full documentation, please see the source methodology.

Data shown on Resource Watch Map

Additional data for plastic input in tonnes per year, plastic input in tonnes per month, and average monthly water runoff in catchment area in mm per day are also available from the data provider. Please click on the “Learn More” button to find this data on the source website.

Coordinates provided in the source data were used to map this data for display on Resource Watch.


Excerpts of this description page were taken from the source metadata. Resource Watch shows only a subset of the dataset. For access to the full dataset and additional information, click on the “Learn more” button.

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Formal name

River Plastic Emissions to the World's Oceans


The study considers only debris larger than their net mesh sizes (usually 0.3 mm) and smaller than the aperture size of their sampling devices (usually 0.5 m). Debris outside of this size range are neglected in this study, but they can still enter the ocean in extreme events such as turbulent river flows and large flood events.

The studies reviewed to calculate MPW rates were based on only buoyant plastic on the surface of rivers. They did not consider buoyant plastic below the surface that may have submerged from turbulent waters. Additionally, they do not consider non-buoyant plastic that may eventually make it to the ocean through strong turbulents or water movement. The model assumes that all types of plastic materials are trapped by artificial obstacles such as dams, but in reality, the trap efficiency of these barriers is based on a variety of factors.

There is inherently a large amount of uncertainty when dealing with plastic in water systems. Plastic degradation and deposition are still poorly understood topics and likely play an important role in plastic movement in freshwater ecosystems.

Suggested citation

Lebreton, Laurent; Reisser, Julia (2018): Supplementary data for 'River plastic emissions to the world's oceans'. Accessed through Resource Watch, (date).


The Ocean Cleanup Foundation

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