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Density of plastic materials in relation to buoyancy in seawater

Plastic bottle caps made with polypropylene have a density of 0.92 grams per cubic centimeter, which is lighter than seawater's average density of 1.027 grams per cubic centimeter, and therefore, float in seawater. Fishing nets made of polyamide or nylon do not float in seawater because they have a density higher than seawater, at 1.15 grams per cubic centimeter.

Plastic waste in the world’s oceans

  Plastic waste is a growing issue in the world’s oceans, in addition to being a problem on land. Some plastic materials sink in seawater, while others will float, depending on their density. The sustained inputs of plastic waste to the world’s oceans over decades has resulted in five enormous clusters of plastic waste within the five major ocean gyres, which are large, rotating ocean currents. The Great Pacific Garbage patch, for example, is estimated to be 15 million square kilometers in size.

Where does the plastic come from?

A certain amount of the plastic in the oceans enters via rivers. This plastic enters rivers through storm drains, marinas, harbors, docks, and so on. Approximately 60 percent of oceanic plastic pollution is derived from discarded fishing gear. The size of plastic pieces in the ocean ranges from fishing nets that are miles long, to microplastics, which are fragments of plastic that are less than five milimeters in size. Of the microplastics in the ocean, the largest share comes from synthetic textiles.

Density of selected plastic materials that float or sink in relation to seawater density

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Release date

August 2016



Survey time period


Supplementary notes

Seawater has an average density of 1.027 grams per cubic centimeter, and thus any plastic or other material with a lower density than that will float, and anything with a higher density will sink.

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