Abstract. Although the presence of vast amounts of plastic in the open ocean has generated great concern due to its potential ecological consequences, recent studies reveal that its measured abundance is much smaller than expected. Regional and global studies indicate that the difference from expected and actual estimates is enormous, suggesting that a large part of the plastic has been degraded by either physical or biotic processes. A paradoxical observation is the lack of a trend in plastic accumulation found in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, despite the rapid increase in plastic production and disposal. In this paper we suggest that this observation could be explained by the nonlinear coupling between plastic (as a resource) and evolved microbial strains (the consumer) capable of degrading it. The potential consequences for the future evolution of marine plastic garbage and future strategies based on bioengineering are outlined.