The amount of waste in the world’s oceans has been surging in the past century, and the problem continues to get worse. It is at the point where there are areas of the ocean where trash outnumbers sea life (including plankton). These areas of the ocean are known as trash swills. There are a number of them on Earth, and each of Earth’s oceans contains at least one. The greatest of all of these trash swills is commonly known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ It is also known as the ‘Plastic Continent.’
The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. It is roughly 1,000 miles off of the coast of California. Trash from Japan, the United States, Mexico and various other countries are caught in the ocean’s currents and eventually wind up in the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. Some of this trash breaks into pieces, eventually comes free and floats away, sinks to the ocean floor or floats on or below the surface.
It is difficult to determine the size of this mass of plastic and trash for various reasons. Firstly, the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ does not stay still. The collection of plastic and trash is also amorphous, so getting a precise measurement would take some doing. There is also the fact that not all of the trash is on the surface. To get a correct measurement of its size, one would have to measure its depth as well, which is no simple task. Estimates regarding the size of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ have ranged from the size of Texas to one and a half times the size of the United States.
Eighty percent of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is recyclable plastic material. It’s no wonder some people have taken to calling it the ‘Plastic Continent.’ There is also no feasible way of removing it and recycling it. The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is getting larger with no end in sight. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of the world’s plastic problem. Just imagine how much of it is sitting around on this planet, not being recycled and endangering wildlife. When you take into account the fact that plastic has only been mass-produced for the past sixty years or so, it is easy to imagine that our oceans may be literally clogged with plastic in the foreseeable future.
The amount of plastic compared to the amount of sea life in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is 6:1. Researchers have been discovering all kinds of sea life, including marine birds, with pieces of plastic from the swill in their stomachs. Some accounts have made it seem as if researchers would be hard pressed to find an animal in that area without some plastic in its stomach. The plastic breaks down into smaller pieces and begins to look like food to the animals. They can also become entangled in or otherwise inhibited by the debris. This can be a major problem if it stops the animal from being able to move or eat.
At this time, attempts are being made to study the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ However, nothing is being done about it and there may be nothing that can be done about it. No country is going to claim responsibility for the waste and end up footing a bill that could probably reach the billions. There is also the question of how all of that floating trash could possibly be collected and where would we put it? It has been estimated that the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ contains roughly 3.5 million tons of trash.
Update: Research into the impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how to clean it up is currently ongoing. There is no doubt that the task will be monumental.
Randille, Michelle, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, retrieved 12/16/09, discovery.com/news/2009/08/28/pacific-garbage.html
Think Beyond Plastic, Garbage Patch, retrieved 12/16/09, greatgarbagepatch.org/index.html
De-mystifying the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “Trash Vortex,” retrieved 12/16/09, marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/patch.html#3