More About the Pacific Garbage Patch

June 28th, 2010

Most of us have heard of the large Garbage Patch floating in the ocean, composed of predominantly plastic, but how much do we really know about it? 

For instance, when I heard of a “plastic garbage patch,” I immediately visualized large pieces of plastic: bags, bottles, and so forth.  Of course there are these large pieces of plastic, but in reality, most the patch is made of billions of tiny pieces of plastic, making it almost invisible unless you’re actually in it.  This makes it even worse for the environment than plastic bags and bottles floating in the ocean would be!

The first discovered garbage patch is in the North Pacific Gyre, stuck in swirling currents.  The size is as yet undetermined because the borders of the patch are impossible to see from planes, much less satellites.  It has been estimated that the garbage patch could range anywhere from 250,000 square miles, about the size of Texas, to 6 million square miles. which would mean it covers about 10 percent of the Pacific Ocean.  Scary!  And even scarier: a second garbage patch was recently discovered in the Atlantic.

So where does all this plastic come from?  People use about 200 billion pounds of plastic every year, 10 percent of which ends up in the ocean.  Thirty percent of this plastic in the ocean is stuck on the surface because of ocean currents which sweep it along to the garbage patch.  An interesting statistic: plastic coming from the east coast of Asia reaches the patch in about a year, plastic coming from the west coast of North America reaches the patch in about five years.

The plastic littered in the ocean is broken down by the sun into ever smaller pieces, but can never be broken down entirely.  This plastic becomes small enough to be ingested by ocean life who mistake it for food.  Through this, plastic enters the food chain, ultimately being ingested by humans as well!  This is especially dangerous because the plastic floating in the ocean absorbs floating chemicals.   Many don’t realize how directly our health is impacted by litter in the ocean!

The plastic in the Pacific Gyre comes mostly from four items: plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and styrofoam.  All the more reason for us to stop our use of these items and turn to sustainable alternatives!

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Petunia GreenBeans  |  April 1st, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks for spreading the word!! Though it’s floating in April Fool’s goofery, I’ve directed the beans here for the real scoop >

    Rock on!

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