- Education and Science»
- Life Sciences
How We All Contribute to the Great and Floating Pacific Plastic Garbage Patch
A Sea of Plastic
The Pacific Plastic Garbage Patch Lies North of Hawaii
Although its existence has been known of for over a decade, not much has been done about this ever growing plastic nightmare. What has come to be known as the Pacific Plastic Garbage Patch also has an Atlantic cousin which is just as alarming. The Pacific Patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas, and is a little difficult to measure or spot, since the garbage floats below the surface.
It's a bit hard to fathom a sea of every kind of plastic floating out there unseen by most people of every country, yet every country has had a hand in each of the floating gyres of plastic in most of our oceans. There are several gyres in different oceans, and all of them are constantly gathering the latest blow-off from each civilization's waste.
A trolled sea sample of plastics
Fish eat these plastic nerdles mistaking them for fish eggs
Where does plastic garbage come from and why is there so much?
As you know, we really do a good job - not a great job - of recycling. There are still many states that do not incorporate recycling into daily practice. If you're like most though, we don't really bring ourselves to the point where we want to understand why we recycle until we get to that point where we wonder "Why haven't we done anything about this a long time ago?" Well, we're there.
Have you ever been on a picnic or at a park where you were unpacking a plastic bag of paper plates and the wind took your plastic bag with a whoosh? You tried to chase it down, but alas, it traveled faster than you could've ever hoped to run, and you gave up - making sure of course that everyone saw your attempt to recapture it thereby earning absolution.
So lets start there: This lonely bag travels through the park, happily dodging the Frisbee-catching-dog, wraps around a pole momentarily, before continuing on towards a small creek. It stays there for several months before the rainy season comes and sends it downstream with a flash flood. From there it joins other streams that joins larger rivers, and well, you know that all rivers lead to the ocean. This process could in fact take years to accomplish, but it does eventually happen.
In the mean time, the plastic bag has not lost any of it's form. It may have received more holes from getting snagged here and there, or perhaps the sun has baked it brittle, but yet, the bag still remains. And every part of it, will forever be with us - all this, from a question asked months ago when you made the conscious decision of choosing plastic over paper.
More on plastic pollution.
Plastic Bag Poll
Do you have re-usable bags to use for your grocery shopping?
What is streamlining the growth of this plastic garbage flotilla in our oceans?
What leap frogs this timely event? Ocean storms that wreak havoc on sea going vessels, with special attention to vessels shipping containers of various plastic contents. In 1990 one such storm in the pacific caused the spill of over 50,000 pairs of shoes.
In 2000, a vessel spilled a 10 mile wide flotilla of plastic bags destined for a fast food restaurant - an estimated six million bags.
It's the miles and miles of tow lines and nets that are loosed by mistake or on purpose by commercial fishing vessels from every country. These miles of nets, fishing lines and floaters end up in the Pacific Gyre and gives mass to the thick petroleum based soup.
Just this past summer in the South China sea, a shipping vessel spilled several containers of plastic pellets, also called "nerdles". The containers exploded open on impact, and the pellets which are the base form of plastics to be melted and casted into finished products, spilled out everywhere. Fish farms in the area have reported "nerdles" found in their fish since the pellets resemble fish eggs - a common food source for fish. I should also mention that the South China sea is a part of the Pacific Ocean, and yes, plastic pellets are found in the Pacific Gyre.
Unfortunately, these "nerdles" and other plastics are magnets to toxins such as PCBs, and DDE - a derivative of the insecticide DDT. This is not just a makings for an upset stomach, this is an alteration in the food cycle.
Hope on the Horizon
Yeech! Toxic plastic soup
Let's test your knowledge
view quiz statistics
Now for some much needed good news about our fight against plastic waste.
Yes, there is hope. Hope in people that have had a change in heart after being educated about the effects that their own actions has on the environment. We can choose recycled paper over plastic when we shop. For those that don't offer a choice, we can bring our own re-usable cloth bags. We can think about the products that we choose to purchase, do we really need another piece of plastic, and is there any recycling effort if we replace an old unit with a new? Shop and buy used - give products a longer life - and donate whenever possible before tossing into landfills.
There are businesses that are manufacturing food containers with biodegradeable materials, and although they are slow to gather momentum, their numbers are snow-balling. There are citizens that are educating others about the effects of how they shop, and still others that volunteer their efforts for the good of our eco-system.
Even if all you did was not use another plastic bag, and the initial thought process in knowing that the plastic product(s) that you buy today will be landfill material tomorrow, it would arm you with the knowledge of knowing that you can affect your world's environmental future.
This isn't a problem or issue that will go away, but will become a problem that we will all be forced to contend with. If we as consumers start shopping with a more practical mindset, it will lessen the impact that all plastics have on our environment, and give our world's businesses a chance to leave a smaller footprint.
What can you do to help?
and Forever More.
When ever possible don't use a plastic bag.
Always use your re-usable bags.
Let your money do your talking, shop only at environmentally sound businesses.
Tell your family about plastic's impact on the environment and eco-system.
Tell your friends about it.
Blog about it, write your congress person, write your favorite store or manufacturers.
Minimize your plastic use.
Minimize your family's plastic use.
Be an advocate against the irresponsible use of plastics in your neighborhood.