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How We All Contribute to the Great and Floating Pacific Plastic Garbage Patch

Updated on August 30, 2014

A Sea of Plastic

Plastic does not biodegrade.  In most cases, it doesn't recycle either, yet, we manufacture more and more on a daily basis.
Plastic does not biodegrade. In most cases, it doesn't recycle either, yet, we manufacture more and more on a daily basis. | Source

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

Plastic bags that have broken down into threadlike formations of plastic jellyfish goulash.
Plastic bags that have broken down into threadlike formations of plastic jellyfish goulash. | Source

Fish eat these plastic nerdles mistaking them for fish eggs

Plastic manufacturing pellets also called "nerdles" are mistaken for fish eggs, and have already been found in fish.
Plastic manufacturing pellets also called "nerdles" are mistaken for fish eggs, and have already been found in fish. | Source

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?

See results

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

There are many groups offering education and clean-up efforts of our seas, but we all need to do our part.
There are many groups offering education and clean-up efforts of our seas, but we all need to do our part. | Source

Yeech! Toxic plastic soup

Water sample of the Pacific Plastic Garbage Patch waters.
Water sample of the Pacific Plastic Garbage Patch waters. | Source

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.


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    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      2 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Stella for your comment - there have been some improvement as to a lot of retailers not using plastic in certain areas. But, alas, the difference has to ultimately come from the individual that will make a conscious decision to not add to the mounds of floating plastics by voicing his/her decision to shop elsewhere or to encourage using reusable cloth bags. Thanks! Kawi.

    • Stella Kaye profile image

      Stella Kaye 

      2 years ago from UK

      A great article; I feel that plastic producers need to be held accountable for producing something that no one can really get rid of. They need to be persuaded to come up with an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic and if necessary government funding should be provided for them to do this. Of course, consumers still need to be held responsible for disposing of their rubbish correctly so it doesn't pollute the environment.

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      5 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Reggie, at some point we are all guilty of not knowing a thing that is so crucial to the way we recenter ourselves, and start seeing the things around us that should really be given the attention it needs... our eyes are open, that's always great, but its what we do with this new information that will really matter. Take a stand, join the fight - no matter how small - help to save our planet from the errors of our past and pass on the information to your friends and fam. Peace. Kawi.

    • profile image

      Reggie K. 

      5 years ago

      Very interesting and informative. Im ashamed that I had no idea this patch even existed. Really opens your eyes to what is happening and what we are doing to our planet. Excellent hub!

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for your comment LaurelTree44, this is really an important subject that folks need to know more about. If we can educate people in our circle, and let it catch on the way a single drop in a pond expands outward, our world will be so much the better. Good luck on your research, and keep up the good fight. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks billybuc for your comment - there is always hope until the situation is hopeless. We are far from it, but still need to carry on the education. Thanks for reading. Peace. Kawi.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am just so impressed by this! I found it while researching for a 'G0 Green Forum' project in my science class: obviously I will direct my friends here! This is helping SO MUCH! Thank you KawikaChann. When my blog comes live, my first post will probably link here.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent information about a very important topic. Yes, there is hope for sure. I think people are more aware today, and with awareness we definitely have hope.

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Hi Teresa, thanks for your comments and very insightful thoughts. Yes, what you're doing is recycling a made material so that it doesn't have to be remade just for the purpose. There is a growing number of people who are taking recycling to another level which would include everything that we need to use such as clothes, furniture, especially items containing plastic. Peace. Kawi.

    • Teresa Schultz profile image

      Teresa Schultz 

      6 years ago from East London, in South Africa

      Plastic is scary! Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking hub. My man and I have recently taken an interest in recycling, but mostly glass related - we have to get more involved in recycling or reducing our plastic usage, too! Looking at those whitish-coloured balls of plastic that fish mistake for eggs, I wonder if fish also mistake white sea glass for eggs. Hm. Then I feel good about the sea glass we've been collecting on the local beaches as that will hopefully help it not end up back in the water as the tides change and drag the beach back in.

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for your comment aviannovice, your efforts in leaving a smaller footprint is awesome - if everyone understood how important emulating your attitude was, we would be in a better situation for our world. Fortunately, in Portland, OR it is easier to influence others why this is so important - in my travels to other areas, not so easy. Education is power man. Stay the course. Peace. Kawi.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I like my cloth reusable bags, and I recycle as much as I can. I only throw out a small trash bag once a month. If we could all do this, it would be amazing how little would be trashed. I also like to reuse things wherever I can. As a matter of fact, I have taken home short rolls of toilet paper from work, and a gallon glass jar, in order to make pickles or pickled peppers. I also plan to get empty Gray Goose liquor bottles, and cut them down to fashion drinking glasses. Since I like birds so much, a glass with a gray goose on it would be perfect for me!

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Dreamhowl, it has received some coverage with the media, but it hasn't reached a wide spectrum. I'm sure that if we all do our part, we will be better off in the long run. Peace. Kawi.

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Peri 

      6 years ago from United States

      I knew nothing about the garbage patch! Thanks for showing me. It's terrible to think about, but I bet even I contributed to this over time. I feel more motivated to be better at recycling. Voted up!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. Irony; SF's mayor announces the city''s ban on plastic bags as he is drinking his bottled water.

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Michael, yes, the patch is growing unless we re-act responsibly. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile imageAUTHOR

      Kawika Chann 

      6 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks Kerry, it truly deserves a second look at the way we use plastics. Peace. Kawi.

    • Michael Tully profile image

      Michael Tully 

      6 years ago

      Excellent information, Kawi. I had no clue that the Patch was so big. This is definitely a much-needed call to awareness and action. Voted up and tweeted.

    • KerryAnita profile image


      6 years ago from Satellite Beach, Florida

      Great Hub! The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is definitely something that we all need to be aware off. It is THE prime example of why we all need to do our part to reduce our plastic usage!


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