The world’s largest garbage dump is the Pacific Ocean.  Right now, there is a huge mass of floating plastic garbage that could be twice the size of the United States or twice the size of Texas.  No one knows for sure how big it really is.  But it has been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and it is poisoning the ocean and its animals.  While only a small amount of research has been conducted to date, it is very clear that this plastic garbage will never go away.  It will never dissolve, it will never dissipate.  It will only continue to grow larger until a human being, or a community of humans cleans it up.  Who will do it?

Eighty percent of this plastic waste comes from the coasts of North America and Asia after being washed into rivers and streams.  The plastic eventually finds its way into the ocean.  The other 20% comes from ships at sea.   The discarded plastic gets caught up in Pacific currents and is naturally pushed aside into gyres, areas of still water where there are no currents.  There are two Pacific gyres and together, they may contain over 100 million tons of garbage. The plastic is estimated to be up to 90 feet deep in some areas.

This plastic has been accumulating since the 1950’s.   Over time, the plastic breaks down into very small particles.  Fish, birds and marine mammals mistake this for food and eat it.  Millions of fish and sea mammals have died this way.  The degraded plastic releases toxic chemicals that poison the fish.  When people eat the fish, they take in the chemicals too.


It gets worse

At least five garbage patches have formed in other oceanic gyres around the world.  If nothing is done to prevent further careless manufacture and disposal of plastic, these floating garbage dumps will only get bigger and more prevalent, leading to the further degradation of our oceans.  Our almost certain future could include a very unpleasant planet to live on.

What you can do

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has received a lot of attention over the last couple of years.  Most of the action taken has been to study it, analyze it, take samples, etc.  This is helpful of course, but nobody is actually doing anything to clean it up.  And there may not be any way to clean it up.  We’re talking about trillions of tiny bits of plastic – some microscopic, intermingled with plankton and other life.

The only action we can take right now is to keep it from getting bigger.  Don’t buy plastic unless there is no other choice.  When you do, make sure you recycle it or throw it in the trash if you can’t recycle it. 

There are other options that will have an even bigger impact, like writing members of congress, or getting involved in environmental groups like the Green City Challenge.  The best thing about joining a group is that you can meet some great people and help the environment at the same time.