Every year, two billion tons of garbage are produced across the globe. With the overwhelming mass of global waste, responsible garbage disposal and junk removal are nowhere near feasible.
It is no surprise that most of the garbage ends up accumulating in the oceans. As a result, garbage patches have formed in several regions of our planet’s oceans.
These garbage patches are large collections of various plastic garbage, marine debris, and other litter that has gathered in mass quantities.
One of the largest garbage patches, or rather a collection of garbage patches, is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here is everything you need to know about it – size, location, and its detrimental effects on ocean wildlife.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vortex of trash that has accumulated in the North Pacific Ocean. It contains two individual patches with a mesh of scattered garbage in between them.
These patches are a concentrated area of various junk and trash that humans have discarded. These items include:
- Fishing line
- Fishing nets (ghost nets)
- Fishing equipment
- Microbeads from facial cleansers, soap, and other cosmetic products
- Fragments that have broken off larger plastic items
- Plastic fibers from clothing and nylon materials
- Styrofoam from food and drink containers
- Plastic pellets/nurdles used in plastic manufacturing
- Plastic bags
- Food wrappers
- Plastic bottles
- Bottle caps
- Cups, plates, & single-use utensils
This garbage vortex is located in the North Pacific Ocean between the west coast of North America and the east coast of Japan.
In case you were wondering, Hawai’i is nestled between a system of circulating ocean currents, just east of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As a result, Hawai’i beaches are engulfed with plastic garbage that has drifted from the garbage patch.
According to the Ocean Cleanup, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, which is twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.
Because the plastic drifts and moves with the currents and winds, it is hard to get an accurate picture of exactly how much coverage this massive trash vortex has.
In terms of mass, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to weigh 80,000 tons with an average range of 1.1 to 3.6 trillion individual pieces of plastic.
The garbage patch was discovered in 1997 by a yachtsman named Charles Moore, who sailed through the enormous conglomerate of plastic debris. In 2013, a teen named Boylan Slat started the aforementioned company, Ocean Cleanup.
This non-profit organization pioneered many of the ocean pollution and beach clean-up projects that we now hear about today.
By studying some of the plastic items retrieved from the patch, scientists have estimated that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch started forming in the 1980s, approximately 17 years before it was discovered.
Scientists have collected plastic items whose production can be traced back to the past 40+ years.
Because of littering, irresponsible trash management, overconsumption of non-reusable plastic products, and marine pollution, trash has ended up populating the ocean.
Garbage that has found its way to the storm drains and sewers will eventually end up in the ocean.
Trash is also often illegally dumped into the ocean, furthering the already massive plastic entity that is brewing in the Great Pacific.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and plastic pollution, in general, are responsible for killing millions of sea animals every year.
Autopsies of deceased seabirds reveal large quantities of plastics they have mistakenly consumed. Due to the sheer volume of microplastics found in the ocean, many sea creatures end up consuming these plastics, which contain harmful toxins that deteriorate their health and the overall aquatic ecosystem.
Many sea animals such as turtles, seals, dolphins, sharks, and other fish get tangled up in discarded fishing nets, eventually suffocating or starving to death.
While our individual actions have minimal impact on the grand scheme of things, a little goes a long way once we become more mindful of our ecological footprints.
Thankfully, the more of us who stand up to combat plastic pollution in the ocean, the more others will follow. Here are some things you can do to help minimize your plastic impact.
- Stop using disposable, single-use plastic for good.
- Boycott cosmetic products with microbeads.
- Avoid purchasing bottled water or other beverages.
- Try to purchase everything you can secondhand.
- Use reusable bags.
- Recycle properly.
- Avoid straws.
- Choose products made from recycled/recyclable material.
- Buy higher-quality items that are built to last.
- Inspire your friends and family to do the same.
Humans have a devastating impact on the environment, causing detrimental harm to the wildlife, nature, and even themselves and their own future generations.
With how fast-paced society is, humans are producing tons of waste without even blinking an eye. However, even if we take steps to minimize our carbon footprints, humans on an individual level do not account for the same amount of trash and pollution as large corporations do.
Large corporations produce unfathomable amounts of emissions, produce insane amounts of plastic waste, and make few, if any, contributions to reduce their impact on the environment. It’s time to stand up with your local climate change organizations.
Sign petitions. Support representatives that prioritize climate change. Do whatever it takes to hold those large corporations accountable.
This is the only way we can change the state of the ocean and the only way we can save the lives of sea animals. Take a stand today.