Forgot Password?
Home arrow GreeniacsArticles arrow Environmental News arrow Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Written by Lindsay Crowder   
Share |
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In the United States, we generate over 400 million tons of trash each year. Some of that waste biodegrades, some of that waste can be recycled, but some of it sits around for hundreds of years with nowhere to go. Some of the most stubborn waste is plastic. Americans alone throw out about 60 million plastic water bottles everyday, use about 20,000 plastic bags in their lifetime, and produce enough plastic to shrink wrap the state of Texas every year. The scary part is that all of that plastic takes over a thousand years to biodegrade and a good amount of it is left lingering in our oceans. Over the past 50 years, as we have transitioned from debris that can be broken down by microorganisms to the almost indestructible and abundant use of plastics. Now, every piece of plastic waste that has made it into our oceans is swirling around in patches that together form a small continent. The largest of this unfortunate mess has been referred to as the “Pacific Trash Vortex” or the “Eastern Garbage Patch,” but it is most widely known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

A crew of researchers led by Charles Moore went to explore the Patch a few years back and decided to take back some of the debris they found, including the following:1
* A drum of hazardous chemicals;
* An inflated volleyball, half covered in gooseneck barnacles;
* A plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook;
* A cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV;
* An inflated truck tire mounted on a steel rim;
* Numerous plastic, and some glass, fishing floats;
* A gallon bleach bottle that was so brittle it crumbled in our hands; and
* A menacing medusa of tangled net lines and hawsers.
The plastic to sea life ratios are 6:1. Currently, there are no cohesive plans to clean up the mess. Charles Moore estimates that 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources, and 20% from ships at sea.2 Unfortunately, all of that garbage works harmoniously with the North Pacific currents to keep it out at sea.

The Formation

Picture the large stretch of the Pacific Ocean that lies between the coast of California and Hawaii. The Patch resides in this part of the Pacific; a relatively stationary part of the ocean that is characterized by clockwise currents and light winds known as the North Pacific Gyre. The rotational pattern described by the North Pacific Gyre draws in waste material from the shorelines of the North Pacific Ocean, including the coastal waters off North America and Japan. As material circulates in the current, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward the center-taking up to 15 years to make it from shore to center.3The increase in plastic consumption is directly contributing to the growth of the Patch. Plastic is light, it floats, and it is essentially indestructible. Although it does not biodegrade, it does photo-degrade. Photo-degrading is a process in which plastic is broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic polymers, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic, still too tough for any organism to naturally digest.4 The Great Pacific Garbage Patch will continue to grow as we continue to throw away plastic.

The Effects on Wildlife

The area in the ocean where the Patch lies is not heavily populated or frequented by humans, making wildlife directly vulnerable to its threats. The floating debris is mistaken as zooplankton by jellyfish, sea turtles, Black-footed Albatross, and other marine birds and animals. Organic pollutants, such as PCBs, DDT and PAHs, can be absorbed in the debris and later ingested. The ingested debris is not only impossible for the wildlife to digest, but it also adds toxic pollutants into the food chain. Hormone receptors cannot distinguish these toxics from the natural estrogenic hormone, estradiol, and when the pollutants dock at these receptors instead of the natural hormone, they have been shown to have a number of negative effects in everything from birds and fish to humans.5 When not eating the garbage, many marine birds, fish, and other animals are also found entangled in the mess.

Is there an End?

If we somehow managed to stop all use of plastic and pick up every bit of garbage that is improperly disposed of, then we may put the growth of the massive Great Pacific Garbage Patch on hold. Charles Moore says, “The levels of plastic particulates in the Pacific have at least tripled in the last 10 years and a tenfold increase in the next decade is not unreasonable. Then, 60 times more plastic than plankton will float on its surface.”6 We must learn to reduce our use of plastics, reuse what we can, and recycle what cannot be reused. Without an organized effort to clean up the mess, it is up to the individual to make an effort to minimize the mess. For more information and how to help, check out http://www.greatgarbagepatch.org/.

Browse all Greeniacs Articles Browse all Greeniacs Guides        Browse all Greeniacs Articles
_______________________________________________________________________________

1 http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean/Moore-Trashed-PacificNov03.htm.
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch.
3 Id.  
4 http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean/Pacific-Garbage-Patch27oct02.htm.
5 Id.
6 Id.




Add your comment
RSS comments

Only registered users can write comments.
Please login or register.

Click here to Register.  Click here to login.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 February 2011 )

SEARCH GREENIACS.COM

Green Facts

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your car’s tires fully inflated.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200—a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.