The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

I don’t often write environmental pieces.  It’s not that I don’t care about the environment.  I am very concerned about the planet, actively recycle and end up in some rather heated debates with certain people who would just let the earth suffer a slow death because they believe that “any time now” god is going to magically pop up and give the universe and upgrade.  For me, it is just a matter of available time for research.  I am glad that there are so many people dedicated to exposing the wanton pollution that is destroying our planet, and most of us are keenly aware of oil spills, exhaust gases and non-biodegradable products that are choking our landfills.  I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the problem until I read about “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  I had to spend some time researching this because, to be honest, I thought the article I read must have been from “The Onion” or another satirical comedy outlet.

Wikipedia describes this as such:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean…. Most current estimates state that it is larger than the U.S. state of Texas, with some estimates claiming that it is larger than the continental United States, however the exact size is not known. The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents…

After checking and crosschecking several respected environmental websites, I figure the best guess is that there is approximately 3.5 million tons of trash floating around in there. Items like shoes, toys, bags, pacifiers, wrappers, toothbrushes, and bottles.  My research shows that there are a few major sources responsible for this floating landfill.  The world’s navies and commercial shipping fleets contribute close to 700,000 pieces of trash overboard every single day.   Sound like a lot?  Well, it is, but it only amounts to about 20% of what is out there.   It has been estimated that about 80% of it was initially discarded on land.

The garbage that we throw out of our car windows, toss onto the ground or are carelessly transported by inadequately sealed trucks and trains on the way to landfills get blown by the wind.  It gets into rivers, streams and storm drains and then rides currents out to sea.  Another, more direct source, is litter dropped by people at the beach.  Data regarding the dumping of refuse by the countless number of cruise ships is incomplete, but you don’t have to be a mathematical statistician to take a wild guess on their contribution to the problem.

It has been estimated that the plastic in the Garbage Patch is killing about a million seabirds a year, as well as approximately 100,000 marine mammals, including turtles, which choke to death on items like bottle caps, pocket combs, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, cottonbud shafts, toothbrushes, toys, syringes and plastic shopping bags.  How do we know this?  These items, and many others, are routinely found in the stomachs of dead seabirds and other marine mammals, such as the aforementioned turtles, dolphins and even whales.  To give you a better idea, a study of fulmar carcases that washed up on North Sea coastlines found that 95 per cent had plastic in their stomachs.  This does not even take into account the loss of marine life due to being poisoned by the oily toxins that accumulate in the plastic.

They feed, and they die.  They feed, the end up on our dinner plates, we ingest poison.  Nobody wins.

It would appear that Americans and Japanese are largest contributors. The sad part is that advances in the Plastics Industry have seen the development and manufacture of products that are biodegradable and recyclable.  Developed nations have enacted strict penalties for pollution don’t really seem to working toward slowing the growth of the Garbage Patch because little or nothing can be done to enforce anti-polluting laws in international waters.

The only real solution would be to remove what amounts to be endless miles of trash, which has it’s own myriad of environmental problems. Not to mention the billions of dollars it would cost.  As well, getting international cooperation would be problematic because it isn’t good press. There are no pictures of birds covered in oil or cute animals to save. You can’t see an island of garbage on satellite maps because the plastic degrades into tiny, bite-sized particles, and they simply don’t look horrific on camera.

Human beings are the only ones to blame for this, and it is a sad legacy we are leaving that makes a statement about our general disregard for our home.  There is a wealth of information on the Internet about this problem, and I urge you to use your favorite search engine to learn as much about this problem as you can, and post it on your social networking site of choice, tell your family, your friends and neighbors.   Perhaps more awareness about this immense floating island of human, non-biodegradable garbage will have some positive effect on the situation.  Maybe knowing that we are slowly poisoning ourselves and not just marine life will give us pause regarding the careless attitude that we have about what is done with our trash.

  1 comment for “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  1. June 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    While I don’t necessarily share your creator denial, I completely concur with and support your attention on this matter. It’s a gigantic problem – it’s scope is inversely equal to the public failure to comprehend the impact on the hydrosphere and the biosphere. Good work.

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