10 Horrifying Facts About the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
In the United States, as well as in much of the developed world, we rely on plastic for virtually everything. Think about the course of your day, for instance. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do is probably hit the ‘snooze’ button on your plastic alarm clock. Then, you walk into the bathroom to take a shower and brush your teeth using items that are stored in plastic. Next, you venture into the kitchen to prepare breakfast with pots, pans, and utensils that are comprised of, you guessed it, plastic. As you go about your day, chances are you use more plastic than any other kind of material. According to GarbagePatch.net, there are about seven billion pounds of non-recyclable plastic that is produced every year around the world. In just the United States, only 7% of all of the plastic that is consumed annually is actually recycled. So, where does the rest of the plastic waste end up? It ends up in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a unique vortex of plastic debris that floats in the ocean between the Western Coast of the United States and Hawaii. While much of the rubble lurks beneath the surface of the sea, the vortex is large, complex, and continues to devastate our marine environment. Here are ten horrifying and interesting facts about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
10. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Massive
Perhaps one of the most horrific things about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that it is enormous in size. When you think of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you probably think about looking onto an ocean that is covered, as far as you can see, in plastic. The reality is quite the contrary. When you look onto the ocean where the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located, you will only see the ocean. You won’t see any plastic bottles, bags, or debris floating on the surface. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of garbage in the gyre, however. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is wide as it is deep. Scientists claim that there is approximately seven million tons of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and that it is roughly nine feet deep. If this is hard to comprehend, picture the state of Texas. Texas is immense in size compared to many other states. This particular Garbage Patch is roughly two times the size of the state of Texas! That is massive! More than 80% of the debris that makes up this famous garbage patch originates from the land, while 20% comes from oil platforms, boats, and work ships. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a great big pool of debris that has undoubtedly caused some serious issues with its immense size and ongoing growth.
9. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Not the Only One
Believe it or not, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only marine debris field in existence. In fact, there are five of them on planet earth. The five patches are called gyres, which are large systems of moving ocean currents. These currents move in a circular motion and are propelled by wind patterns around the world and the forces created by the Earth’s rotation. These gyres help to circulate ocean water around the entire world. This process is referred to as the ‘ocean’s conveyor belt’. While there are a few different types of gyres, most of them tend to be somewhat predictable with regards to their movement. The five largest ocean gyres include the Indian Ocean gyre, the North Atlantic Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, The South Atlantic Gyre, and the South Pacific Gyre. Each ocean gyre circles a large area of relatively stationary water. Drifting debris can accumulate in these areas over the course of many years with little to no movement outside of the gyre. These areas are referred to as the ‘garbage patches’. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located within the North Pacific Gyre and although it is one of the largest, it is not the only one on the planet, which means there is a lot of floating garbage and plastic debris in our world!
8. No one Knows How Much Garbage is in the Patch
One of the scariest things about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that no one really knows how much garbage is located in the gyre. Scientists that research the area can certainly speculate and have come up with a few guesses, but nothing is concrete. According to most sources, the center of the garbage patch is thought to be approximately 386,000 square miles around and spans more than one million square miles in length. There is thought to be more than seven million tons of weight in the North Pacific gyre! This projection does not include all of the garbage that is caught up in some of the other gyres around the world. Sources state that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has approximately six times more plastic than it does plankton, which serves as the primary food source for many different types of fish and marine life. Not only is this a problem for sea creatures, but for organizations that have embarked on a tireless journey to clean up our oceans. Organizations who have tried to develop a game plan for cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have their hands full, quite literally, of garbage. In total, the United Nations Environment Program claims that there are approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean throughout the world. This does not include excess debris and non-plastic garbage that accumulates in the ocean. Who would have thought that the world’s biggest landfill was in the ocean?
7. More than 70% of the Debris Lies on the Ocean Floor
Since the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is thought that our plastic footprint might actually be more damaging than our carbon footprint. In the past, everyday items were made from anything that people could get their hands on. Ivory, wood, bone, and metal were all popular materials used to create household and personal care items. Plastic was invented in 1907 by a Belgian gentleman who happened to be living in New York State at the time. He developed plastic as a way to cope with endangered materials, such as ivory, and to present the world with a more cost effective and viable production option. He probably never thought that his invention would cause so much chaos in our oceans a little over 100 years later! Our society has morphed into a throwaway culture, where we discard items that are no longer of use to us. Unfortunately, most of these items end up in the ocean via illegal dumping or through run-off in storm drains and waterways. While about 20% of all plastic in the ocean comes from boats, approximately 80% comes from our very own backyards! While much of the plastic that is located in these gyres are smaller and can hardly be seen by the naked eye, there are a number of larger items that end up on the ocean floor. Since plastic does not break down like wood or bone, for instance, it can spend years wreaking havoc on the ocean floor. It affects the entire food chain, from the larger bottom-feeders to seals, seagulls, and crabs. The worst thing, perhaps, is that no one knows just how much plastic is located on the ocean floor or just how much it has affected our marine environment because few studies have been done to this date.
6. The Garbage Patch is Too Big and Too Costly to Clean Up
If the Great Pacific Garbage Patch causes so many problems for us and the world around us, why don’t we just clean it up? In theory, it would be great if we could take a large fish net, catch all of the debris, and recycle or dispose of it properly. The reality of the situation, however, is that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is too large, too complex, and too costly to fix. Is it possible? Yes, with any stretch of the imagination. Is any country in the developing world going to want to assume responsibility for such an insurmountable task? The reality of that happening is unlikely. You have to take into account how large the Great Pacific Garbage Patch actually is. Not only would it take a lot of manpower and oil to actually get that far out into the ocean, but it would also take a ton of equipment to adequately clean up the mess. Even if you were able to remove the larger, floating items, you would have a hard time figuring out how to remove all of the smaller, plastic particles that are floating on the ocean’s surface. Photo-degradation is a real thing that would be tremendously difficult to deal with should a massive clean-up take place. While there are things we can do as consumers to cut plastic consumption and waste, assuming that one country will take the lead in a large-scale cleanup is unlikely.