In 1997, Charles Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Texas-sized collection of plastic debris swirling in the Pacific Ocean. Landfills growing in our waters are not uncommon, there are several other trash pits varying in size in the tides around the world. The 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans (I’m pretty sure that’s 5.25 trillion too many) has grown into a giant global issue, and we can’t ignore it anymore.
Pacific Garbage Patch Map via Wikimedia
So how does all this plastic get into the ocean? National Geographic states 80% of the trash comes from the land, where garbage is swept into the waters from the coast. The other 20% comes from boats that throw debris into the ocean, and freak accidents, such as a disaster in 1994 when a ship lost 34,000 pieces of hockey gear to the waves. Common items in the waters are fishing nets, used cigarettes, and plastic bags. Plastics are able take over the ocean because of their durability, instead of breaking down they are broken up into smaller pieces due to sunlight exposure.
All these microplastics are clearly harmful to the environment, one of my favorite animals, sea turtles, frequently mistake plastic bits for jellyfish, their favourite food. The trash can affect the whole food chain, as the plastic can block light to the primary producers. When these organisms are not able to survive, the next level of the food chain has nothing to feed on, and onto the next and the next. Plastic also leaches harmful toxins and can enter our own food chains when we eat the animals that live in the trash-ridden ocean.
Hearing all of this information is overwhelming and scary. I can’t even quite comprehend a number as big as 5 250 000 000 000, so how am I supposed to think about how to take all that plastic out of the ocean? No country will take responsibility of cleaning the patches, which is upsetting, but understandable–it’s estimated from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program it would take 67 ships a whole year to clean up just 1% of the North Pacific Ocean, and the costs would bankrupt any country that took on the mission.
I won’t be shy to say I used to use those tiny plastic ball ‘microdermabrasion’ face soaps before I knew what they did to the ocean. I think it’s time to buy fewer plastic products, always discard my trash properly, and participate in beach cleanups. These are small solutions to a big problem, but until we figure out what the big solution is, I’ll do my best.
Post By Stephanie