The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) floats, swirls, and grows in the North Pacific between Hawaii and the coast of North America. It is 1.6 million kilometers around (about 1 million miles), which is three times the size of France and two times the size of Texas. It weighs roughly 80,000 tons, and the only way to view the massive expanse is through photos from space. Discarded fishing lines, nets, and other fishing equipment comprise about half of the mass of the GPGP. Used plastics coming from land make up the vast bulk of the rest of the GPGP. According to the acclaimed documentary, Midway: Message from the Gyre, 136,000 seals, sea lions, and whales are killed each year from the GPGP. Beaches of islands in the vicinity of the GPGP are littered with dead bird carcasses, which are filled with plastics from the patch. If you think you are not affected by this, you are wrong because eventually these plastics will end up on your plate through a process known as bioaccumulation where the plastics pass to organisms and then to humans. And 84% of the plastics contain at least one toxic, cancer causing agent, which makes eating seafood like a game of Russain roulette.
Heart of the matter. The GPGP is a giant succubus due to its two gyres that constantly move and suck plastic into it, most of which comes from land (Note: when this article was written 6 years ago, it was believed 80% of plastics came from land. That number is probably somewhere in the 55% range because the amount of nets, fishing line, and other debris dumped by fishermen was, perhaps, underestimated.). And it has formed since the 1970s. Think of it as a blackhole on Earth that sucks in millions of tons of plastic and then spits it out killing animals, destroying the ecosystem, and killing humans.
By 2050, production of plastics is expected to quadruple. By the way, it takes plastic 100,000 years to decompose. In other words, this thing is a long term monster, which is why since 2013 an effort known as The Ocean Cleanup has been underway.
How this impacts you personally. You are already ingesting this stuff if you eat seafood, or at least you will be, so it is affecting you. And this is based solely on what you eat. This does not even begin to examine the problem of the toxins in these plastics, damage to the oceans, and greenhouse gasses released. This beast hits from all directions.
Sadly, it is only one part of a problem that keeps compounding and joining with other environmental disasters such as nuclear spills, toxic water, forest fires, and any other myriad problems we hear about and likely dismiss daily. A great discussion of all these problems can be found in the book Environmental Hazards: Are you Exposed? by Fred Siegel.
What you can do. The easiest thing people can do is reduce the amount of plastics they use. This includes plastic bottles, straws, bags, toothbrushes, and other inorganic materials. It is about consumption, the less people consume the better off everything will be. It is that simple and that difficult.
The easiest thing people can do is reduce the amount of plastics they use. This includes plastic bottles, straws, bags, toothbrushes, and other inorganic materials. It is about consumption, the less people consume the better off everything will be. It is that simple and that difficult.
- Stop using plastic bottles, straw, bags, and toothbrushes;
- Start your own local environmental group;
- Research the GPGP and consider donating to the cleanup. You can follow the Ocean Cleanup on Twitter; and
- Contact your local, state, and federal officials and let them know you care about this topic.
All of these stories are bleak, but that does not mean people should fail to act. The problems persist because people do not modify their behavior. A few small, deliberate acts can make all the difference and begin the process of lessening the environmental blight human beings inflict upon the Earth.
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