Many people do not realize that there is a swirling mass of plastic in the middle of the Pacific ocean that qualify as the planet’s largest garbage dump. The 5 Gyres Project estimates that there are 315 billion pounds of plastic in the ocean right now. Much of the world’s trash has accumulated in part of the Pacific Ocean (roughly 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N), based on the movement of ocean currents.
Not all plastic in the recycling bin gets recycled and people carelessly toss plastics away. Plastic litter often ends up in the waterways and currents carry it out into the ocean. These pieces of plastic have a dire effect on marine life. Turtles confuse plastic bags for jellyfish and birds confuse bottle caps for food. They ingest them but can’t digest them, so their stomachs fill with plastic and they starve to death.
At the moment there is no easy way to clean up this major trash accumulation. However, we can stop it from getting worse by following the Ocean Conservancy’s list of 10 things you can do… living by the concept of less is more: Don’t buy stuff you don’t need and choose items that use less packaging. Other actions at oceanconservancy.org.
“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Bigger Than the Continental US: Here’s What We Can Do About It,” Jaymi Heimbuch, Alternet, July 13, 2010. http://www.alternet.org/water/147528/the_great_pacific_garbage_patch_is_bigger_than_the_continental_us%3A_here’s_what_we_can_do_about_it/?page=1
Student Researcher: Allison Holt, San Francisco State University
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University