The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 16 Times Larger Than Expected: a Greater Plastic Problem

By: Lauren Gee

A swirling pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean is rapidly growing three times the size of France or two times the size of Texas.

Every year, 8 million tons of trash piles into the Pacific. One of the largest trash vortexes known as the great pacific garbage patch is located in the central north Pacific Ocean and is now twice the size of Texas, 16 times greater than researchers from Scientific Reports expected.

Nancy Wilkinson, A Geography & Environment professor at San Francisco State teaches on the Bay Area Environment and California Coastal resources says that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so large that it is actually made up of two garbage gyres—One off the coast of Japan and one in between Hawaii and California. The patch is made up of 80% of discarded fishing gear such as nets and hooks and the rest is mostly plastic trash; all of the items by human discard.

United Nations predicted that by 2050 there will be as much plastic as there are fish in the ocean by weight. Geography and Environment professor Jennifer Blecha specializes in teaching the Geography of Garbage class and stresses how plastic is one of the worst materials that could be left in the ocean.

“Plastic in the ocean is a big problem and it doesn’t go away because its not biodegradable. We put it in and there’s no way to go out.”  Plastics melt down to tiny pieces and stay in the ocean forever. Wildlife such as fish, birds and marine mammals mistaken it for food and even get entangled in it. Not only does plastic affect the environment but can harm us humans as well. Toxins cling on to plastic and when fish ingest it, and bigger fish ingest the smaller fish, the toxins move its way up the food chain to then poison us.
Blecha mentions that removing plastic from the ocean is not as simple as it seems. 

“The plastic in the ocean is more like soup. you can’t just pick it up, you can’t walk on it you can’t stand on it, its not an island, its plastic thats broken into many little pieces and its all through the water column and its not just the top three feet or the top six feet, its all throughout the top to the bottom of the water column.”

Preventing plastics from going into the ocean is the best solution for this big plastic problem.  Blecha and Wilkinson both agree that making a switch from single use plastics to reusable materials such as glass and stainless steel are not only better for the environment but also healthier for us.

Many are creating campaigns like banning straws, or signing petitions to turn the Garbage patch into its own official country, called Trash Isles. What change will you make?

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