Imagine an island, floating in the aqua blue waters of the North Pacific Ocean.
And when you conjure up the image of that island, it probably isn’t a mobile one constructed of plastic and debris.
Yes, this floating plastic island is called The Trash Vortex and it is a reality.
Explored by Greenpeace, you may have heard that it is swirling around in the North Pacific gyre right now, which is only one of 5 chief gyres or pools of ocean currents. And the trash problem undoubtedly has crept into the other circulating areas as well. This one receives so much attention since it is hard to miss, being calculated as similar to the size of the state of Texas, which is a bulk of land that is approximately 268,580 square miles/695,621 square kilometres and is the second largest state in the U.S.
According to Greenpeace, the island inhabits about 10% of the 100 million tons of plastics that are made annually. This traveling polluted vessel holds discarded plastics and other tossed aside trash, causing devastating effects to the biosphere. It dislocates and destroys massive amounts of sea life, and birds and marine life become entrapped in the contaminated basin and are disfigured or killed.
Further, a study estimated that 35% of investigated fish had traces of ingested plastics in their systems, and portions of their weight were actually accumulated from plastic consumption with an average weight gain from a plastic diet of 1.57 milligrams per surveyed fish (Boerger et al., 2010). This research was only conducted on fish, but a mental representative sample can be drawn of the other animals and sea life whose diet contains a hefty helping of plastic.
And clearly, there is not a filtering system in place on the island to keep the impurities, like the mass amounts of harmful compounds in plastics on locale, so they end up washing ashore on the beach and traces are marinated in seafood dinners. So humans, the contractors who put this island in motion, obviously need to do something to keep it from growing.
Recycling is great, and if you have ever dared reach into the trash to pick out a carelessly discarded recyclable like a water bottle, then you are obviously more than on board. But even more than recycling needs to be done. Reducing or even better, eliminating plastic use is a starting point. We live in a pre-packaged world where convenience and laziness has led to destruction.
Not buying pre-packaged items and choosing reusable containers are the best option, and you can usually find alternatives to most plastics. Things like stainless steel or ecological fiber bags are a good idea. Some also consider bioplastics, which are made from foods such as corn and soy, as an improved choice. These are made from biodegradable and sustainable crops and have more viability than standard plastics.
However, bioplastics are not without drawbacks. Critics and common-sense alike asks if it is smart to be putting effort into more types of throw-away packaging, and to be using food to do it when parts of the globe are experiencing inconceivable famine and populations of children are hungry and malnourished. Recycling bioplastics can also be challenging and takes finances and energy. Additionally corn, which is the targeted material for bioplastics, uses the most synthetic chemicals like pesticides and nitrogen to make in comparison to other crops in the U.S. alone, which in turn still adversely effects the environment.
So the next time you think that little things like putting that plastic bottle in a recycling bin even if it takes an extra step, or packing your lunch even though it takes more effort than grabbing a pre-packaged meal, are only small efforts – just think …that enormous island started with one piece of discarded plastic.
The Trash Vortex – Greenpeace International
Boerger, C.M., Lattin, G.L., Moore, S.L., & Moore, C.J. (2010). Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 60(2275–2278). Retrieved from: algalita.org
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