The Great Plastic Island of the Pacific

While not much has shown up in the media about the floating plastic island that expands from Hawaii to Japan, I wanted to post about it to spread awareness.  I first read about this a few years back while in a doctor’s waiting room.  It was quite impressive but not in a positive way. 

This island was first discovered in 1997 by an American Oceanographer named Charles Moore while on his way home to Los Angeles from a yacht race  to Hawaii.  He was astounded by the astronomical amount of plastic debris floating for what seemed like mile upon endless mile in an area known as The  North Pacific Gyre.   In this ‘plastic island’ included plastic pellets, patio furniture, children’s toys to medical syringes and toothbrushes.  The island, which is more of a debris field, is not visible from space.  Size estimates of this debris field are about 270,00o square miles.

Where Did It Come From?

One site suggests that 20% of the plastics come from ships, including cruise liners, and the remaining 80% is from land-based sources.  The ocean currents allow for the plastics to be swept up into the North Pacific Gyre.  It takes on average 6 years for floating garbage to reach this area of the Pacific from the western United States and a year or less from eastern Asia.  Some of these plastics are over 60 years old and are not made of biodegradable materials so could be left floating for many years to come. 

 

Effects on Wild Life

 In addition to sea and bird life being killed by mistaking plastics for food as seen in the albatross to the left, these plastics break down due to photodegradation.  They still remain a polymer and are ingested by plankton, therefore affecting the entire oceanic food chain and becoming more concentrated which ultimately leads to humans ingesting plastics from the fish that are consumed.  Now there’s some food for thought.

When ingested by animals, the endocrine system often mistakes the chemicals in the plastics as estradiol, which can cause a hormone disorder.  Other dangers to animals are a disruption to the ecosystem of an area when certain species of sea life attach themselves to plastics and then are floated to another area of the ocean that they are not indigenous to.

So far 267 different species of sea life has been affected.

 

 

What’s Being Done 

A company in The Netherlands has planned to recycle the 97 tons of plastic into a real live island which would hold enough room for a million people.  The architectural firm WHIM’s Ramon Noester, said it would take many years to transform this virtual garbage dump into a residential area.  The firm will also have to ascertain how to best collect the plastic so that it doesn’t continue to affect the sea life. 

Another firm, The Environmental Cleanup Coalition (gyrecleanup.org), is using a device called the P-Pod to help clean up the waters while minimizing the risk to sea life.  

 Ocean Sweeper boats are also used to help clean up the waters of the North Pacific Gyre.  However, the problem really begins with the plastics we use.  If measures are not taken to reduce the amount of plastics in our day-to-day living, then the problem will perpetuate despite the best efforts to clean the seas.

The Environmental Cleanup Coalition has produced the following list as a reminder in how we can all be instrumental in saving not just our oceans but our whole planet:

Start

* picking up plastic
* research & buy a water filter
* using a refillable water bottle
* seek products without unnecessary packaging
* buy in bulk
* compost food scrapes
* planet a food garden
* be green when you clean
* bike, walk, use public transportation
* properly dispose of CFL light bulbs
* properly dispose of all batteries
* plant a tree (or several, preferable food baring)
* donate your time to a non profit
* buy second hand
* use rechargeable batteries
* using local banks & C.U.’s
* reusable shopping bags
* support local farmers markets
* buy locally
* eat organic ( especially strawberries )
* unplug it,  turn off unnecessary electrical devices
* recycling water
*share with friends, relatives and neighbors about ocean health

Stop

* buying bottled water (especially in plastic)
* using single use plastic ( even corn & TaterWare)
* using weed killer
* all chemical purchase & use ( there is no away )
* CFL light bulbs are toxic (use LED’s)
* leaving your car running (even for just a minute)
* buying stuff
* buying single use batteries
* receiving junk mail support@privacycouncil.org 1-800-853-9773
* using plastic& paper shopping bags
* commercially grown strawberries

______________________________________________________

 

For More Info and Resources

http://www.thechicecologist.com/2009/06/pacific-plastic-trash-island/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-worlds-rubbish-dump-a-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/island-recycled-plastic-form-pacific/story?id=11054077

http://www.gyrecleanup.org/solutions/

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19 thoughts on “The Great Plastic Island of the Pacific

  1. I had heard about all the foating plastic stuff but not that someone has a solution…that is great!

    • Yes, I was happy to hear that. Hopefully though the trash falling into the ocean will stop so that clean up efforts won’t have to be so frequent.

  2. Hello, This carelessness is one of the zillion or so things that folks know and ignore. Beyond that it is much the same as oil. It seems that about a 10th the populace has a sense of honor and home concerning the good earth. About a tenth of them really do something. Of that tenth the ones doing the most are about money. It is beyond belief that money makes people ignore what will kill all life on this planet if we do not watch what we do. Nature is beautiful and I feel will survive. I feel if mankind does not straighten their eco hand this is the last time around. Great posting girl, thank you, Peace Tony

    • Hi Tony. Emmy mentioned below about the bag company being sued for being environmentally friendly. My husband aslo mentioned to me this morning about how a company that makes biodegradable plastic bottles is being sued by a less environmentally friendly plastic bottle manufacturer. That is just insane. Glad you enjoyed the post. It has been on my mind for awhile and it has been quite surprising to me that there are so many folks that aren’t aware of this issue.

  3. Very interesting and informative, and I so agree with LBeeze!

    • Hi Pam, glad you enjoyed it. I read about this a few years back and have been somewhat fascinated by it. I’ve been surprised at the amount of people that don’t know of it’s existence so I decided to post on it to spread some awareness.

  4. The destruction is incredible and unbelievable. I find it so frustrating that I can’t buy an over-the-counter drug or health and beauty product without all the extra packaging.

    • So true. Everything has so much packaging these days. I’ve noticed that yogurt companies have stopped make the lids and also some water bottles are making their caps smaller. I suppose its a start but we have a long way to go.

      I just saw that Britta has come out with reusable water bottles so that you can filter water and take it with you without creating more waste. I’m thinking of getting that.

  5. to properly dispose of batteries they have to be taken to a “hazardous waste site” usually near your local trash area. I find it fascinating that all our trash created a small continent…..ugh.

    • Thanks for the info MG. I saw Alicia’s question below and was going to Google it.

      Isn’t that insane about the plastic island??? I started mentioning it to friends and no one seem to have heard about it. The area it is located is roughly twice the size as Texas. Wow! And the worst part? This could all be prevented.

  6. At one of the “science” dinners I attended with the manservant I sat next to a scientist who mapped currents around the globe and what washed up where. What he did and what he discovered was so interesting – and after that night I didn’t ship anything else from Australia to America via ship! Many containers go over the side of freight ships every day.

    • Wow, that is crazy. They should be more secure. I suppose it shouldn’t be that shocking though. I bet a lot of the trash floating in the pic above came from a cruise ship.

  7. Sorry to double post – but I just happened to read that a plastic bag company is **suing Chico Bags for “loss of sales” because Chico makes reuseables. Well? Isn’t that what you get when your business is better than someone else’s?

    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2011/05/plastic_bag_giants_sue_reusabl.php

    • No problem! I love reading comments. That is so crazy that these companies are being sued. My husband was talking about another company that came out with a biodegradable plastic bottle and they are also being sued by a plastics manufacturer. What is up with these people???? Profits over the environment. I think if these big companies want to stay in business then they’ll have to start changing their ways to keep up with the changing needs of the world.

  8. Wow… that’s nearly frightening. :S I never really thought about it. How do you probably dispose of batteries, btw?

    • Isn’t it? I couldn’t believe it when I first read about it. It looks like your question was answered above re: the batteries. They can be taken to a hazardous waste site. You would probably be able to find that online for your area.

  9. Good information. In grad school we read some literature on the topic and since then I literally cannot stand to touch plastic bags or even most other plastics (although paper is not better!!)

    I’d also recommend Message in the Waves, quite a shocking movie, and Captain Moore’s research video.

    Moore found that there’s 43 more plastic in the ocean than plankton. Frightening. Plankton provides half of the world’s oxygen.

    http://www.algalita.org/about-us/index.html

    http://www.messageinthewaves.com/

    • Hello, Replying to your comment..obviously..I found it interesting in one of the ‘hero of the world films’ the ‘untoppable’ S. Seagal, closed giving a short, succinct discourse on the probable comuppance of abusing plankton. W/regard to what is and some true benefits of practical science, quite simply, folks do not act on what they know, just what they believe,or will make money. Those of us lucky enough to see that find resolve in action. Action, rather than, acting or reacting can be a heavy weight. When it is a popular, profitable, campy political cause..(which it is)..folks still do not do what they see in recognition to act..they talk about it, so everyone knows they know, then go home and burn garbage..:-..Peace Tony

    • That is very very scary Emmy. I’m going to check out the movie. Thanks for providing the link.

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