For most of the world, the disposal of our trash is of high importance. We don’t want to have huge stinking trash heaps of coagulated waste stinking to high heaven near our homes, work, or places of entertainment. That is why we are trying to limit pollution across the map such as reducing carbon omissions, reusing items as life hacks, and recycling whenever we can.
Despite our good intentions, we are not perfect beings and there will be times when the easiest option for waste is just to throw it away. Also, the world doesn’t seem to share our sympathetic views of keeping our planet clean, especially when it comes to plastic. In fact, most of our trash is thrown away into one place: the ocean. As a result, every ocean now has a giant swirling vortex of plastic garbage.
According to an article by Vox, a single conservative estimate suggests that at least 1 million tons of plastic has entered the ocean since the 1970s. Taking our knowledge of underwater currents, scientists were able to find the swirling vortexes of plastic. Each vortex is also calculated to have thousands of tons of plastic in the underwater current cyclone. Here is the kicker: We reported that at least 1 million tons of plastic has entered the ocean, so where did the rest go? The vortexes only account for less than 1 percent of the plastic in estimation. Therefore, nobody really knows where the other 99 percent went. One weird possibility is that the fish are eating the plastic and it is entering the food chain.
Nevertheless, the garbage in our waters has increased in such high amounts that we now have something known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is a patch of trash the size of Texas that’s accumulated in a swirling subtropical underwater whirlpool. It is also the most frequently studied and the most commonly known.
Now reports are coming in from the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences that there are five of these swirling vortexes in the ocean. These findings are the work of Andres Cózar of the Universidad de Cadiz, along with information from the results of a 2010 circumnavigation cruise. To the human eye, or even from space, these garbage patches are invisible. Most of the plastic is bobbing just beneath the surface and most of the particles are smaller than one centimeter in diameter. Over time, plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, which is plausible in an ocean with currents, waves, and degradation from the sun.
Right now, the scientists behind the findings are figuring out where the 99 percent of mixing plastic is. They have ideas, such as washing back on shore, or plastic being broken down even smaller than a centimeter in diameter, but right now, it is all theory.
[Image via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]