Great Pacific Garbage Patch Expanding

Melissa Stusinski

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is expanding. For those who do not know what this is, it is basically comprised of two floating landfills one between Hawaii and California, and the other between Hawaii and Japan. These patches have been growing exponentially, from the first few pieces of fishing nets and plastic bottles discovered 30 years ago, to two patches at least twice the size of Texas (that's a total of over one million square miles of junk). These patches are made up of plastic bottles, furniture, home appliances--pretty much anything you can think of, though 90% of the trash is plastic.

Admittedly, one of the reasons for the expansion of the patch(es) (besides our complete lack of caring where our garbage goes), is the devastating Tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011. There is over 3,000 miles of garbage (including parts of houses, cars, furniture, street signs, and toxic chemicals) headed for both the garbage patch, as well as the West Coast of the United States and Canada.

Most of the garbage headed for the coast is expected to arrive between March 2013 and March 2014, although small portions are expected both before and after these dates. The tsunami generated a total of 20 to 25 million tons of debris, more than half of which stayed on land. NOAA officials speculate that only 5% of the debris that went into the ocean will actually reach the West Coast of North America.

Arguably though, almost all of the garbage in the world's oceans is a direct result of human incompetence, instead of natural disasters. In fact, researchers estimate that 10% of the 200 billion pounds of plastic that the world produces each year ends up in the ocean. That's 20 billion pounds of garbage that ultimately ends up floating in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, washing up on beaches, or sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Once it sinks, it decomposes slowly, breaking into smaller pieces, though never fully going away. These smaller pieces are consumed by sea creatures that are caught by fisherman, then later consumed by us (like that canned tuna you currently have sitting in your pantry).

In a sense, we actually end up eating the very garbage that we threw away years before. In 5, 10, maybe 15 years, you could be eating that plastic bottle sitting on your desk, a piece of that milk carton in your refrigerator. Disgusting? Yes. So the question is, what will you do about it? Are you going to finish that water, that milk, and throw the carton away in your garbage can, then take it out to curb, where it will eventually end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Or will you take the time to put it in your recycling bin (or get a recycling bin!), where it can be reused...doing your part to stop the growth of these floating landfills, and to avoid eating your own waste?

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