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Where our trash ends up

Ocean garbage patches are a sign of a serious global problem.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not just one patch – it’s a highway collecting and accumulating garbage across a vast expanse of the North Pacific Ocean from the East Coast of Japan to the West Coast of North America. Currents keep the ocean debris in a circular path rotating from one patch to the other.

And this isn’t even our only one. Both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans have them, and even smaller bodies of water like the North Sea are developing them.

Plastic is cheap, durable, and can be easily formed into any shape a manufacturer wants – that’s why it’s the primary type of trash found in the ocean. And since most plastic is not biodegradable, it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics, some of which can’t be seen by the naked eye. But don’t let the lack of an “island made of plastic” fool you – these tiny, floating pieces are causing serious harm.

Whales and seals get caught in plastic nets, turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and other animals consume small plastics thinking it’s food, causing both immediate and long-term damage.

Since these patches are so vast, potentially stretching for hundreds of thousands of miles, they can even prevent sunlight from penetrating the water enough to allow plankton and algae to photosynthesize, thus reducing the availability of two huge sources of food for marine life.

Plastics also degrade over time, leaching out harmful chemicals into the sea and any sea creatures who mistakenly eat them.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to clean up this type of ocean trash.

The NOAA estimates that it would take 67 ships working for an entire year to clean up less than 1% of the debris in the Pacific garbage patch. And since the garbage patch belongs to no single country, everyone is avoiding taking responsibility. Nonprofit organizations are working on clean-up solutions, but time, money, and technology can limit progress. Others are helping to prevent it from getting any bigger, which for right now, is a good start.

But ultimately, it will take pressure from consumers and laws passed by our leaders in charge to slow down and end the use of single-use plastic products and transition to biodegradable and reusable materials.

Consumers in the United States don’t tend to have a lot of non-plastic options in their local shops and supermarkets, but where we can choose them, we should, and couple that with telling manufacturers and lawmakers alike that a plastic-free future is a big priority for us.

Steady on,


Posted on May 24, 2024.

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