Twice as Big as Texas!
Right now, there is a gigantic “soup” of trash floating somewhere between California, Hawaii and Asia. This is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is a swirling collection of plastic debris, or garbage, in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas! This enormous collection of trash moves with the currents of the ocean and cannot be seen from the sky because most pieces are very tiny and float a few inches below the water’s surface.
How Did it Get There?
No one really knows when the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began. In the 1970s, scientists started studying the area. They noticed that garbage was floating in the water, collecting together in a cluster, or group. They could see that ocean currents carried this plastic garbage. Currents are the flow, or continuous movement, that water takes in one direction. Some large currents are circular; instead of moving in a straight line, they move in a circle, kind of like the way water moves when you flush a toilet! These circular currents are called gyres (rhymes with fire,) and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is basically one enormous collection of trash floating in a huge circular current. The only time trash leaves the gyre is when it sinks, or is flushed out by a big storm and washes
ashore hundreds of miles away.
Where Does the Trash Come From?
About 80% of the trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from activities on land. Litter like plastic bottles, bottle caps, and candy wrappers can end up in storm drains or in rivers and streams that empty into a bay or the ocean. Also, in coastal cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, the wind often blows litter into waterways or directly into the ocean. The rest of the trash in the Garbage Patch (20%) comes from activities at sea. Every year, about 100 million containers are shipped over the world’s oceans. One of the shipping routes is between Asia and North America. There are frequent, severe storms along this route, which cause hundreds of containers to go overboard each year. Many of these containers hold things like tens of thousands of shoes or millions of plastic shopping bags and other plastic items.
What Can We Do to Help?
- Stop buying water in plastic bottles. Instead, drink tap water from reusable bottles made from glass or steel.
- Use cloth bags at the store instead of plastic bags. We often don’t even need a bag!
- Put lunch items in reusable containers instead of plastic baggies. Carry a reusable, metal fork so that you don’t need to use plastic utensils.
- Eat ice cream in cones, not plastic cups.
- Cut plastic six-pack rings so that animals can’t get caught in them.
- Stop litter! Tell family and friends that litter hurts animals. Join beach clean-ups.
- Pick up trash outside your home and sweep sidewalks with a broom. Hosing idewalks wastes water and can push trash into storm drains.
- Recycle! Learn your city’s recycling rules for plastic and other items.
- Use bio-plastics made from plants like corn or potato. They biodegrade naturally.