The Pacific Garbage Patch: An Unflushable Toilet of Trash

Do you know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s the largest landfill in the world — a swirling vortex of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean. This massive trash gyre stretches from the coast of California, past Hawaii, almost as far as Japan and is now estimated to be twice the size of the continental United States!

Where did all this trash come from? From people, of course — people all over the world carelessly tossing their trash onto coastlines or streets and sidewalks where the rain eventually washes it into the waterways. The wind and ocean currents in the North Pacific are such that floating debris gets trapped into the gyre, an area that sailors avoid like the plague.


Credit: Mario Aguilera / Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Garbage Patch contains about 3.5 million tons of trash and most of that is plastic, which comprises about 90% of all marine trash. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one.

In 2008, Junk, a 30-foot vessel floating on a raft of 15,000 salvaged plastic bottles, made a three-month-long California-to-Hawaii voyage to raise awareness about plastics fouling our oceans. Some of their findings and photos are just astonishing. And highly depressing.

I know Sofie is at least attuned to trash. When we were at the PawSox game last weekend, she pointed out unreachable areas of the stadium where piles of bottles, soda cans, napkins, etc. had collected. “Look at all that trash, Mommy!” She wants to know why is it on the ground? Why not in a trashcan? And adds, “Somebody needs to clean that up!”

But cleaning can only go so far. Reducing the amount of trash in the first place is key. A concept I’m trying to explain to Sofie as she receives her drinks in a reusable container instead of the juice boxes she lusts after. I myself am still guilty of buying plastic water bottles and cheap plastic toys, among other things. And even though I recycle them, who knows how many fall along the wayside from can to truck to dumpsite? Better to just stop buying them altogether.

Watch a VIDEO of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
FAQs about the Garbage Patch

Ideas on How to Stop Using Plastic

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