Next time you reach for a plastic baggie, or use a plastic bag at the store, think about this.
When we first started our research a few years ago into the effects of plastic pollution, we heard about a massive patch of floating plastic held together by swirling currents in the Pacific Ocean. Incredibly, we could not find any concrete scientific confirmation of its existence, so we didn’t publish anything about it on our first website.
Now, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a scientific reality, if not a widely-known one.
Twice the size of France, about 80 percent of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land, much of which is plastic bags, bottles and various other plastic consumer products. Plastic does not biodegrade, every little piece of it manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere.
Worldwide, there are now about 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer in the world’s oceans, which, according to the UN Environment Program, kills a million seabirds a year and 100,00 marine mammals and turtles. It kills by entanglement, by choking throats and gullets and clogging up digestive tracts.
The thought is that plastic is making its way through the marine food chains into the fish we eat. Plastic particles, on their own, are not thought to be toxic, but they can accumulate chemical poisons, such as PCBs and DDT. Scientists don’t know the effects yet.
The sailor who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Charles Moore, says there is no such thing as a pristine sandy beach any more. The ones that “look pristine are usually groomed and if you look closely, you can always find plastic particles.”
Unfortunately, according to Moore, there is no way to clean up the plastic in the oceans. He says “It’s the biggest misunderstanding people have on this issue..most of this plastic is in tiny pieces and its everywhere. All we can do is stop putting more of it in.”
So think about this when you reach for that plastic bag, baggie or water bottle. Will it end up in the ocean? Will it kill or choke a turtle or sea bird? Will it somehow make it back to my child’s plate?
Had you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch before reading this? Let us know your reaction.