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The Great Eastern Garbage Patch

I was reading the July issue of Discover magazine last night and I was so disgusted I wanted to puke. The article, called "How the Pacific Ocean became the world's largest dump" is about the Great Eastern Garbage Patch. I'd heard rumor of this thing before, but this is the first real information I've seen on it, and I'm an environmentalist, so that's saying something.

If you don't know (and I didn't) ½ way between California and Hawaii, the Pacific currents form kind of a circular motion. If you've ever swirled water around in a bucket, you know that stuff in the water tends to collect in the middle of these sorts of things. So here, floating in the Pacific, garbage, mostly plastics, has been collecting since about the end of World War II.

Let me lay out the magnitude of this thing with some of the statistics they gave.

  • The garbage spans an area roughly 1.5 times the size of the United States. It doesn't say if that is continental US or not, but it doesn't really matter at that point does it.
  • The garbage runs a depth of 100 to 300 feet.
  • In this area, plastic outweighs plankton 6 to 1
  • This constitutes only 30% of the plastic that is lost to sea; the other 70% sinks (but continues to leach chemicals)
  • 80% of this plastic originates from shore based activities. I assume the other 20% is from ships or from further upstream and inland.
  • Did I mention it's 1.5 times the area of the United States?
  • There is also a Great Western Garbage Patch of the coast of Japan and other garbage patches floating in each of the oceans.

Posted: 6/11/2008 8:26:00 AM by Ryan Miller | with 0 comments
Filed under: Environment