#WasteFreeWednesday is here again, and this time, I’m telling you about this phenomenon that is always referred to when talking about plastic pollution. Located between Japan and California, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest natural accumulation of plastic and other rubbish in the world. This is not the only place in the ocean where rubbish accumulates, there are several others around the world.
To understand why all this rubbish and junk accumulates at certain areas in the worlds oceans, first there needs to be a bit of oceanography talk. So the properties of salt water and fresh water are very different. Salt water will generally sink, because it is heavier than freshwater due to the salt molecules. Colder water is also heavier than warmer water, because it is more dense, creating something called a thermocline. I’m sure most of you have experienced this, when you dive into a pool and the water at the top is obviously warmer than the bottom water.
So cold, salty water will sink to the bottom. This will happen naturally, and is what causes water to be recycled around the planet. When this happens, marine debris gets moved around in these currents. This exchange of water around the earth is helped by circular movements called Gyres. Gyres are created by wind movements across the surface of the ocean and the earths rotation. These ocean currents move in a circular motion, so when marine debris gets caught in the currents, they eventually end up in the centre where they become stagnant and cannot escape.
This image was taken from the National Geographic, and shows the 5 major ocean gyres around the planet, and how much plastic pollution is found within them.
The majority of plastics that are found in this garbage patch aren’t visible to the naked eye. It is mainly comprised of microplastics that have broken down over the years, and create a sort of plastic soup. It is an extremely slow process for land based trash to make its way into these ocean gyres, with trash from the eastern coast of America taking 6 years to reach the patch.
It isn’t just plastic that ends up in these garbage patches, with 20% being made up from old fishing nets and gear from oil rigs or commercial fishing boats.
How do you clean up such a large scale garbage patch? Well so far nothing has been done because it is so far off the coast, that no country wants to take responsibility for it. It is extremely hard to clean it up and would cost more money than any country can afford, because the microplastics are near impossible to collect. And if they did try to collect them with a net, then they would catch a lot of other marine life too.
Now you know exactly what The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, so when it comes up in news stories, saying it is growing faster than we estimated in 1970, you are more informed about how this happens. Also, this is where most junk that gets washed in the ocean ends up, it makes its way there eventually. So by knowing this, it gives you more of a reason to reduce your use and recycle properly! Thanks for reading, don’t forget you can leave a comment below with any questions, or find me on Instagram @The_BlueScientist