Floating rubbish dump 'bigger than US'

  1. This has to a real concern to us all, how much longer can we continue to treat the home of our marine life (and our planet) as a garbage tip?


    By Xavier La Canna | February 04, 2008

    IT has been described as the world's largest rubbish dump, or the Pacific plastic soup, and it is starting to alarm scientists.

    It is a vast area of plastic debris and other flotsam drifting in the northern Pacific Ocean, held there by swirling ocean currents.

    Discovered in 1997 by American sailor Charles Moore, what is also called the great Pacific garbage patch is now alarming some with its ever-growing size and possible impact on human health.

    The "patch" is in fact two massive, linked areas of circulating rubbish, says Dr Marcus Eriksen, research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, founded by Moore.

    Although the boundaries change, it stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the coast of California, across the northern Pacific to near the coast of Japan.

    The islands of Hawaii are placed almost in the middle, so piles of plastic regularly wash up on some beaches there.

    "The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup," Dr Eriksen says.

    "It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States," he says.

    The concentration of floating plastic debris just beneath the ocean's surface is the product of underwater currents, which conspire to bring together all the junk that accumulates in the Pacific Ocean.

    Moore, an oceanographer who has made the study of the patch his full-time occupation, believes there is about 100 million tonnes of plastic circulating in the northern Pacific - or about 2.5 per cent of all plastic items made since 1950.

    About 20 per cent of the junk is thought to come from marine craft, while the rest originates from countries around the Pacific like Mexico and China.

    Australia plays its part too, he says.

    The waste forms in what are called tropical gyres - areas where the oceans slowly circulate due to extreme high pressure systems and where there is little wind.

    The garbage in the patch circulates around the North Pacific Gyre, the world's largest.
    A lack of big fish and light winds mean it's an area of the Pacific less travelled by fishing boats and yachts.

    Moore says he discovered the floating mass of rubbish by chance, after steering his catamaran into the gyre while returning home from a yacht race.

    Historically, flotsam in the gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics do not break down like other oceanic debris, meaning objects half a century old have been found in the North Pacific Gyre.

    Instead the plastic slowly photodegrades, becoming brittle and disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces which enter the food chain and end up in the stomachs of birds and other animals.

    Because the plastic is translucent and lies just beneath the surface, it is apparently undetectable by satellite photos.

    "It is not like going to a parking lot after a rugby match. It is not like a landfill," he says.

    "The material is breaking down continually. It is photodegrading all the time. It is what I call a kaleidoscope or an alphabet soup. You won't see it from a satellite shot of the ocean. You only see it from the bows of ships," he says.

    If the waste is to be controlled people must stop using unnecessary disposable plastics, otherwise it is set to double in size during the next 10 years, Moore warns.

    Dr Eriksen said the small plastic particles acted like a sponge to trap many dangerous man-made chemicals that found their way into the ocean, like hydrocarbons and DDT.

    "What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate, It is that simple," Dr Eriksen said.

    Larger pieces of plastic are also a threat to birds, which mistake them for food.

    Dr Eriksen said he has found syringes, cigarette lighters and tooth brushes from the patch inside sea bird carcases.

    Professor David Karl, an oceanographer from the University of Hawaii, said the garbage patch represented a new habitat, and more studies were needed to find out what impact it was having on the ocean's eco-system.
  2. Read about this on DH's company's blog, since recycling is a big key to the company.

    It's incredibly sad, especially when you see people just throw trash out their cars, drop it while walking along, leave carp on the beaches, etc... then they get all upset about this type of thing, thinking, well, I couldn't have possibly helped create THAT mess! Problem is, yes, we ALL do in some form or another. Even just letting a scrap of paper get past you contributes! Imagine 2 billion scrapes!

    We are such a society of waste now. Makes me sick. I recycle everything from prescription bottle to milk jugs, newspapers to shampoo and conditioner containers. As they say, if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem!
  3. I'm like you I recycle everything.

    My business is involved with a lot of manufacturing industries and we often look at ways where they can reuse, recycle or refine their processes but most don't want to know as it costs too much money.
  4. We need to do something to fix this. But what?
  5. guess I shouldnt laugh at my aunt for washing and reusing plastic bags and aluminum foils...
  6. :wtf: :cry:
  7. I can't say I'm surprised. It's amazing how much rubbish we humans make in a year!
  8. There is nothing we could possibly do. The shreds of plastic are tiny and very hard to see.
  9. Nothing can be done to fix what has already been done, but prevention would definately make the long-term outlook improve. How about people get off their lazy butts and put things in the bin/recycle/find alternatives to plastic?
  10. thats incredible. to me the worst part was it was found 11 years ago.
  11. Surely governments and manufacturers need to take responsibility for this. There are a lot of people in the world who simply don't realize what they're doing every time they discard a bit of plastic. If manufacturers stopped making these plastics, we'd stop throwing them away. I try to recycle but our council only takes limited plastics and most of the packaging I buy still goes in the bin. But the manufacturers are not going to do it on their own, they would have to be forced. Maybe governments should put a duty tax on these unrecyclable plastics?

    It's interesting that a lot of it comes from China which is where the UK ships it's rubbish to be put in landfills...