The North Pacific Trash Gyre

We as first world humans produce trash, and lots of it. There’s no denying this fact. Most of us live in a globalized economy that thrives on industrial energy consumption and equally massive levels of polluted output. We strive to make things cheaper and more abundant so that more people can improve their lives through consumerism and strengthen the global economy

 It is nearly impossible to be a consumer in modern society without producing waste and it is (nearly impossible) to not consume materially at all.  So many things are produced in mass quantities with plastic for single use in order to make our lives almost painfully convenient. Think about it; from the plastic subway sandwich bag that is in use for all of five seconds, to the hundreds of thousands of plastic cups that find their way to the sewers every year, to the millions of plastic McDonald’s straws that are delivered to their respective restaurants and used for no more than a few hours maximum….we are addicted to plastic.

If you live in a city like me, it’s no secret that a huge amount of plastic and trash makes its way into the city streets and the sewers that eventually flow out into the ocean. Once this trash flows away, to the majority of the general public, the trash is gone, forgotten about, the problem has been taken care of. However as scientists have begun to research the trail of trash they are finding that it is not at all “gone”

 The North Pacific Trash Gyre, one of just 5 of these major ocean currents and is currently the largest landfill in the world. Its contents have been estimated to be composed of 90% plastic and 10% trash and other wastes. The Eastern side of the garbage patch, marked by the area in between Hawaii and the United States has been estimated to be comparable to the size of Texas. The Western part of the patch is marked by the areas between Japan and West of Hawaii. The trash has become so densely packed in some areas of the patch that in water samples, plastics outnumber plankton by a ratio of 6:1.

The plastic, which never fully decomposes, breaks into smaller and smaller pieces in the water while leaching carcinogenic chemicals in the water all the while. While this poses an extreme difficulty in terms of a viable clean up method, the real concern lies within the effect this is having on the ecosystem. The pieces of plastic have become so small that fish are mistaking them for plankton. When these fish consume them, they introduce the plastics into their bodies. When another fish eats a fish that has been consuming plastic, they have effectively consumed all of the plastic that the fish or organism before them has consumed. As this ripple effect continues up the food chain, the level of plastics compound into larger and larger fish and become greater in number. This affects food safety and habit degradation on a global level.

Yet we maintain a policy of ignorance. We maintain a policy that emulates “out of site out of mind” in terms of the severity of this issue. We must find a way to live more respectfully and more sustainably before irreversible damage to the global ecosystem occurs.

Author: Brad Seidman, EDN Intern