An Island of Garbage Twice the Size of Texas?

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What You Need to Know About the Great Pacific Garbage Patch 

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

About 1,200 miles from land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean drifts an accumulation of debris in an area approximately twice the size of Texas. Though often talked about as an island it is, in fact, more like a soup of microplastics. This collection of debris from around the world is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).

The GPGP was discovered in 1997 by a racing boat captain named Charles Moore. Returning from a trans-Pacific race, he and his crew were met by a trash heap as far as the eye could see.

What Debris Can be Found in the GPGP?

Between 2015 and 2018, it is estimated that nearly 80,000 metric tons of buoyant plastics waste, spread over an area of 1.6m square kilometers, has accumulated in this region. Almost entirely compromised of microplastics—small pieces of plastic that measure less than five millimeters long—and discarded fishing gear floating at the water’s surface, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch formed due to the buoyant and durable nature of these materials, which allows them to float for years in the ocean without breaking down.

However, some damaged plastic will lose its buoyancy and sink. Thus, visible garbage patches are just the tip of the iceberg—they’re more like a three-dimensional column of junk traveling miles below sea-level. In fact, plastics make up 80% of all marine debris from surface to deep-sea sediment. 

How Did the GPGP Form? 

The trash is carried to this specific spot due to the Pacific Gyre, a series of ocean currents creating a vortex.

Trash entering the ocean off the coast of any country along the Pacific Rim will be subjected to these currents and eventually make its way into the calmer water in the center of the Gyre. 

Trash from one section of the world will be floating right next to trash from another section of the world. It all gets churned around a nearly eight million square mile region into the same place, the GPGP.

How the GPGP Affects You and Marine Life?

Plastic waste in the ocean, even 1,200 miles away, can enter the human food chain and water systems of countries all over the world. As a result, the food you are eating and the water you are drinking contains microplastics—broken down particles of waste deposited in the GPGP. And some of that waste could have come from your neighborhood.

The toxins from plastics enter the water that we consume daily. In other words, drinking from local water and consuming seafood at times also implies ingesting microplastics. 

Due to the GPGP’s size and color, marine animals confuse the plastic for food, causing malnutrition. The plastics pose entanglement risks and threaten their overall behavior, health, and existence. Studies have shown about 700 species have encountered marine debris and 92% of these interactions are with plastic. 

How to Get Rid of the GPGP

While some current initiatives exist to combat the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, like The Ocean Cleanup and 4ocean, eliminating these garbage patches completely may be impossible. The only logical method to eliminate the garbage patch is to reduce our use of plastic!

First step is to stop producing as much plastic. We need to pressure companies that we buy products from to offer plastic-free options and to encourage our elected officials to support policies focused on preventing plastic pollution. 

Next step is reducing the use of plastic in our everyday life by quitting single-use plastic and choosing plastic-free options like products made of paper or bamboo. Additionally, you can help by participating in trash cleanups within your community, 

Take the pledge at to quit plastic and help to eliminate plastic from our environment!

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