On Oceanic Garbage Patches

Why is it so important that we refuse single-use plastic and other materials? Because those materials are often not disposed of correctly (even municipal trash collection and disposal has its issues) and end up in terrifying oceanic gyres called garbage patches (which also have a significant amount of ship waste and fishing gear within them). The gyres themselves are natural phenomena to do with ocean tides, but because of human waste, they're now filled with garbage [1, 2].

When I first learned about the garbage patches 10 years ago, I imagined floating islands of plastic bottles. However, the garbage patches are more nefarious because the garbage isn't all floating on the surface, and it isn't all concentrated into neat island-like shapes. The patches are areas of high garbage density, much of which is floating slightly below the surface. The density is higher in the center and lower around the edges, making measuring and alleviating the garbage very difficult [1].

How can we fix the garbage patches? That's the question scientists and other interested parties are trying to answer right now. What everyone can do right now is reduce your dependence on single-use items, to prevent this type of pollution from becoming more significant than it already is. Advances in robotics might be able to start cleaning the patches up. Students from the University of San Diego designed and are testing a robot capable of removing marine debris [3].

If it seems like a problem too big for one person's actions to have any impact, I understand that frustration. It often feels like my actions alone aren't enough. That's why it's important that we, collectively, choose to eschew single-use disposables. Invest in reusables wherever you can: water bottles, grocery bags, food containers, portable silverware, straws, etc. If you're financially able, check out refillery stories that are popping up: these stores allow you to bring your own containers to buy bulk food items or cleaning products, cutting down on the amount of plastic produced to sell these items retail.

I'm going to say this a lot on this blog, but it's worth repeating: (if you have the ability) contact businesses, large and small, and your government representatives about topics you find important. Businesses depend on consumers, and our government is elected to represent us.

[1] The Great Pacific Garbage Patch The Ocean Cleanup
[2] Garbage Patches. NOAA
[3] Stickney, R. Robot Designed to Clean Ocean Tested in San Diego. MSNBC San Diego


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