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“Plastic Soup” Debris in Pacific Ocean

Shannon Arvizu | Tuesday March 4th, 2008 | 29 Comments

annasampleJPG.jpg Here’s another reason for retailers to charge for plastic bags. The swirling debris of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean has now grown to a size that is twice as large as the continental U.S.


How do we know this? The Alguita Marine Research team just landed from a month-long tour of the area, known as the North Pacific Gyre. They set out to investigate just how much plastic debris is floating in the ocean, how this plastic affects marine life, and how this might affect humans that eat fish found in the area. Specific answers to these questions will be forthcoming as they evaluate the evidence they brought back. But past studies have shown that less than 5% of plastic ever gets recycled and each American disposes of roughly 65 lbs. of plastic each year. In the ocean, “Degraded plastic pieces outweigh surface zooplankton in the central North Pacific by a factor of 6-1. That means six pounds of plastic for every single pound of zooplankton.”
The Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the environmental non-profit organization who chartered the oceanic voyage into the floating trash, will be on hand at this week’s L.A. Green Drinks. Their work is incredibly valuable for demonstrating an even greater need for retailers and producers to limit the amount of plastic used in packaging goods.


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  • Mike

    Make everyone pay 25p for plastic bags or 50cents USA.This will discourage disposal.Further use the bags for fuel for community central heating plastic briquettes?Just a thought.Certainly people will take notice, particulary with the credit crunch, which incidentally I think is probably an environmental blessing in disguise.

  • slanted tom

    Perhaps, far in the future, sail driven trolling ships will troll for this plastic which might be a source of fuel in some port cities.

  • Simone deMontfort

    I like China’s ban on plastic bags. What a great start!
    Thinking about writing on this topic for my LLM paper (master’s in environmental law). Maybe figure out if countries are obligated to clean that plastic up under some treaty…

  • Simone deMontfort

    I like China’s ban on plastic bags. What a great start!
    I’m thinking about writing on this topic for my LLM paper (master’s in environmental law). Maybe figure out if countries are obligated to clean that plastic up under some treaty… or maybe figure out who’d be on the hook when ship’s engines are ruined by it. Only if someone can be held accountable will they do anything to clean it up.
    But had also considered the possibility of a charity cleaning it up, then disposing of it at a gassification plant. That way, instead of choking the life out of the planet, the garbage could be turned into usable energy.

  • FreeDem

    It is only a matter of time before huge container ships start “Running the Gyre” to offset the soaring cost of fuel, and in the process cause great air pollution.

  • rxgary

    well obviously this is a major problem, but with every problem, there are opportunity’s for solutions. land for agriculture seems to be growing scarcer, why not try and turn this mess into a world agriculture island , develop some type of netting that would allow enough good dirt to be added and also protect the sea life from the plastic, sure this would be a massive project, but it would also offer a solution to 2 problems , world hunger and offer protection to the sea life from the damage this plastic mess has became.
    obviously the costs would be high , but will the costs not be even higher if we keep ignoring the environment around us,
    im not talking about global warming, but the pollution we are emmitting everywhere is going to kill us all if we dont start to establish some curbs.

  • Philo

    Nuclear power should be used to vaporize garbage.

  • moppeis

    the only “solution” to this is to stop making it bigger. Its a very loose mass, its not like an island. It would cost way more energy to turn this into fuel than you could ever get out of it

  • josh

    I was reading popular science That december 2007 It was taking about a machine called the hawk that turns things that have hydro carbons in and turns it back to oil and natrual gas They are constucting the machine in rockford illinois every hour it will take ten tons of waste and turn it into 17million btus of natrual gas (956,000 of those they will use to to keep the machine running) It will be the answer to the problem stated above. The problem of losing farm land will be solve by the volwagon its takes 15 days to grow a plant that normally takes 45 days and uses one tenth the water that is use on a field to grow food it does it by gravity and it takes 45mins to do one rotation.

  • Shannon Arvizu

    Thanks for all of your comments! I heard the research team speak last night and here is what they had to say regarding some of the comments made above:
    1. There is no “techno-fix” to this problem. The area is too dispersed and the plastic is broken-down into such fine particles in some areas that it would be equivalent to a “sifting the Sahara desert.” The only solution is to stop putting plastic in the ocean.
    2. The plastic is in the ocean only represents about 20% of all plastic that is disposed of yearly. The rest remain in landfills or scattered about the land.
    3. Marine life is severely impacted by the plastic debris. And, unfortunately, as fisheaters we are most likely ingesting plastic molecules as well.
    4. San Francisco and Santa Monica (pending) are two cities in California that ban plastic bag use.

  • Jesse

    Where is the garbage coming from? The researchers must be able to give us some idea based on intact bags etc that they found. What percentage comes from China, Japan, United States, Canada, other countries?

  • Jeff

    The origin of these pieces should be identified – when possible – and shown to the public. Huge billboard in Times Square with “This plastic bag was found in the middle of the Atlantic. It came from a bodega in Manhattan.”
    Otherwise it will always be someone else’s problem.

  • Chuck

    I like how the website is financed by ads for plastic bags and how it also promotes the cfc bulbs which have mercury in them. What a joke

  • Lindsay

    Why can’t most people just buy 2 or so large cloth bags for shopping???? Or the majority of stores can start using paper bags with handles. There shouldn’t be that much of a problem with anyone. The only reason anyone uses plastic bags is for convenience anyway.Because paper doesn’t have handles and is easier to tear. I have decided to buy cloth bags. I’m not rich but it seems a lot easier

  • john

    I wonder if the physical properties of plastic can lead to a solution?
    I know that filtering the ocean is not a viable option, as we would pull up all the sea life mixed in with the plastic peices.
    Can loose plastic be collected in a manner similar to how metal flakes can be collected by a magnet? I know static electricity can affect plastics, but the water in the ocean would obviously not allow for that…
    Are there physical/chemical bonding properties found in plastics that could be utilized?

  • James S. Klich II

    This is a huge problem. I clean a stream in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a 2 year period I Pulled 200lbs of trash from a half mile section of stream. 100lbs of the trash was plastic. Any stream that goes into the ocean is also taking large amounts of plastic. We need to catch the plastic before it hits the ocean. We in the United States do a poor job of Recycling. It should be a federal law that every state has to Recycle. Many large businesses do not recycle. I used to work at the Hilton Garden Inn in uptown Charlotte. It is the law to recycle in the city. Hilton did not recycle at all. I am not picking on any company but every business needs to recycle. Many bars don’t recycle either.

  • http://www.hollyfortenberry.com Holly

    I earned my M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M and worked a couple of research cruises out in the middle of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of miles offshore of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. I have seen a refrigerator floating in the Gulf, plastic bags and other smaller pieces of plastic. Anyone who has fished in our oceans and streams has seen it too. It really is a big problem.
    The biggest problem I think, is not the aesthetics, which is certainly important, but the fact that the plastic breaks down to small pieces that look like phytoplankton and zooplankton, which is food for whales, fish, and most invertebrates in the oceans and streams. These animals ingest the food and if not killed from starvation die eventually from a damaged immune system. If you love animals or like to eat seafood, start recycling every bit of plastic possible and pass the word along to inform other people.

  • http://www.hollyfortenberry.com Holly

    Also, I forgot to mention that there is no need to ever use a plastic bag again. I have been using canvas shopping bags since 2005 and it is great! Once you get in the habit of remembering to bring the bags in the store with you, they are a lot more convenient than plastic bags because they hold more and are stronger, and I use ones that have nice pictures from places I have traveled to, like Lake Tahoe and Pike Place Market in Seattle. These nice canvas bags (you can get organic ones too) are sold all over. I keep some clean ones in my car at all times and take them in with me at Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores, the grocery store, Petsmart, and everywhere else I shop. I have never received anything but positive comments. Would you consider doing the same?

  • Jackie Cardoza

    I hate reading about the animals dieing, from all the toxic wastes and trash that can harm them.
    It’s sickening to me. I just wish that it could stop. I just want people to recycle, and do the things nessesary to keep the oceans and the environment clean for the U.S.A. I am now realizing the impact ONE bottle makes because everyone does it. I am doing a project on ocean pollution in my Science class and just happened to click on this site. But I like it. YES!!! they are making paper bags with handles. I am so excited. =]

  • Jackie Cardoza

    Yes HOLLY i will defintly start using non-plastic bags. Whenever I go into a store I will make sure to bring a cloth bag or w.e
    thanks for the idea.
    =]
    I’m 13 btw

  • port of LA high school

    We should just ban plastic and the stores should start providing reusable bags instead of still having plastic bags for use.

  • http://wpyo.org Nazz Negg

    The Psychological facts.
    1. You all complain about oil, how it is pulled from the earth, were we get it from and how much it costs.
    2. None of you wold survive 1 year with out oil and all the products it produces, including your electricity.
    3. Less then 3% of you grow ANY of your own food on your own land or in your own space.
    4. Less then 5% of you walk a mile a week
    5. Less then 38% of you have EVER voted
    6. More then 70% of you are overweight
    7. More then 69% of you are divorced
    9. Less then 10% of you could name the top 4 individuals in your own federal government.
    10. 100% of you watch 4 hours of TV a day.
    My point is simple, you are part of a growing society of INDIVIDUALS, over feed, over entertained, locked in, dumbed down and loving every second of it.
    NOTHING will change as long as you are too afraid, too mentally weak and too apathetic to stop blaming others, tolerating stupidity, justifying everything and lying about the rest.
    Walk out your front door, cut the umbilical cord, get rid of your car and start re-learning how to provide for yourself, its never been easier with all the resources and techno-advancements available you should have no problem.

  • george burnett

    bought 2 grocery store bags out of guilt after Googling “plastic pollution of the ocean”. guilt only goes so far! kicked the plastic bag habit when i realised the cloth bags held more, carried more, and didn’t dump my groceries in the car. the cloth bagss only cost 98 cents. enlighted self interest to the rescue! i am now giving a set of cloth bags to my friends.

  • george burnett

    bought 2 grocery store bags out of guilt after Googling “plastic pollution of the ocean”. guilt only goes so far! kicked the plastic bag habit when i realised the cloth bags held more, carried more, and didn’t dump my groceries in the car. the cloth bagss only cost 98 cents. enlighted self interest to the rescue! i am now giving a set of cloth bags to my friends.

  • Sopa Caleb

    I am from Papua New Guinea and my Province (New Ireland) is on the edges of SouthWest Pacific. I was alarmed at the effects of plastic. For a start, I am encouraging my household what to do domestically and also around our neighbourhood. i intend to spread the word through all org I affiliate to.
    Furthermore I would like to mention a few words that I believe if noted, peoples’ behaviour and attitude towards the Plastic disposal and better still the environment as a whole will change to the ‘Pro-side’.
    These are the words that need critical examination on a persoanl level; Greed, Gluttony, Pride, Self, Envy.
    The ‘Plastic Soup’ is one of the many outcomes of the level of standard and way of life that we have accepted to be our norm and sadly it is also killing us. How sad……

  • Mark

    Nazz Negg is an example of the 80% of people who post on the internet and make up most of their exagerated statistic on the spot. Since few will actually verify it, who’s to know?

  • Alice

    Mark, I think the correct number is 85% of people who exaggerate statistics.
    And I don’t own a TV, Nazz Negg, so your statistic just dropped to 99.999%. Don’t round up, it creates lies.

  • frank

    you dont fool with mother nature.

  • Anonymous

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