World's largest collection of ocean garbage is now twice the size of Texas

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Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
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World's largest collection of ocean garbage is now twice the size of Texas

It turns out there's a whole lot more garbage floating in the Pacific than we thought:

World's largest collection of ocean garbage is now twice the size of Texas (USAToday)

The world's largest collection of ocean garbage is growing.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic, floating trash located halfway between Hawaii and California, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles, a study published Thursday finds. That's twice the size of Texas.

Winds and converging ocean currents funnel the garbage into a central location, said study lead author Laurent Lebreton of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization that spearheaded the research.

First discovered in the early 1990s, Lebreton said the trash in the patch comes from countries around the Pacific Rim, including nations in Asia as well as North and South America.

The patch is not a solid mass of plastic. It includes some 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and weighs 88,000 tons — the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets. The new figures are as much as 16 times higher than previous estimates.

636572386247113311-032118-great-garbage-patch-Online.png

The research — the most complete study ever undertaken of the garbage patch — was published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Scientific Reports(...)

Sadly, the Pacific patch isn't alone. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of five known such trash collections in the ocean, Lebreton said.

(click here for the full article)

This is a "tragedy of the Commons" on a planetary scale. Since no nation owns the oceans, none is standing up to prevent their reckless abuse.

Similar to the short-sightedness of those who cut down the last trees on Easter Island, will we only decide to care once it's too late to do anything? Will that be when we can walk from California to Hawaii across thousands of miles of plastic?

Thetallestmanonearth's picture
Thetallestmanonearth
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a solveable problem

The average 20' shipping container that is loaded on a cargo ship can hold ~20 metric tons of goods.  If this 88,000 tons of trash could be collected at sea and compacted to fit that weight in a 20' container, we're talking about 4,400 shipping containers of trash that need to be removed.  By contrast, the largest class of cargo ship sailing the oceans, the triple E, can move 18,000-  20' containers.  I theorize that one ship of that size could be outfitted to dredge a good part of the waste, compact it, pack it and ship it to recycling facilities around the world.  The fact that everyone is aware of this problem and no viable solutions have been presented speaks to the hubris of mankind.  This should be an easy one to solve.

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richcabot
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Problems to solve and work being done

There's work being done creating devices to corral the plastic and load it onto a small ship.  Crushing into shipping containers is an interesting idea.  Even when the collecting and crushing part is solved there's a problem with handling the containers.  The ships you speak of stack containers and also store stacked ones under deck.  To pack containers would require a ship which can shuffle the containers at sea.  This is a nontrivial task.  Solving it would likely substantially reduce the carrying capacity of the ship.

When you do get them back to port the containers would make unloading the garbage relatively easy but it still might be a better system to use a large tanker like ship and fill it with the trash.  Emptying it would be more difficult but it might be easier than the shuffling problem.

The links below describe some of what's being tried

 
LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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And...

There is a North Atlantic garbage patch as well.  So far, it gets less attention. 

 

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Atlantic

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
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Except they'd end up

Except they'd end up collecting and compacting a lot of wildlife as well. The solution is forcing all plastics to he biodegradable, education, banning non biodegradable plastic garbage bags. 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
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biodegradable doenst always cut it

Some biodegradable plastics just turn into smaller pieces of plastic, which is not helpful, ie., degrades to small pieces, but still plastic. What I think you mean is no petrochemical based plastics. Just things like celloloid, or sponges made from cellulose, or quasi plastic made from cornstarch, so made from actual natural feedstock that will not be a problem even when broke down to micro-fibres.

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mntnhousepermi
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we could

start a thing with those of us on this site, to stop, right now, in buying no new plastic. Start a thread to share alternates, and comisserate on the (hopefuly rare) failures....

 

we dont need any plastic garbage bags -- zero. Try it we have for years.

Medical waste, even at home, is where we have trouble avoiding it

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
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I reduce, reuse and recycle.

I reduce, reuse and recycle. I produce about 1 plastic shopping bag's worth of garbage every month or two.

I do recycle as much plastic as I can. I hope this turns into park benches. I have heard also that sometimes it just goes to the landfill, which is unfortunate. Really, if it isn't going to be recycled it should be burned, which can be done cleanly in the proper facility.

I honestly don't understand why more cities don't ban plastic garbage bags. A few already do but with all the data out there on the floating garbage patch it's a wonder that supposedly progressive places like Vancouver don't. Maybe I should start a campaign.

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mntnhousepermi
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does that include the plastic you put in recycle ?

Because, as you say, most of the plastic recycle isn't recycled. Best thing is to buy no plastic. Paper is easily recycled, and if not can biodegrade. Metal and glass are easily recycled.

Starting a campaign in your area sounds like a great idea. My area has banned plastic bags for shopping and takeout, banned poystyrene or other plastic take out containers. Maybe trash bas will be next. At least they are not required for waste collection here.

Bulk buying has helped us severely reduce packaging, I even have a 50lb box of dishwasher powder, and a 5 gallon bucket of dishwashing liquid and another of washing machine liquid. I use 5 gallon buckets out in the garden once they are empty, so then I am not using packaging.

I realy like the shampoo bars for haircare, they work well, and no plastic bottles. We are getting there bit by bit.

My problem area is medicines as I have a chronic illness, but I am finding some of the herbs in bulk, which saves money and is less plastic packaging.

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LesPhelps
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mntnhousepermi wrote: start
mntnhousepermi wrote:

start a thing with those of us on this site, to stop, right now, in buying no new plastic. Start a thread to share alternates, and comisserate on the (hopefuly rare) failures....

 

we dont need any plastic garbage bags -- zero. Try it we have for years.

Medical waste, even at home, is where we have trouble avoiding it

I do weekly litter patrol along an interstate highway.  The top items we pick up are aluminum cans, followed by plastic water bottles, plastic shopping bags and convenience store disposable cups.

It would be simple for people to eliminate most of this.  Filter your own water and drink it out of reusable bottles.  Carry your own reusable bags into stores, when you buy items.  Carry a reusable cup into a convenience store to use in lieu of the provided disposable cups.  Recycle your aluminum cans.

I stopped using disposable cups years ago.  I bring  my own.

Another word for convenience is laziness.

 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
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I did start that other thread on this

Les, would you reitterate what you said over there ? Good feedback on the "easy" items we could do away with right now

Yoxa's picture
Yoxa
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Reduce, reuse, recycle, repair ...
Quote:

 most of the plastic recycle isn't recycled

That will vary by area, and also by the type of plastic. PET bottles are easier to recycle than expanded polystyrene, for instance. PET bottles often end up as polyester fabrics.

Polystyrene foam is noble stuff in some contexts and could be used in good conscience for something like insulating your basement. There it will do its job for decades, saving energy and increasing comfort. But a single use application such as a "disposable" cup or plate? Doubleplusungood.

Quote:

 Starting a campaign

Yes. Start with the example you set in your own life, then look for ways to connect with like-minded people. Action can take many forms, at many levels. Maybe you'll make a presentation to your city council, or maybe you'll inspire your office to start using real mugs in the lunch room. It all helps. We need to influence both our laws and our culture.

 

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