Welcome to the Garbage Islands!

A new continent revealed!

Nope, we still haven’t reached a ‘circular economy’ yet. A lot of plastic items are still not being recycled and therefore labeled as trash. As a result, these items roam freely across this planet. Unfortunately, huge amounts of this roaming plastic garbage end up in our oceans. And not without any consequence…

According to this study, based on 24 expeditions (2007-2013),  an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris are floating at the surface of our oceans. Keep in mind, yearly, an additional 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the sea. The expeditions took place in our largest ocean currents, where they found five major ‘patches’. Due to currents and waves, the plastic items tend to cluster together, forming an island-like patch.

Not the kind of islands you would like to set foot upon.

Disclaimer: it’s not really an island.

Microplastics

Fortunately, macroscopic plastic remains buoyant. But, the plastics that are out at sea are exposed to some serious harsh conditions. These so-called garbage patches are constantly in motion thanks to the wind, currents, and waves. In combination with the heat of the sun accelerates the degradation process. Meaning, the plastic slowly breaks down into smaller pieces – called microplastics (<5mm). These microplastics are then more susceptible to vertical transport. Besides that, the removal of these small pieces of plastic is extremely difficult. Luckily, researchers showed that the plastic concentration drops exponentially with water depth!

Marine life is suffering

Bottles, bags, wrappers, and straws. You name it and it can found in the GPGP. These plastics -especially abandoned fishing nets- get entangled with aquatic flora and fauna. This is an immediate danger to countless marine animals. Furthermore, sea creatures can’t distinguish microplastics from food. Sadly, there are no creatures (yet) that can digest plastics so eventually their bodies just give up.

garbage fish net earthlyiris
Image via Vikas Anand Dev

A brighter (garbage-free) future ahead?

To what size will these ‘islands’ grow? Will they take over our entire oceans? Someone stood up and made it his lifework to clean this manmade mess! And in the meantime: keep track of every plastic item you use during one day. I’m pretty sure the amounts will shock you.

If you are looking for a few easy ways to reduce your plastic use: read this article.


Iris

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