The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In today’s world one of our biggest issues is our waste and it comes as no shock with the mass production of items we see on a regular basis. One of the most polluted areas is our ocean. It is estimated that 1.4 billion pounds of trash enters the ocean every year and it is likely to find one of the many garbages patches in our ocean currents. Once example is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is a collection of marine debris in the northern Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 7.7 million square miles. The “debris vortex” stretches from the west coast of the US to the east coast of Japan, although it its broken up into smaller sections known as the Western Garbage Patch (Japan) and the Eastern Garbage Patch (Between Hawaii/California). The location of this vast garbage patch is controlled by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre which is created by the North Pacific, California, North Equatorial, and Kuroshio currents. These currents will move the trash in a circular pattern which will result in trash being sucked in the Subtropical Convergence Zone.

According to National Geographic there is around 7 million tons of garbage in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the majority of it is in the top meter. 80% of this comes from land based actives while the other 20% comes from boating and oil rig activities. The debris can be made up of a variety of items such as plastic bags and fishing nets which can be extremely dangerous to marine life. What makes the plastic items even more dangerous is a process called photo-degradation. This is when the sun breaks down the plastic into tiny pieces called micro-plastic. The micro-plastic looks like fish eggs and has been linked to deaths in marine life and also found in fish we consume. If enough are collected together they can block sunlight to algae and plankton communities below. This could disturb food sources for local marine life and throw off the balance of the ecosystem.

Because the garbage patch spans such an enormous area, the task of cleaning it up becomes difficult. Additionally, it is located in international waters so no one country is “responsible” for it. As a result, much of the efforts to clean it up have come from the private sector. One foundation aimed at tackling the issue is the Ocean Cleanup. Founded by 19 year old Bryan Slat (now 23), the company plans to use the currents of the ocean to their advantage. They have designed collection systems that will be placed in the gyre to follow the same current as the trash. By attaching an anchor to the system they can make sure the system is flowing slower than the plastic so the plastic can be collected. Once the system is full, collection boats will extract the garbage and take it to shore to be recycled. The system is also designed to be safe for marine life. After initial trials, they projected they could clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in about 10-15 years.

With the enormous amount of waste we pour into the oceans each year do you think it is feasible to be able to clean it all up? What is the best way to go about cleaning it up? Should it be the responsibility of the private sector or the government? How important of an issue is this?

Sources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/patch.html

https://www.theoceancleanup.com

http://www.noaa.gov/resource-collections/ocean-pollution

Advertisements

35 thoughts on “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  1. The solution from the Ocean Cleanup firm reminds me of the water wheel contraption Dr. Jambeck showed us in class today. I think that’s a wonderful idea, especially if the guy can earn some revenue to keep it going. That would handle the macro plastics, but the micro plastics are a different breed. And yes, I would say it is a huge problem. Not only does it cripple the potential for vibrancy and liveliness in an already overfished ocean, eventually it could make its way to us if pushed from the gyre (maybe?). This could be a productive opportunity even to develop some designs in removing plastic from waste and drinking water. Something to keep on our minds. Enjoyed the blog.

    Like

  2. Sometimes the “it’s not my problem” attitude that nations take with issues that span over international areas can be silly besides detrimental. Countries have shown before that international policy can be binding and upheld – granted these measures are usually more preventative than active (i.e. no hazardous waste dumping in Antarctica). The GPGP gets the blind eye treatment in comparison to other environmental issues simply because of location – being out in the middle of the ocean is easy to ignore unless you’re out there. Press coverage does pop up every now and then, usually spurred on by a typhoon or other strong weather front pushing garbage to the beaches. If a clean-up effort is launched like the one Bryan Slat is planning to undertake, international policy needs to be clear and concise to help ease transport and disposal/recycling of recovered material (we don’t want it to just end up back out in the ocean because of improper garbage storage or some other issue). Micro-plastics do present a bigger problem (irony) that unless a finer screen can be used to capture a majority of these or maybe some type of charged material that could make plastics “stick” to it, the only tools we will have in our arsenal will be preventing as much as possible plastics from entering the ocean, which is an upstream method that has its own issues (namely, how do we control China or Indonesia from letting plastics get out into the ocean.

    Like

  3. Although I do not think it is feasible to be able to rid the ocean almost entirely of trash, I think the garbage patches in our ocean are a sign that something needs to be done. I agree with above comments that this is a global issue and needs to be addressed from more than one side in order to be productive in attacking the problem. It is said that micro plastics that degraded plastic in the ocean absorb harmful chemicals and toxins and kill or harm sea life in that way as well. Hopefully a solution to this problem will be developed in the years to come(by Dr. Jambeck). Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. It would not be feasible to remove the whole garbage patch especially in international waters where no one is really responsible for the waste out there. Just removing the trash is only part of the solution. If people do not change their ways, the patch will just redevelop. I definitely think collecting plastic wastes in the ocean is important because the plastics are dangerous for humans and other organisms. On the other hand, we have to look beyond collection. It is also a problem of such large scale that we would need to work hand in hand with other governments. If international governments are not on the same page, plastics will still make their way into the ocean and the problem will continue.

    Like

  5. I think that the Great Garbage Patch is a prime indicator that a worldwide approach needs to be taken to help clean our oceans. The world’s oceans are an incredibly valuable resource and because they are so big it is easy to look at them and think that one person, one community, or one nation couldn’t have a lasting impact on them, but this is clear evidence that this is not the cast. It’s great that the private sector is taking steps to help clean up the litter in the oceans, but governments must take action to help keep them clean. I don’t know if this means incentivizing recycling, putting a price on plastic, or strict fines, but action needs to take place.

    Like

  6. I agree with Alex in that countries abuse the “not my problem” attitude; someone somewhere is going to have to take ownership eventually. It is inspiring that Brian Slat, as someone around our age, chose a monumental problem to go after and succeeded in creating something useful to help. From an environmental engineering standpoint, because his technology follows through the currents and is safe for marine life, he has included a lot of criteria that we discuss in our classes and it is cool to see that in an actual project. While it will probably not be feasible to rid the ocean entirely of trash, it is reassuring to see someone stepping up to make a difference and hopefully this will be an indication to others to also step up to challenge the problem at hand.

    Like

  7. These micro plastics remind me of the beads in facial scrubs that I thought were outlawed in the past year or so. Due to the beads being flushed down the drain and eventually into the oceans where they effect marine life. Interestingly enough, I have still been seeing the facial scrubs with beads in them on shelves at stores. Im wondering if they were never actually outlawed in the first place or if the companies developed a biodegradable type of bead?

    Like

  8. I don’t think it’s entirely feasible to clean up the ocean from all this waste, but I think awareness and self-practice would be a good start. I feel like people don’t really care about this issue and have that “not my problem” attitude until something negative directly impacts them. This is a very detrimental issue that’s going on in the environment, and stricter measures need to be taken to reduce waste in the ocean.

    Like

  9. I think it will take 2 things to happen in order for the ocean to become “clean.” The first is that of clean up efforts, many of which are well in progress. If the national governments could become more responsible for the cleanliness of international waters that would be a great start. Their support would mean valuable capital and resources that could be put towards the effort. But none of this would matter if, as nations develop and global population expands, the solid waste pollution rate in the ocean continues to climb as well. Which brings me to the 2nd thing that must happen. Our lifestyle must become more sustainable. The “if it is broken, throw it away and get a new one” mentality and high consumerism is creating unsustainable amounts of waste. If every individual can make an effort to live sustainable then progress can certainly be made.

    Like

  10. Interesting read! The clean up of something like this in the international waters is going to have to occur by groups of people. I feel that it will be hard to convince one government to take responsibility and use resources to fix this issue. Governments can take preventative action to keep their trash from reaching international waters(garbage patch).

    Like

  11. I think the most effective way of managing such a large amount of ocean is to enlist the help of the private sector. When it boils down to it, the government is going to get caught up in the red tape and most likely will not start the process of cleaning our oceans. What the private sector should do is find a way to become incentivized to clean our oceans. Maybe international organizations can pay these private companies to clean the ocean or to develop methods of cover 7.7 million square miles. Because this problem is leading to direct environmental harm (that can be proven in court) it should be an extremely important problem to fix. I think companies like Ocean Cleanup can garner support from national entities to continue their efforts of managing our ocean waste. Its hard to imagine how much waste is actually out there, so maybe finding a way to visually display the amount of waste in our oceans could incentivize countries to prevent waste from ending up in the oceans to begin with.

    Like

  12. I would love to see a Modern Day President or Coalition of Nations launch a moonshot initiative as Kennedy did in the early 60’s. The task is enormous, the task is daunting, yet we should in all our power try to clean up the mess we left for our children. I would just love to see NOAA coordinate thousands of ships to endeavor into the Pacific for many years slowly removing plastic and garbage out of the Pacific. Wouldn’t that be an amazing feat? I think it can be done if policy and resources are made available and someone used the political capital to launch the moonshot.

    Like

  13. I would like to see how quickly the plastics degrade in these harsh environments vs. on land. In the ocean they’re receiving constant sunlight and being exposed to salt water. Things degrade really easily when exposed to these things. Obviously the trash heap isn’t ideal but I wonder how long until it breaks down (if it stops being added too obviously)

    Like

  14. This was a great post to read. People who litter (intentionally/ unintentionally) don’t realized that everything won’t disintegrate in the dirt, but will get drifted into water bodies and then last as trash longer on earth. And as you mentioned, the trash collect in one area because geographical patterns and this is worse than trash in landfills because it is not regulated or contained.

    Like

  15. The solution to such a massive problem seems like it would have to happen through an international treaty with Japan, thus making it a mutual effort. I also like the idea of using a large scale contraption similar to the one that Dr. Jambeck showed in class.

    Like

  16. As far as cleaning up what is already in the ocean, I agree with others in the way that I think some governmental action needs to take place. As far as preventative measures, I think it’s our responsibility to prevent more plastic from going into the ocean, either by recycling what we can and tightening up on waste management or by more literal means much like Mr. Trash Wheel.

    Like

  17. I don’t believe we will ever clean up the tons of trash that is in the ocean especially with more and more trash being added daily. There does need to be some sort of international agreement because no one country will take responsibility of this issue. With the Earth’s population growing exponentially this problem isn’t going away any time soon so steps toward a solution need to be enacted.

    Like

  18. I agree with everyone else who’s saying that the neutrality of international waters makes this a unique issue. Perhaps some sort of NAFTA or UN agreement can be reached? Unfortunately, I think many countries would be resistant to entering into any sort of deal where they felt they were being disproportionately blamed or held responsible for the international trash, especially if it put them at any sort of economic disadvantage. The private sector might have to be the way to go on this one, but I’m also not sure how to make this profitable enough to incentivize them either.

    Like

  19. With the amount of trash/plastics in the trash vortex there is just so much out there that it would be extremely difficult to clean it up completely. With this being in international waters there really isn’t one single policy that could be put into place to help combat the problem. But I believe that if every country would enact policies/requirements to capture this debris upstream before it reaches international waters.

    Like

  20. Personally, I’ve seen research where turtle colons were cut open revealing many plastic fragments. The amount of plastic that had gone through the turtle’s digestion track was shocking to me and that wasn’t even the micro plastic. I’ve also seen micro-plastic fibers in ocean samples, and what scares me is the longer it sits out there the more micro plastic there will be. Large fragments are easier to clean up, but capturing the small fibers and fragments seems daunting. Using micro filters to capture all the micro plastic in the ocean seams an impossible feat with current technology, and I don’t know if we completely understand the possible harm that could arise from the micro-plastic interacting with the ecosystem.

    Like

  21. I really like how the currents which caused the piling up of trash were able to them be used to pile it up in a collection bin and later removed. Cleaning up the Garbage Patch is essential, but it can’t be the only thing we’re doing to solve the problem. It needs to be combined with upstream projects to get the job dome, keeping the ocean garbage patch free once it is extracted. As far as responsibility ones, I think it should start with government, but they can’t always adjust and make policy quickly which in that case should be a project taken over by a private group.

    Like

  22. I think the Ocean Clean Up systems are a good idea as far as taking steps to macro-plastic clean up, however I feel that microplastics are the bigger issue as far as clean up goes due to the difficulty of trapping microplastics. I agree with what everyone else is saying that this will be tricky to do given that it is international waters.

    Like

  23. This was actually a point of emphasis for my sophomore design group. We figured that cleaning up the the garbage patch would be great, however it will not stop the problem. The key is to eliminate inorganic material from entering the ocean. As we looked into it, we wanted to address the problem at the first source which is mankind itself. We took many polls just to see what the average persons knowledge on plastic pollution is and it seemed like not many people were aware of these problems. In order to reduce the plastic from entering the ocean, I think we just need to educate people, ( especially the future generation, children) the damages of this pollution. It is only after everyone comes together on this issue, that a feasible solution could be obtained.

    Like

  24. I feel the federal government should have an agency or committee also designated to this cleanup rather than just private entities. Involving the private sector often brings stronger managerial capacity, access to new technology, and specialized skills that governments cannot afford to develop on their own. Public-private partnerships can bring new ideas for designing programs and projects, and greater synergy between design and operation of facilities. A federal cleanup crew could involve more than just the physical removal and recycling of the waste. It could incorporate oceanography, water testing and the impetus to work with other foreign governmental agencies.

    Like

    1. If the private sector already has a good grasp on what needs to be done, they should be compensated from governments of the world. One comment brought up that micro plastics are an entirely different beast when trying to remove and I think that is a great point. Much of the wildlife is adapting to live with this trash in their ecosystem. The marine life that knows what to eat and what not to each are living longer and passing the trait of being able to differentiate between food and trash. However, I don’t think adaption will be able to handle the idea of micro plastics. I’m not saying we shouldn’t worry about the large items, but the hardest problem is going to be removing the micro plastics.

      Like

  25. I am not certain if in actuality we will ever solve this issue. The article says that we plan on recycling the matter that we get from the garbage patch. I am not certain that all of the matter can be recycled. And the garbage that can’t be recycled, what will we do with it? Will we just relocate it into a hole in the ground where we hope nobody will disturb it? It seems to me that our trash issue has always been one in which we just slap a band-aid over and claim that we have solved the issue. Until we move 100% away from landfills and move to completely reusing or and recycling, I don’t feel as though our trash problem has been solved.

    Like

  26. Trash in the ocean is definitely a major problem, and I think spreading awareness of the problem could be a good first step to mitigating the trash problem. I think if more people knew how serious the problem was, they would be more inclined to properly dispose of their trash and/or donate to organizations that are working to clean up the ocean. I think the collection system designed by Ocean Clean Up could be very useful. It seems like a very very intelligent idea, and the ocean currents basically do the work for you.

    Like

  27. Part of the problem with this issue is that it seems like there is not much governmental action to solve the problem. The problem itself can be split in two as there needs to be a solution to prevent more trash from going into the ocean and there needs to be a solution to remove the trash that is already in the ocean. I think that governments should be more invested in the outcome of this trash as it affects us all eventually. I am curious is the Ocean Clean Up project will remove micro plastics as well?

    Like

  28. I am curious if the current 10-15 year projection accounts for the increase in waste generation as our population continues to grow. Also, at what point will the plastic waste begin to impact fishing and other ocean-based activities to the point where individual countries are forced to deal with the issue? Should stricter policies for ocean dumping be implemented or do multiple countries need to cooperate to solve the problem?

    Like

  29. I wonder, when you say 10-15 years to fullly clean up the patch, does that mean the patch at its current size or does it also account for the annual input we dump into the oceans? I advocate for a global coalition to solve this global issue; the responsibility of cleaning up is shared among us all. I think it is unfair to ask private organizations to do this. I do wonder how the Ocean Cleanup makes money and sustains their efforts. I suppose some money could be made from collection of the plastic, but when there’s such a big positive externality, the good will be underproduced relative to its actual value to society. I feel like even if private organizations can work to fix this, this issue is so important it demands real action from the governments of the world.

    Like

  30. I think that this is a global issue that governments need to join forces to combat. This should not be a specific private company’s burden. A plan of action to mitigate this ocean waste should be enforced in law. This is a national security threat that we must address or else our marine life will die out.

    The Ocean Cleanup foundation sounds like a great strategy to clean up the waste. However, does it also mitigate the micro plastics? Hopefully this company can make enough revenue to complete this project.

    Like

  31. The clean up of this trash should be addressed. Unlike a lot of blogs this topi is one I’ve heard about before but hadn’t looked into it much so it was great to learn more. Like someone above said having a government committee that focused on solving our trash issue would be a great idea. Also as engineers looking into a way to reuse this trash and harness its potential energy would a great step for the future.

    Like

  32. Garbage in the ocean is an issue that has been ignored long enough. The Ocean Cleanup project is something that I’ve been following for a while and I believe that is has massive potential. This project is similar to the aquatic garbage collector that Dr. Jambeck shared with us in class this past week, which has proven to be successful. I’m curious if this technology can successfully be scaled up large enough to be effective in the ocean.

    Like

  33. I think that this is a really important issue that is often ignored because it does not directly impact human life on a day to day basis. I think that in some ways it is good that the trash is collecting in one specific area, making it easier to focus clean up efforts to that one problem area rather than to the entire ocean. Although cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will not solve the issue of pollution in the ocean, it is definitely a good place to start and could be a good way to educate the public on the issue.

    Like

  34. That is amazing to see someone our age making such a global impact. I think his idea is great and should be propounded upon to the United Nations or an organization that can massively scale his idea. I believe if there is enough resources behind such a project it would take less than 3 years to accomplish.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s