The movement away from plastics and towards using reusable containers has been gaining real momentum in the past few years.Â But for those who have not yet made the switch, their plastic water bottles and plastic bags could be getting into our oceans and contributing to massive trash gyres (systems of ocean currents and garbage patches) with alarming planetary consequences.
What are Trash Gyres?
An estimated 50 billion bottles of water are consumed per year in the US and around 200 billion bottles globally. Of all these water bottles that get used every year, however, less than 20% gets recycled.Â Where does the remainder 80% go? Into our landfills and oceans.Â The plastics in the ocean come from illegal trash dumpings into the waters and from the increasing amounts of plastic getting into our sewers after being swept up by the rain.Â When the wastewater facilities cannot handle all inflow, they have to let it go straight to the oceans.
There are five trash gyres located in the major oceans. These gyres are collections of trash pushed together by water currents.Â The biggest of the gyres is the Great Pacific Gyre which is located between Hawaii and San Francisco and is estimated to be anywhere from the size of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States.Â Because the gyres are fluid systems with varied concentrations of trash, it is very difficult to get accurate measurements, hence the wide range estimates.Â This massive trash vortex contains approximately 3.5 million tons of trash, 90% of which is plastics such as water bottles, wrappers, bags, toys, pacifiers, and all the other plastic products consumed by humans.
Ecological Effects in the Oceans
These garbage patches are taking their toll on marine life.Â Many marine animals and seabirds mistake the garbage for food and end up either suffocating on them or filling up their stomachs with trash that cannot be digested leaving little room for food.Â These tiny pieces of plastic are also filled with chemicals (such as PCBs, DDT and DDE) that stay in the bodies of the fish.Â This poses a risk to humans who later consume these organic pollutant filled fish and contaminate their own bodies.
How Can We All Help?
Be conscious of plastics that you use and dispose of.Â Even the smallest pieces of plastic can pose a threat to the health of marine and animals and our planet.Â Try using reusable water bottles and shopping bags.Â Also try using products with less packaging and avoid single use plastics.Â Another way to help is by getting involved with ocean cleanup programs and advocators such as Heal the Bay, Clean Ocean Action, and Ocean Conservancy which allows you to find cleanups in your area.Â The more we reduce plastics consumption, the cleaner we can keep our oceans.
Please take a moment to share your cleanup experience and your efforts in reducing the use of plastics in your life by leaving a comment below. Inspiration and emulation for a greener planet start here! Thank you!