If you were to fly from the continental United States or Canada to Hawaii, there’s now a growing possibility that you might be able to spot a massive, swirling pile of garbage in the Pacific Ocean that continues to get larger and more unmanageable by the day. According to the latest study of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known as the GPGP) by a team of Dutch researchers, the size of this oceanic garbage dump is now 1.6 million square kilometers. To put that into context, that’s 3 times the size of France and anywhere from 4 to 16 times larger than originally thought.
As you can imagine, the larger the GPGP gets, the harder it is to clean it up. Right now, the Dutch researchers estimate that this giant unsightly mass of garbage weighs 80,000 metric tons. So it’s not just a case of sending out a boat or two and having them pick up all the trash, sort of like an oceanic garbage truck. No, it’s far more complex than that.
That’s because the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is really a “galaxy of garbage.” About 90 percent of the mass is composed of large pieces of garbage, while 10 percent is comprised of micro-pieces of garbage. Some pieces of garbage measure several meters across, while others are more like microscopic bits of confetti, swirling around the bigger pieces of garbage. To contain that sort of mess, you really need an epic plan. One proposal, in fact, calls for a 62-mile floating wall to contain all the garbage into one area.
The real tragedy of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has nothing to do with aesthetics or even with eco-tourism and the financial costs of beach cleanups each year. Instead, the real tragedy is that we are indirectly creating an unprecedented health nightmare for humanity by polluting the world’s oceans.
Think of the world’s ocean ecosystems – you have smaller fish eating pieces of micro-plastic, and then these smaller fish are eaten by large ocean-going predators. In turn, these fish are eventually caught by humans and turned into our own source of food. Through a scientific process known as bioaccumulation, all the harmful chemicals in plastics are transferred from each member of the ocean ecosystem to the fish you find in your local supermarket or favorite restaurant. Imagine sitting down for a nice meal at your favorite restaurant in British Columbia and knowing that the delightful tuna fish, cod or sea bass that you are eating has been nibbling on harmful plastics found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
That might change the way you think about your local environment, right? That’s one of the reasons why Leafwood takes its commitment to the local environment so seriously. In the case of Leafwood, the concern is about preserving the forests of North America. The same type of logic playing out in the Great Pacific is also playing out in North America’s forests. We need to be taking more steps to preserve and conserve nature and recognize humanity’s harmful environmental footprint.
The good news is that we can all do our part. Simple steps – like properly disposing of plastic cups in garbage cans rather than tossing them on the ground or making sure that you don’t leave any plastic garbage behind when you go for a hike in the woods – can make a big difference. Researchers have known about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch since the 1970’s, so it has been nearly 50 years since the first pieces of plastic began forming into a vast, swirling galaxy of junk and debris. That is a long time, but there is still hope. Together, we can create a better future.