Twice the size of Texas. Three times the size of France. 700,000 to 15,000,000 square kilometres. Scientists estimate this is how large the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown to be, but the size is largely unknown as large amounts of waste have migrated to the ocean floor and even more continues to float around in the form of micro-plastics that muddy the water. The extent of the damage and the impact on the ecosystem is widely unknown, but if the way we treat our oceans does not change then there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
First, we must work on cleaning out the harmful debris mass that is choking out marine life in the ocean. While this may seem simple, the massive patch remains in a central location in the North Pacific Ocean called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. This zone remains far enough out of reach of all countries that none of them will claim the huge conglomeration of plastic and trash. Sources have stated that the resources required to clean up this enormous site would cause any one country that tried to go bankrupt. Recently, numerous privately owned companies began to research removal methods and are beginning to make headway in their research to create a vessel that can remove the plastic and debris from the ocean. The newest floating device created as a part of the Ocean Cleanup Project was launched in June 2019, collecting debris ranging from 1-ton ghost nets to tiny 1-millimeter micro-plastics. While this can help decrease the amount of plastic waste currently in the ocean, other preventative measures must be taken to help ensure that this issue does not continue to worsen.
Secondly, with 80% of the waste buildup in the ocean being plastic, the best way to decrease the amount of packaging waste that ends up in the oceans is to minimize the amount of plastic used by the human population. Science-based companies in the US are working to engineer biodegradable replacements to the plastic products that we currently use, but it is not up to just the corporate science companies to develop new products to help the environment. It is up to all of humanity to decrease the output of waste that we create and find more sustainable options.
Although it may seem easier to look at the symptoms of the issue and develop a solution, the world must examine the root cause of the issue and fundamentally rethink the way that the world makes, uses, and reuses plastic products so that they will not become waste in the first place. We must, as a race, work to solve the ocean pollution that we have caused over the decades that we have spent on Earth as well as eradicating the mess that we previously created due to neglect of our precious resources and ecosystems.
Essay by: Rachel Clarkson
Essay by: University of Nebraska- Lincoln