I have written several columns on how plastic is changing the terrain in our landfills and natural landscape. These are not the only sites where plastic is creating a terrible mess. The world's oceans in some parts of the globe are now filled with a combination of trash, as well as tons of plastic.
Let us put all this in perspective. A full garbage truck worth of plastic runs into the oceans of the world not ever day, but every minute. It is estimated that since plastic was first created a staggering total of 14 million tons of this substance has made its way down to the world's seas. All of this since the 1950s. Of the total plastic that has been manufactured since that time, only around 21 percent has been either recycled or incinerated.
What is really bad is give time most of this plastic will break down into particles as small as a millimeter in width. This bread down is caused by the action of both the oceans' waves and ultraviolet light. These tiny particles can now be found from the top of the water all the way down into the depths of the world's oceans. This is so new that scientist are not yet sure how this will eventually affect the aquatic life in the oceans. It can't be good.
Where does all this plastic now in our seas come from. While the United States more than likely does its share of filling up the oceans with both plastic and other forms of trash, it only ranks 20th on the list of the world's nations major polluters.
China leads this list of infamy. In fact it sends up to 30 percent of the total plastic now going down to the world's seas. It is not only the larger products that contain a lot of plastic. Did you know that items such as sunscreen, deodorant and toothpaste also contain plastic? Even many of the clothes that we wear contain synthetic fibers of plastic. It has been discovered that just one load of clothes can send up to 200,000 fibers down the drain and into the waste water. A city the size of New York is said to send 150 million plastic fibers down to the sea each day.
While plastic and its fibers are found all over the world's oceans, there are now five major regions where they have accumulated. These sites have even been given their own names, gyres.
The largest of these gyres have been given the name "The Great Pacific Patch." Winds and waves have helped to form this gyres. It extends in a huge mass all the way from a few miles off the California coast to near the Hawaiian islands. It has now increased to twice the size of Texas and is still growing larger each year.
Another larges gyres is also close to the United States. It extends from the state of Virginia to Cuba.
These two gyres and the three other large ones are now said to cover nearly 40 percent of the world's ocean surface. Forty percent. How many years will it be before all the surface of our oceans are nothing but trash and plastic?
To clear up the five largest gyres would now take 1,000 ships, filtering water 24 hours a day, 19 years to get the job done. By that length of time there would probably be that much more to clean up.
Plastic can be oh so good, yet also oh so bad.