The patch is also called the Pacific Gyre. The first I heard about it was in the book “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. He talks about how the U.S. Navy corroborated an early 90’s estimate of over 3 million tons of plastic swirling around in the Pacific Gyre. That was over 10 years ago. All this plastic has appeared in barely more than 50 years. (An oceanic gyre is a large, slowly swirling vortex caused by wind and ocean currents.) By the way, it’s not like you see piles and piles of large plastic items (although there are some) floating in the gyre. Much of the plastic has broken up into small pieces which float both on and just below the surface.
These small particulates of plastic are unfortunately mistaken for food by fish, mammals and sea birds.
“By 2005, the size of the gyrating Pacific dump was estimated to be as much 10 million square miles–nearly the size of Africa. And it’s not the only one: the planet has six other major tropical oceanic gyres all of them swirling with ugly debris.” (Excerpt from chapter 9 of Weisman’s book.)
Further studies continue, like the upcoming Summer 2009 plastic debris research project by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and others. But the bottom line for each of us as consumers is to reduce our use of plastics where possible.
When given the choice at the store or on-line, take into consideration the packaging when comparing two similar products. By buying the product with less packing (usually plastic is involved), we indirectly support a more conscious effort on the part of the supplier to move towards sustainablility.
The other day for example, I stopped buying my favorite bandage brand and switched to another brand because the manufacture of my old brand now includes a hard plastic container with each new box of bandages, rather than the old paper style box. Plastic, Plastic and More Plastic!
More on sustainability in a future post.
Chad M. Wall