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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Who's responsible?

Photo By: weforum.org

9-10-2019

Mason Bennett, Business Editor

First discovered in the early 1990s, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch shocked almost nobody given the millions of tons of plastic countries around the Pacific Rim dump into the ocean every year. The top five contributors to this ever-growing garbage patch are all located in Asia; China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Concerned about the massive amounts of garbage in the patch, almost one year ago today, the Ocean Cleanup Project sent out what was referred to as a “giant floating trash collector” to try to scoop it up. While this was the first real attempt to do something about the massive garbage patch, it ultimately failed. Part of the project consisted of a floating barrier to be encircled around the plastic mound, however, four weeks into testing the device, engineers discovered the barrier was in fact scooping up plastic, but it was then quickly losing it. Again, this is not too surprising. As of the beginning of 2019, the patch includes roughly 1.8 trillion individual pieces of trash and weighs 88,000 tons. Some scientists even claimed the barrier would pose more environmental hazard than the good it would do, endangering the lives of a plethora of sea creatures. Today, the barrier is still up and functioning, but is now equipped with solar-powered lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, ultimately aiding the device in changing its position at all times, allowing for more efficient garbage transport to land for further recycling.

 

While many scientists say it is great that people are making an effort to clean up the patch, others say most of the efforts should, instead, go toward stopping the endless flow of plastic garbage into the ocean. The biggest source of garbage in our oceans comes from a complicated relationship between the United States and China. China has imported about 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste for recycling, and from the U.S. alone, nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of plastic recyclables a day are shipped to Chinese recycling plants. Some Chinese processing facilities divert the plastic to other countries, but most of them lack the infrastructure and resources to manage their own waste, let alone the waste produced by the rest of the world. Essentially, if we want to take an initial step in curbing the amount of plastic garbage put into the ocean, the U.S. and many other industrialized countries that have been exporting their plastic waste to China for recycling will need to find new ways to handle the disposal of their trash. 

 

Finally, the dangers of plastic in the ocean are now well known by many. Fish and other marine life mistake the small pieces of micro-plastics for food and consume them, potentially cutting their digestive tracts, or filling their stomachs so there’s no room for real food, allowing chemicals and other toxic filth to enter the organism and harm it. Furthermore, it can take weeks for the plastic pieces to sink to the ocean floor, hurting many other creatures along the way, as they are repeatedly eaten and excreted by fish and other marine life. Once at the ocean floor, plastic severely harms deep-sea organisms until they eventually become buried in the seabed. With that said, more and more communities are refusing to turn a blind eye to habitat catastrophe and more importantly, species extinction. Researching and reporting the environment has become a priority in recent years. Objectively reporting on climate and pollution as well as giving it the attention it deserves regarding threats, consequences and solutions based on scientific facts, not political prejudice or business interests, is the key to fixing one of the most complex problems facing man-kind.