The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is getting worse and worse. Something happened here

Marine litter affects marine life.

Ahmed Areef / EyeEm / GettyImages

For decades, the Pacific Ocean has been collecting garbage that has been turned into two giant floating garbage islands. They stretch for hundreds of miles and are known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The ubiquitous eddies of man-made litter are damaging marine life and the environment, and can even worsen man-made climate change.

In August, environmental nonprofit Ocean Cleanup launched Jenny, their first large-scale cleaning system, which has since removed more than 63,000 pounds of trash. In October, Ocean Cleanup called this work the “beginning of the end of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. It is a beginning. But the lumps of man-made garbage are getting bigger and bigger. The organization returned to the garbage island this month to reinstate Jenny.

However, ocean litter is only one focus. Plastic pollution and microplastics have been shown to contribute to climate change as they can release greenhouse gases through heat. To tackle the climate crisis, we need to reduce pollution in the oceans, where 8 million tons of plastic are collected every year.

Here’s everything we know about the Pacific Ocean Garbage Island and how you can help.


One of the goals of Ocean Cleanup is to get rid of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here is the result of a drawing this fall.

The ocean cleanup

Where is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The garbage stain consists of two garbage-filled eddies in the Pacific Ocean. The two vortices of human detritus are known as the Western Garbage Patch (closer to Japan) and Eastern Garbage Patch (closer to California and Mexico).

They are also known as eddies when two ocean currents come together and create a hurricane-like current, Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told CNET. Materials then get caught in the eddies.

While you might think the spots are massive masses of tangled plastic, they are in fact scattered across hundreds of miles of the Pacific. You could sail through the patches without realizing that you are in them. This is because up to 70% of the trash eventually sinks to the ocean floor, Wallace said.

What kind of rubbish is in the mountains of rubbish?

Most of the litter comes from land in North America and Asia, like plastic bottles and straws that have found their way into the ocean. Litter can eventually end up in the ocean from land-based sources such as rivers, rainwater, and garbage.

However, according to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, 20% comes from boats or ships throwing debris into the ocean, including lost fishing gear.

How big is the garbage stain?

The Ocean Cleanup estimates that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers 1.6 million square kilometers, about twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

However, the actual size of the garbage island is unknown due to a number of factors. First of all, not all of the trash is on the water. It’s estimated to be hundreds of miles in length, Wallace said, and it’s a moving target due to waves and wind. However, it remains in a certain area due to ocean currents.

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How much rubbish is there in the trash can?

According to Wallace, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste were in the landfills in 2015, according to Wallace, although the exact amount that will end up in the Pacific Ocean is uncertain. According to, this is equivalent to the weight of around 57,000 blue whales, which also predict that by 2050 the bulk of plastic marine litter will outweigh that of their fish.

The Ocean Cleanup said it found more than 1.8 trillion plastic parts in the patch, weighing an estimated 80,000 tons.

At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in all of the oceans each year and the amount is expected to double by 2030, according to the World Wildlife Fund organization.

A western seagull wades through the waves of the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore.

A western seagull wades along the Pacific coast in California. Animals can mistake plastic for food in the ocean.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

How does the garbage affect marine life?

You have likely seen photos of sea turtles with fishing nets tangled around their bodies and shells. This is just one of the dire effects man-made debris has on marine life. Ocean animals can also pick up the plastic litter, which can harm them and make them feel full, Wallace said. As a result, the animals do not eat the food they need to survive. The plastic could also tear your organs apart.

Plastic can suffocate and suffocate marine animals and their habitats, and it can take hundreds of years to break down, according to the WWF.

Microplastics can also harm the oceans

Microplastics are less than 5 millimeters long and come from larger debris that break up into smaller pieces, making them much harder to filter out. These small plastics can pose a threat to aquatic animals as they can absorb the dirt.

But can eating fish that has consumed this microplastic harm humans? Ocean Cleanup says if animals eat the plastics with chemicals, there is a chance that the chemicals will eventually get to humans through the food chain.

However, according to NOAA, more studies are needed to determine the effects of microplastics.

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Does marine litter contribute to climate change?

In short, yes. Chemical components and old pollutants absorb the plastic the marine animals eat, Wallace said. Then sunlight and heat release strong greenhouse gases from the plastic. The WWF says when the planet gets hotter the plastic breaks down into methane and ethylene, which increases the rate of climate change.

Ocean plastic harms air quality, pollutes the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, according to Iberdrola, a multinational energy company.

Is something being done to clean up the litter in the sea?

Yes. Groups are working to prevent more rubbish from ending up in the garbage dumps by reducing the number of single-use items like bottles and straws. There are also people who work on or near the shore cleaning up and removing debris because it is easier to collect landfill.

Other groups are considering cleaning up open oceans to collect debris like fishing gear and other smaller floating parts, but there are some challenges since the Pacific Ocean is so big and deep.

Water bottles

Reusable bottles can prevent more plastic bottles from ending up in the sea.

Alina Bradford / CNET

What can I do to get rid of the garbage in the sea?

  • Businesses and individuals should avoid adding to the problem. For example, stop collecting trash and use reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastic bottles that can easily end up in bodies of water.
  • If you live near an ocean, volunteer to clean up the shoreline to help remove debris on the shores.
  • If you don’t live near an ocean, you can help clean up parks or neighborhoods as the trash in those areas can eventually end up in the marine environment.
  • Donate to various organizations that support waste disposal, such as the Ocean Conservancy and Oceana.
  • Shop with companies that work towards sustainability. They will usually have this information listed on their website – for example, Amazon has a sustainability page with its goals.
  • Support people at all levels of government who advocate policies to combat climate change.

For more information, read How Scientists Appreciate 85% of the world’s population are affected by climate change.

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