How does the oil spill compare to the Pacific Garbage Patch?


What is the Pacific Garbage Patch?

You know what a landfill looks like; mounds of trash piled up where bulldozers and other exotic heavy machinery smash, grind and burry the trash, right? Well the Pacific Garbage Patch is quite similar but it floats out in our ocean with nothing to hide it unless parts of it sink down into the deep blue sea. The Pacific Garbage Patch is roughly located in an area between 130 degrees to 155 degrees west and 25 to 42 degrees north, this is where most of the world’s trash has accumulated. It is in constant movement and the ocean currents continue to bring more trash from our dumping, polluted rivers and bad habits.

The Pacific Garbage Patch has many names from the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” the “Pacific Trash Gyre,” the “Pacific Trash Vortex,” and “Holly crap that’s a big pile of trash” among other names.

How Does All That Plastic Get to the Ocean?

In layman terms:
Lazy Humans + Water’s continuous movement = Pacific Trash Vortex.

Through massive consumption and careless deposal of our trash, especially plastic, ends up in the water ways. As we all know what heads back to the ocean one way or another, our trash reaches the shoreline and is then carried out into the ocean through currents and apparently accumulating in large masses.

trash gyre with currents image
Image via Wikimedia

When it comes to the Pacific Garbage Patch no one is innocent – if you live in a developed nation, you are more than likely responsible for some portion of the garbage that is ending up in the ocean. Even if you’re not a coasty and live hundreds of miles away from the ocean our rivers still lead to the shorelines of our coast.

Here’s a great slideshow explaining how trash from the middle of the continent can end up in the middle of the ocean:

View Slideshow: Cartoonist Explains the Pacific Garbage Patch With Talking Sealife


What’s the Impact of Marine Litter on Wildlife?




View Slideshow: An Ocean of Plastic…In Bird’s Guts – Photos from Chris Jordan illustrate the scale of the problem of plastics when it comes to birds

Additionally, fish on the low end of the food chain consume tiny bits of plastic, and they’re in turn eaten by larger fish which we catch and eat. So we’re now quite literally eating the plastic we produce. Not an appetizing thought.

Charles Moore gave an excellent TED talk about the floating vortex of death:


How Much Plastic is in the Pacific Garbage Patch?

We have no idea. We have estimates on the size of the patch, at least in terms of surface area. Researchers peg the trash gyre to be as large as the continental United States, and according to, every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic and plastic constitutes 90 percent of all trash floating in the world’s oceans.. But exactly how many pieces of plastic is impossible to say, and researchers are still stunned at how much they find when they get out there to assess the damage we’re doing to one of our most precious resources.What’s worse – the Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only trash vortex out there. There are five – yes FIVE – trash gyres. Located in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, the trash gyres represent what we’re doing to our planet on a global scale.

5 gyres project image
Image via 5 Gyres Project

Everything from fish nets to bottle caps, from the tiny pellets of plastic that are in your exfoliating face soap to old toys are all ending up floating in the sea

Now compare the graffic above to the oil spill


I’m not trying to dumb down the problem where facing in the gulf but trying to put the Pacific Garbage Patch into perspective. You can actually go to to see how the gulf oil spill would affect your region if it happened in your home.

What can you do to stop it from getting worse?

The Ocean Conservancy
gives a list of 10 tips for helping out:

  • Volunteer for a beach or river clean-up effort
  • Put trash in a secure, lidded receptacle – most marine debris starts out on land.
  • Properly recycle everything you can in your area.
  • When boating, bring your trash back to shore, and ask your marina to handle waste properly.
  • Less is more: Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, and choose items that use less packaging.
  • Inform and inspire your friends and co-workers to help stop marine debris at the source.
  • Bring your own containers for picnics instead of using disposables. Take your own reusable bags whenever you go shopping.
  • Write to companies or visit local businesses and encourage them to reuse, recycle, and generate less packaging.
  • Put cigarette butts in ashtrays, not on streets, sidewalks, or beaches.
  • Tell Congress it’s time to stop trashing our ocean. Take action now and send an email to your representative!
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