- Environmental Health -

Why Are Our Oceans Full of Plastic?

Garbage Islands

Find out what you can do to decrease the amount of plastic in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.

You’ve likely heard about the giant islands of plastic floating in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. These patches are composed of microplastic particles that have degraded over time and are mixed with refuse that includes discarded water bottles, bags, shoes, fishing nets, and even computer monitors.

Formed when refuse gets drawn into the center of calm gyres, or massive circular currents, these islands contain an estimated 269,000 tons of plastic, which add up to a huge problem for fish, birds, and marine mammals that ingest the particles or get trapped in the detritus.

Plastic pollution is so widespread in our oceans that the United Nations launched its Clean Seas initiative in February 2017 to tackle the problem. Find out what you can do at www.cleanseas.org; tips include avoiding personal-care products with microbeads, rejecting plastic shopping bags and water bottles, and more.

Trash Islands by the Numbers

5,800,000: Estimated size in square miles of the combined plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean — twice the size of Texas and up to 9 feet deep. More plastic islands are forming in additional oceans, the Mediterranean and North Seas, and many other larger bodies of water.

8,000,000: Metric tons of plastic garbage that ends up in our oceans each year.

300,000,000: Tons of new plastic produced annually.

5%: Percentage of postconsumer plastic recycled in the United States. The average American discards 185 pounds of plastic annually.

This originally appeared as “Our Oceans’ Growing Garbage Islands” in the June 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

is an Experience Life staff writer.

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