We now have access to various gadgets and utilities we normally would not have had decades ago, and we owe that to industrialization. Over time, humanity's views on consumption and habits have changed. Now, with just a click of a button, we are able to purchase products from all around the world. Moreover, there are limitless options to what we can buy, which is only constrained by whether we can afford it or not.
Considering all these, has any of you ever sat back and thought about all the products we see on the market? There are countless producers under various names, offering us products that we will rarely even bother with. And funny enough, there are people willing to buy them. Consumption has reached such a point that we use and throw away products and go over them hastily enough to create piles and piles of used materials that end up in the garbage, in addition to all the single-use plastics used for packaging and else.
However, let’s halt for a moment and reflect. From the point that the garbage can leave our houses, what happens to what we have thrown out? Keeping in mind that reusing and recycling rates are not predominant, most of the trash ends up elsewhere. Somewhere that is out of our sight and do not regard on a daily basis: oceans.
The vast oceans host our garbage to the point they have formed minuscule – which is a very questionable adjective – islands. Tons and tons of garbage enter the ocean through various places including from other water sources such as rivers and accumulate in some zones in the ocean because of the effects of circulating currents (Kuchta, David M). These zones are called ocean garbage patches, and these patches are a vortex of currents that catch debris and build up. When we try to visualize a garbage patch in the middle of the ocean, we might think of enormous sizes of plastic, garbage, and overall trash. While this is accurate, nearly all of the garbage patches are made up of microplastics (Kuchta, David M) that we might not be able to spot with the naked eye in the beginning, yet affect nature just as severely if not more.
While the smallest plastics and microplastics are consumed one way or another and enter the food chain, work their way up and affect the ecosystems from their core, then larger debris creates complications for larger organisms and how they navigate in the ocean. Aquatic animals, which are experts in living in their habitat are being perished by accidentally digesting plastics or by getting tangled up in them in the same habitat they have been in for centuries because of the actions of humans.
Out of garbage patches, of which there are lots, the one most known is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch since it is the largest and since many efforts have been put in to clean it. (Kuchta, David M).
The situation is most definitely dire. However, what solution ideas are there for this problem?
There have been various attempts, one of which was a giant so-called ocean broom that uses natural forces to gather waste passively (World Economic Forum). This system returns bags of trash back to the land. And not only normal garbage, but these bags also scooped up microplastics as well. Stemming from this idea, a start-up called The Ocean Cleanup has been created. Now, this start-up cleans the ocean with the help of hundreds of meter-long barriers that “prevent debris from escaping underneath” as well. “The wind, waves, and current push waste into the barrier, which is slowed down by an anchor so it moves at slower speeds than the trash” (World Economic Forum).
Overall, it is not about how and when these garbage patches are formed, and instead, it is about how we can prevent new ones from forming and how to get rid of the already-formed ones.
US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 26 June 2014, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/june14/mw126-garbagepatch.html.
“Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” National Geographic Society, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/great-pacific-garbage-patch.
Kuchta, David M. “Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Overview, Impact, Solution.” Treehugger, https://www.treehugger.com/what-is-the-great-pacific-ocean-garbage-patch-4864171.
“This Is How the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Cleanup Is Going.” World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/plastic-collection-mission-great-pacific-garbage-patch/.
Image Source: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pacific-garbage-patch-map_2010_noaamdp.jpg">NOAA</a>, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons